I learned about the idea of ahimsa from Dan in one of his yoga classes recently, the concept of non-violence toward all living things. Do no harm. The events of this week have me thinking a lot about this philosophy and what it means, as working at one of the most wonderfully diverse universities in the country- and in the Deep South, it seems we have become a microcosm of the issues and the divide facing our country. I want to find some way to understand it all, to be a part of bringing people together and moving forward. Ahimsa is a part of that.
I played my faculty recital on Thursday, and it was difficult to focus during the day. I had to get away from social media and make myself mentally prepare to perform. I really feel that my foundation has been rocked, and I am struggling to understand the shift that I have witnessed and that I feel in the world. There is so much divisiveness, so much shameful behavior on both sides, and I felt that I had to address it all somehow to the packed recital hall. I very much believe in the power of the arts to heal and help us process and move forward. Before we began the final piece on our program, I shared a favorite quote with the audience from legendary composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein:
This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
The audience broke into rousing applause, and several people thanked me afterwards, some in tears, saying they needed to hear those words. So many of us are reeling right now, confused, torn. It is not about winning or losing an election- that I can easily wrap my head around- it is something much deeper than that; it has to do with the unleashing and emboldening of fear and hatred. People coming out of the shadows who now feel vindicated in their abhorrent behavior. It is not everyone by any means, but something has been tapped into that is frightening. I have friends and family on both sides of the proverbial fence- good and decent people that I love who are standing up for what they believe is best for our country. They are people who want peace, want no part in the violence and intimidation that are taking place. Even so, passions are riding high, and from what several of my friends and students have shared with me, even some family and close friend relationships are feeling the strain.
In the past two days, the Klu Klux Klan was in my neighborhood handing out fliers. My neighborhood. In a city where racial tensions always simmer under the surface and we have such a history in the Civil Rights Movement, that the Klan was here is terrifying to many- including me. I know that they always exist, that they are here in the shadows, but now they feel emboldened to spread their rhetoric of hate out in the open again. I have had three students in my office in tears, telling me that they have dealt with hateful interactions with family, friends, and community members because of their skin color or sexual orientation since Wednesday, and several others who just needed a safe place to voice their fear and confusion. Two of my colleagues who happen to be gay have had friends (one right here on the UAB campus) be confronted with threatening and hateful words and actions, being told they wouldn’t be tolerated anymore now. I am incredibly protective of my students and all of those that I love, and I feel powerless to stop this tide.
But…I am not powerless- none of us are. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that individuals can make a difference. What we say and do every single day matters. I told the students who came to me that they were loved, they were perfect just as they are. I told them that we have to face hate and fear with love, because to face hate with hate only takes away our power, tears us apart. We have to be the beginnings of change and of hope in our community, and then pray that our change and our hope ripple out into other communities and out into the world.
My hope is that we stand together and look for common ground, look for our similarities instead of seeing only what makes us different. We are a nation of immigrants whose differences have always made us stronger and more resilient. Let’s remember that. And so, I will remember ahimsa, doing my best to do no harm. I will stand up for peace, keep my mind open to new ideas, working to understand those with viewpoints different from my own. I’m not saying it will be easy, but we’re Americans- we’ve come together before, and we can do it again.