TRAVELS TO PLACES OF CHANGE
This column first appeared in my hometown newspaper,The Gallup Independent, on January 2, 2016.
I woke sharply from a dream, but I had only a vague image of what had wakened me. Yet the meaning of the dream was absolutely clear. I had to write about change. I had already started writing a different column than this one, but I knew I had to shelve that one for now.
In the afterimage of my dream, it seemed that a turbaned Muslim man had kissed my ear. I wasn’t even sure that was what I dreamed, though I kept trying to grasp what was left of it. I want to think the man was Rumi, my favorite poet, a 13th century Muslim, bringing me word from across the centuries. I know he would be disturbed by the Western World’s uproar about Muslims, about how so many see Muslims as the Enemy. Rumi would be saddened because in his lifetime, he brought together people of many faiths.
In the daylight, I thought of Mark Twain’s words, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…. Broad, wholesome, charitable views …cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
I thought, “Yes, I will write about how travel can change us.” Travel can mean going great distances. But we can also journey through books and movies, through encounters with people and ideas outside our everyday lives, through experiences from right next door.
Travel can be living in a place that isn’t my “little corner of the earth.” Growing up in the Navajo Nation as a non-Native taught me how to be a guest in someone else’s land. It taught me about how it feels to be in the minority, even though I was a member of the majority culture—one of the most valuable lessons of my life. It taught me about the many problems we have inherited the world over because of colonization.
Visiting the Auschwitz death camp taught me about the evil that human beings are capable of. It showed me my own shadow side, sending me into overwhelming grief. The exhibit of the White Buses that rescued Danes and Norwegians from concentration camps taught me about the goodness and courage humans are capable of.
I can travel to the other side of my street where a family with a parent from Germany and one from Thailand lives. The bumper sticker on their van reads, “My Race: Human.” Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy teaches me that every action I take has a consequence. The woman next to me in church, whose politics are the opposite of mine, teaches me acceptance. In the age of the Internet, we learn about acts of kindness on social media—such as that of a 98-year-old woman who sews one little dress every day for a poor child, making each dress pretty and different.
Last night I read a post from a white Danish woman. She wanted to contact an Arab-Danish woman who had helped her parents. The Arab woman, who was also Muslim, overheard the elderly woman say she had lost her purse along with the couple’s tickets. Knowing they could receive a costly fine for not having tickets, the woman quickly bought them two tickets using her phone. She refused to let them repay her. The writer of the post informed the rescuer that, since she wouldn’t take money, the family had made a donation to a Danish organization for the support of refugees.
I don’t know what the Muslim man who kissed my ear (or was he whispering?) might have wanted me to write. If you listen to the news, you’ve probably heard a good bit of hate speech about Muslims and refugees. Those words of hatred play on stereotypes, such as “ Muslims are terrorists.” If you believe that stereotype, travel with me to Vienna after World War II and listen to Viktor Frankl. If anyone had reason to hate all Nazis after surviving four concentration camps, it was Frankl. Yet he wrote, “No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.”
Stereotypes are stories we make up based on our fears of the unknown. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” The question then becomes, if we fear the Other, and that causes us to think of them as the Enemy, what journey do we need to undertake in order to change, to overcome our fear? Such a journey requires courage. As writer and rock band manager Ambrose Redmoon wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
So we need to ask ourselves, “What is more important than fear? What is more important than the fear of someone who is not like me?” Perhaps it is more important to learn to live with one another in harmony because we are, after all, in this together. Perhaps it is just the simple act of agreeing to disagree. Perhaps it is, as Jesus commanded, that we love our Enemies. No exceptions.
© Anna Redsand 2016 All Rights Reserved