On Taking Charlottesville Personally

Or, how I’m learning to love human beings while condemning their actions.

Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash

Since February, I’ve spent four long weekends in Charlottesville studying innate mental health. I’ve whiled away many an hour walking with many a new friend — talking about the universal gifts of wisdom and well-being — right there on the very Mall where a human being drove through a crowd of other human beings with the intent to kill. A crowd that easily could have included more than one of the Charlottesville activists I now consider family.

I have watched my experience run the gamut of emotion these past few days — from rage — to sadness — to glee at the hilarious juxtaposition of the scariest value system I can imagine with silly polo shirts and idiotic tiki torches.

I’ve watched my consciousness plummet to the level of taking these emotions entirely seriously — to sending panicked texts to my Charlottesville loved ones to make sure they were okay — an action I did for no other reason other than to try to soothe my own anxious feelings, an attempt to save myself from my own emotional experience.

In moments like this, it has occurred to me that I have a choice. I can continue to take my feelings at face value. I can let my anxiety, fear, rage, and even glee control my behavior. I can escalate the problems I see in front of me by meeting them with the same low level of consciousness that created them.

Or I can keep looking to the space within — the place where I’ve found effortless compassion from time to time this week — the part of me that makes the men in those photos remind me so thoroughly of the children I work with, that I can see their resilience and love and pain shining through even the most despicable of words and actions.

And then I can return to the world of form to continue working to make it a better place for all human beings. I can use the gifts of intellect, reason, and curiosity I possess as a human being to raise my own level of rhetorical awareness around this ongoing conversation.

In this world of form, I do not make false equivalencies between the human being who drove that car and the ones who were in the crowd — between the people who carried signifiers of hate and those who stood up to that hate. Their messages are equally legal, but they are not equally valid. I am neither afraid to condemn the actions of white supremacists, nor to vocalize my support for the counter-protestors attempting to raise consciousness about America’s oppressive, exploitative history, which continues to permeate the present.

I condemn the words and actions of those who are so lost in their own egoic thinking that they believe some human beings are more valuable than others. I condemn the silence and inaction of those who condemn this white nationalist rally, but not the American criminal justice system — those who can denounce these Nazis but who can’t say black lives matter.

I know that on some level that I love the people who say and do all these things, even in moments when all I feel is hate. After all, I am not entirely immune to the toxic thinking floating around in the white supremacist water in which we all continue to swim.

I call everyone, including myself, to listen to the nagging feeling that says, “Hey, something’s not quite right in our thinking here. Wake up! Ask questions! Learn more!” And then to listen to that feeling again. And again. And again.

In this world of form, despite my personal connection to Charlottesville and its people, I won’t waste more breath being part of the allegedly progressive America that “fixates on 500 assholes instead of healing its own institutional racism.” I will continue to educate myself about history, and explore ways to move toward a more egalitarian, freer future. I will continue to try to figure out what the hell freedom even looks like.

Then when I got lost in my suffering again, I will go back to the space within.

And so on, and so on.

It is hard to hold both love of a person and condemnation of an action in the same space. It occurs to me now that that’s because those things don’t occupy the same space. They both happen, one thing at a time.

Luckily, we have the capacity to go back and forth. That’s how we do both.

I will continue to try to do both, as long as I’m lucky enough to be alive to do so.