Last month, lost in thought about being late and rushing to meet my Buddhism and diversity mentor for a conversation over dinner, I was not paying attention to where I was walking. I stepped on the edge of the sidewalk where it met dirt, and down I went with all my weight on my left ankle. I sat up on the sidewalk and as I steadied myself, I figured I had a bad sprain.
Throughout the evening, multiple people kindly offered to help me. Two employees at a restaurant who had seen me through the window came flying out the door, helped me up and supported me so I could get inside and sit down. I discovered I could put some weight on my foot but bending my ankle was not a good idea.
Someone brought me an icepack. I didn’t have my mentor’s phone number with me, and someone looked up the number of the restaurant where she was meeting me so I could leave her a message. While I had my leg propped up, another person introduced himself as a paramedic and checked to see if I had normal sensation and movement in my toes. My mentor came to pick me up and was ready to take me to the emergency room, the obvious and inevitable destination. She graciously accommodated me when I realized that since I wasn’t particularly in pain sitting down, we could still have our dinner first.
At the emergency room, an efficient and compassionate medical team took x-rays, weaving me into the evening’s schedule of patients and attentive to us all. I was lying face down for the technician who was holding my lower leg up at a right angle and putting a brace on, so I couldn’t see the face of the doctor when he came back in. He touched me on the shoulder and gently said: “You broke it. I’m sorry.” The brace turned out to be a temporary cast, and the doctor gave me crutches and the phone number of the orthopedist to call in the morning.
I fell asleep that night with a deep sense of gratitude for everyone who had helped me.
The next morning I read the news of the attack at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, stunned and horrified along with countless others across the world. I know such atrocities are not new, but there was something about the juxtaposition of strangers being kind to me after my injury along with this violent incident that broke through my daily routine. I’ve been pondering the complexities of the human species—capable of both so much kindness and so much brutality.
What creates such broken people? We all come out of the womb as inquisitive beings with a capacity to love.
A few weeks ago, I watched a talk by Angela Davis. When she said she wondered what kinds of awful things had happened to these individuals to make them evolve into the killers they had become, she verbalized what I and I’m sure many others had been thinking.
Of course anthropologists and sociologists have been studying such things for years and certainly I don’t have the magic answer for what promotes peaceful behavior. What I do know is what the answer is not—the prejudice that paints whole ethnicities, countries of origin and religions as evil and then creates a world of oppressive structures resulting in poverty and a lack of liberty, an environment where resentment and hate can thrive. What I do know is that the world has too many have-nots, and to plant seeds that will sprout as love and not hate requires making the ground fertile for justice and equality.
What had prompted me to schedule my dinner with my mentor, and made me resolve to continue with our conversation instead of going directly to the emergency room, was that I wanted her advice about how I as a white and privileged individual could best be an ally to create peaceful change and opportunities for all. The subsequent events in Paris have highlighted the importance of becoming my best self to help create a world where others may become theirs, to have the opportunities to become the people who would choose to help a stranger with a broken foot instead of reaching for a gun.
I take my cue from Angela Davis who gave a speech remembering the victims of the Paris attack. “Let us find ways of mourning them that are liberating from the impulses of revenge and retribution so that we can ask ourselves how we can begin to move toward justice as a transformation of the relations that bind us all together.”