Calm in the face of terror

The terrorist attacks in Paris, the City of Lights, the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment.

More terrorist attacks.

The political backlash towards refugees fleeing the terrorists.

Many of us who aren’t directly in harm’s way still feel fear, grief, and anger when we see the images and hear the horrific stories.

Some turn their emotions into vengeance. I am not one of them. Yet I find it difficult to center myself after imagining these unimaginable horrors.

My father was never attacked by terrorists carrying AK-47s. But in the way he handled violence, bullying, and prejudice aimed at him and other LGBT people throughout his lifetime – without resorting to violence or scapegoating – I’m looking to him as my model in how I react.

In 1977, when American singer and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant campaigned against gay rights in her “Save Our Children [from the gays]” campaign, he shook his head in disgust and walked away whenever she appeared on TV.

“Homosexuality is a conduct, a choice, a way of life,” Bryant said. “If you choose to have a lifestyle as such, then you are going to have to live with the consequences. It’s not a sickness, but a sin.”

When her campaign helped overturn Dade County’s legislation that had banned discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation, Dad instead looked to Congresswoman Bella Abzug for inspiration.

Abzug, along with Ed Koch, introduced Congress’ first federal gay and lesbian rights bill in 1973. Four years later, after the loss in Dade County, she attempted to calm rioters.

“This will end up being a good thing,” she told them. “It will create more determination and a more mature political movement among homosexuals.”

She was right about that, though there is still much work to be done. In 29 states today, for example, employers can still legally discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation.

Then there were the homophobic evangelical pastors of the time. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority movement, cruelly said, “AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals.”

Southern Baptist Minister Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, cast aspersions both on the ailing men and on the City of San Francisco where my father worked.

“You know what they do in San Francisco?” Robertson said. “Some in the gay community there, they want to get people. So if they got the stuff [AIDS] they’ll have a ring, you shake hands and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger. Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.”

My father didn’t voice a response to these slurs and discrimination, at least not to me. Instead I saw him volunteer as an AIDS “buddy” in the early years of the epidemic when fear, fomented in part by these two “men of God,” discouraged many from even touching the dying men.

As a child, my father knew bullying and beatings well. After school, he retreated indoors, helping my grandmother with housework, arranging wild sunflowers in vases, reading, and doing schoolwork. His teachers passed him two grades as a result, which only exacerbated the taunts inflicted on him by the older and much stronger boys now in his grade.

In retrospect, I’m surprised that my father’s frustration and anger over LGBT prejudice never spilled over into vengeance. Nor did he numb himself with alcohol, drugs, or food. Instead he seemed to funnel his frustration and hurt into creative works.

He crocheted afghans and hooked rugs. Out of scraps of old material, he made braided rugs.

He drew angels. At the beach he collected driftwood and discarded pop-tops which he then turned into “junk art.” Our homes and gardens reflected his flair for design.

He and I took turns needle-pointing this piece with the two doves.

I think these acts were a sort of kindness to himself, a place to feel love for himself when so many others at that time did not.

Life coach and NYT bestselling author Martha Beck similarly suggests we first be kind to ourselves during dark times.

If you think there is no action that you can perform in your current circumstances that will increase the supply of love in the world, you are believing a lie. You will probably feel dark and crazy until you test it against reality. At the very least, you always have the option to offer yourself kindness and understanding. That alone can increase the supply of love in the world. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.

I love that.

In that vein, I’ve been thinking back to difficult times in our family when I was a kid, where getting absorbed in a craft project brought me solace.

Dove mosaicOne of my favorites was mosaics. I remember a favorite kit of a large, teal-colored peacock my mother bought me for Christmas when I was twelve.

Tooling around on the Internet the past few days, one particular mosaic kit keeps popping up.

Again, two doves.

Even though I’m no longer 12, I’m still putting it on my Christmas list.

Soothing others in need, looking for the helpers (thank you, Dad and Mr. Rogers), and performing activities that bring us joy, can only increase the love on the planet.

In the face of unimaginable (to me) discrimination, my father lived his life this way. The attacks in Paris crystallized this fact for me. I’ve taken note.

May we be well. May we be happy. May we all be free from suffering.

Peace.

Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.

Comments

  1. Beautifully addresses a very timely issue. Thank you, Laura . . . again.

  2. Thank you, Laura, Hall, for your wise (and your dad’s too) words. Love simply is and, as you suggest, throwing in some self love leavens the planet also and is an excellent alternative to fear and vindictiveness. Again, we appreciate this insight.

    Eleanor

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