My first thought, when I learned of the recent tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, was a prayer, “Please, God , don’t let it be a black man.” America is in the throes of a resurgence of racism. Athletes who kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance are attacked for calling on their right to protest the senseless murders of black people for such absurdities as reaching into their glove box to get their registration when stopped by highway police. When a white man is the mass murderer, it’s assumed he is mentally unbalanced, a one-off, or possibly the work of a terrorist group. If it were a black man, it might well be pinned on the entire race as fearfully dangerous.
My second thought was another prayer, “Please God, is my nephew safe?” We have family living in Las Vegas including a concert-goer in his twenties. Fortunately, he let us know on Facebook that he was safe. But 59 souls lost their lives, and hundreds are injured. So much violence prevails across the world, including the storms pulverizing islands such as Fiji, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where my brother Tommy lives. He narrowly escaped the cyclone having planned a trip to New York, where he remains visiting family, unsure when he can safely return home.
In the wake of such shock waves, how are we to keep from despair, even on our little island in the South Pacific? I believe strongly that each of us must, as non-violence leader, Mohatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Every day I find myself repeating the poem of Rumi: “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” Jesus taught us to follow His example as the Good Shepherd and to live like the good Samaritan, who took pity on a stranger. The Baha’i Faith teaches that God is calling humanity to a new age of peace and unity, in which, as the Bible prophecies, we will “beat our swords into ploughshares”, letting go of all prejudices, giving up the love of power for the power of love.
Think of your life as a ripple effect – your actions, your words, even your thoughts and your moods — impacting first your loved ones, then those you serve in the workplace, and moving out into the world in ways you don’t even know. Every act of kindness is a breeze of the breath of God. Every smile enkindles hope and encouragement, every loving word brings joy. I was at a take-away the other day and enjoyed a huge Cook Islands size helping of food. I went up to the chef and said, “I love you!” He said, “Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something new.” Our laughter rang around the neighborhood. I have feasted on that small moment of shared pleasure for days. Trust and love grow in small moments such as this.
A central figure of the Baha’i Faith, Abdu’l Baha’ wrote to someone at a time of great suffering: “Trust in God and love His Will. Strong ships are not conquered by the sea; they ride the waves! Now, be a strong ship, not a battered one.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, wrote a marvelous piece called, “You Were Made For This.” To quote a bit of it, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely… In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”
As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Everybody can be great…because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Be the change this world needs. It has never mattered more.