|Rama Jyoti Vernon||
July 14, 2016
It seems as if each day we look at the news on our computer or turn on the TV, a new shocking event greets our senses. Whether we realize it or not we are being impacted by the energies around us. Elements of grief, mourning, fear and anger permeate the atmosphere and we feel it viscerally, in every cell of our being.
Last Tuesday was the day of the Dallas Memorial service honoring the five policemen who died protecting a march protesting the shooting of two black men by the police. My husband and I live about a two hour drive from Dallas where the weight of mourning hung heavy in the atmosphere, like clouds of a gathering storm.
Now just a little over a week, it’s old news. There is so much happening in our world in France, Turkey and Baton Rouge where three police were shot. Who knows what the breaking news will be tomorrow. We seek respite by shutting off the news, and find solace and peace in focusing on what is in front of us each day.
Just one day before the Dallas Memorial, there was an article in the Dallas News that sent a chilling ripple through my spine until I remembered that I was in the Republican land of Texas. Radio Talk show host Mark David wrote a message to President Obama before his expected visit. It was more of a warning, “Mr. President, don’t temper your support for the police during Dallas visit. You have often guided Americans not to venture one step into your definition of Islamophobia. We might give you similar advice. Please do not join the chorus suggesting that black parents need to warn their children of marauding hoards of racist police just itching to mistreat them.”
I groaned as my heart sank … one more separatist view, from one who isn’t hearing the voices that will grow louder if no one is listening. In the Yoga Sutras the first mind wave is perception. Conflict is always about perception. We are all like the blind men touching the parts of the elephant thinking our part to be the whole. If only we can listen to those who are touching one part until we are able to hear all parts expanding our consciousness to experience the entire elephant.
The next day after the article appeared, President Obama arrived in Dallas, giving Texans a message of unity and working together. Seeing him share the stage with George Bush and Ted Cruz was heartening. He demonstrated transcendence of polarizing influences in his words, his poise and graceful eloquence.
Even though this is “old news” just one week later, I was so moved that I want to share my impressions of the Memorial service, and some of the moving words that were spoken.
President George W. and Laura Bush stepped on stage of the Meyerson Symphony Center with President Barack and Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill. They solemnly welcomed one another with handshakes and hugs. It was a sad occasion to memorialize the five police officers felled by a gunman’s bullets in the Dallas downtown streets. American and Texas flags seemed to be everywhere, which after six years of living in this region, I know to be the Texas way.
Two police cars out front had become altar and soon disappeared under a mass of flowers, balloons, stuffed toys, poetry, prose and notes of love. These offerings spread to the surrounding area for many days.
A Marine color guard held towering flags in front of audience of police and other public servants who came from around the country. As they sang patriotic songs, families of the victims were gathering in the front row. There was a heightened sense of order and discipline in this gathering.
I wished that all victims of gun violence could receive a send off like this.
The Mayor of Dallas spoke of Unity across the divides, “We set the standard where policing can be strong and smart. There is a reason this has happened here at this time in American history. We can build a new model for our city, for our country. We mourn together…we are sad but will not dwell in self-pity. We have many bridges to build that we will cross together. This I know will happen.”
What a great affirmation, I thought, while holding the Yoga principles of Unity even when there is a great divide.
Three interfaith leaders approached the microphone. The black female Christian minister sent out a resounding prayer that was so powerful I was certain the rafters were shaking with the presence of God.
The Muslim Imam stepped up to the microphone. He humbly offered his prayer for the heartbreak of the people of the city.
“We ask You to put peace in our hearts that we may spread it to all those around us. We ask You to protect us from being people of injustice that we may purify the world of it, and as we ask You, we recognize that it is up to us to say, You did not create us for bigotry or vengeance. You did not create us to dominate or oppress one another. You did not create us for war. We are not the ones to judge who should live and who should die … So today we stand before You in humility and in determination; ready to pursue the peace, justice and equality that You demand of us. Ready to stand up against all of the evil that threatens to destroy the goodness in Your creation. Ready to stand up against any oppression in any name, for any cause, from any position, and against any of Your creation. “
I wondered how the people of this highly conservative area of the country would receive his presence at this gathering, and his words, “We ask that the voices of racism and xenophobia that seek to divide us are drowned out by the course of voices that say, You will not pit us against one another.”
The Jewish Rabbi offered his prayers, “Dear friends we stand here in compassion as children of the heavenly parent that has created us all in his divine image. In this moment of sadness and pain look to the stars above. They are so far away that we see their light long after the star is gone. The stars that light up the darkest nights are the stars that guide us as we remember those who lost their lives. They will be remembered as those shining lights of compassion and service.”
The Rabbi continued, “We ask for the healing of the brokenhearted. Please God please, heal the departed and their loved ones with strength and love. We pray, please God heal all who seek your wholeness. To first responders, please God please, heal them for they hurt along with us and give us all the permanent peace we seek for those angry, afraid and confused in our city, state and our country. Please God heal us all from the violence fear and xenophobia.”
There was that word again, I thought as he continued “ Please God Help us make peace here on earth for everyone. And together we say, “Amen.” The group all joined in a chorus of “Amen.”
The music began with gospel singers whose voices rose from their hearts and touched the heart and soul of us all. Whites, blacks, Christians, Muslims and Jews sang and prayed together. What a visual feast for human unity in the remembrance that the soul of humankind has no divisions and separation…but as Pollyannaish as it may sound, this was a testimony, if even temporary, that was a much needed reminder that we are ONE with our brothers and sisters of the one humanity.
If only we could hold that remembrance of our “oneness” in the days and years to come. If only we could hold it when life’s events cry out for justice for the hurts that others have knowingly or unknowingly bestowed upon us. If only we could hold this thought when others criticize us, betray us, deny us and condemn us.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, Republican majority whip spoke next, reminding me that I was living in the land of Republicans. “A local official told me that being a Texan doesn’t describe what you are, but who your family is.”
I cringed with fear that someone would find out that my family is from Northern California, a hot bed of liberalism! At this moment I wanted to be like the Monarch Butterfly and soar above all divides of consciousness; Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, red and blue, black and white, good or evil. My consciousness struggled to soar to new heights of seeing the oneness with all life forms and loving all equally. I was reminded of the words of the Persian Poet Rumi, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” How I longed for that place.
Senator Cornyn didn’t bring up the assassination of President Kennedy more than 50 years ago that brought deep sadness and shame to the city and people of Dallas. But he did say, “There was another life altering event in 2001, and President Bush is a reminder of how we responded as a nation with powerful courage. The police we are honoring here today ran toward the sound of gunfire. They shielded others so that others could live. I believe we here in Dallas can overcome the grief we feel now. They served their community and served this city. We uplift them in our prayers as well as those recovering from their wounds.”
He introduced Dallas resident, President George W. Bush who was eloquent in delivering his message, “I too am so happy President Obama and Vice President Biden have come here for this event. Law enforcement is our courage and our shield. Our Mayor and Police Department have been mighty inspirational for the rest of the Nation. These slain and wounded officers are the best of all of us, and with their deaths we have lost so much, we are grief-stricken and forever grateful for their service.”
“Each new day can bring new dangers…but no one could have been prepared. The forces pulling us apart are greater than those bringing us together. We judge those by their worst example by judging ourselves with the best of intention. We have a great advantage as Americans. We are bound together by things of the spirit and the spirit of common ideals. This is the bridge across our Nations deepest divisions. We honor the image of God in one another. We are brothers and sisters sharing a moment together on earth. We have one destiny. We don’t want unity through grief or fear, but hope and high purpose. We can build the country of our dreams. What we need now is not fear but love and self-control. This is the code of the peace officer. We feel their sense of loss. Your loved ones’ time with you was too short.” He motioned to the families. “They did not have time to say good by. Your loss is unfair, we cannot explain it but we can stand beside you and share your grief. May God bless you.” The audience rose to their feet in resounding and continuous applause.
The next speaker introduced by the Dallas Mayor was Police Chief David Brown who was met with thunderous applause in a long, standing ovation. He was superb during the shootings, bringing calm and peace to the situation through his presence. Brown is black. I expected him to give a mournful talk but instead he delightfully surprised everyone. His words were so refreshing and lighthearted.
“When I was a teenager I could not connect with the girls. I had no words. It was difficult to express myself. So I put together a strategy to recite inspiring lyrics to get a date. I would recite the lyrics to love songs. If I fell in love with a girl, I really had to dig down deep to Stevie Wonder for that special girl. Today, I’m pulling out Stevie Wonder for these officers.” His words were met with laughter, cheers, and applause, and when there was silence, he read,
“We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet you life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell
I'll be loving you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky, I’ll be loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high, I’ll be Lloving you
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea, I’ll be Lloving you
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream, I’ll be loving you
Until the day is night and night becomes the day, I’ll be loving you
Until the trees and seas up, up and fly away, I’ll be loving you
Until the day that 8 times 8 times 8 is 4, I’ll be loving you
Until the day that is the day that are no more, I’ll be loving you
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left, I’ll be loving you
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself, I’ll be Loving you
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through, I’ll be loving you
Until the day that you are me and I am you, Now isn't that loving you”
Then this loving and heartfelt Chief of Dallas Police said, “There is no greater love than this. These men gave their lives for all of us.” Before the audience could applaud, he added, “Now it is my greatest honor and privilege to introduce to you,” he seemed to grow taller with pride, “the President of the United States of America, Barrack Obama.”
Overwhelming applause and a standing ovation greeted President Obama as he approached the podium. President Obama lifted the people’s spirit by humorously saying, “I’m so glad I met Michelle first because she loves Stevie Wonder.” He acknowledged the former President, the Vice President and all city and state officials. This was the 11th memorial event he has attended in his eight years in office. Rather than having a speechwriter, he spoke his own words.
“History tells us that in suffering there is glory. It produces perseverance and that perseverance produces character and character…hope. Sometimes the truth of these words is hard to see. Now we are tested because the people of Dallas and across our country are suffering. We are here to honor the lives and loss of five fellow Americans. We are here to pray for the wounded and try to find some meaning amongst our sorrow. Last Thursday began like every other day for them. They got up had breakfast and kissed their family goodbye and went to work. But their work is like no other the moment they put on that uniform. When they answer a call any moment, in even the briefest interaction can put their life in danger not knowing the outcome.”
President Obama then named each officer giving a brief portrait on each. “The night before one officer Lorne Ahrens bought dinner for a homeless man. Michael Krol answered the call knowing the danger of his job but never shied away from his duty. Michael Smith answered the army’s call and then for 30 years worked for the Dallas Police Association that presented him with the Cops Cop award. Now his girls have lost their dad for God has called him home. Brent Thompson, an ex-Marine served in Iraq and Afghanistan and then settled here in Dallas as a transit cop. He was married two weeks ago.
These men and their families shared a commitment to something larger than themselves. They could have told you about the long shifts and long hours. Our entire life in America depends upon the rule of law.”
I suddenly realized that they were upholding what we call in the ancient Indian philosophy, Dharma, the societal structure of the times. Societal structures may last for years, centuries and millenniums. But the time comes for Adharma when old structures begin to crumble as the new tries to push through. With all the violence and changes we are witnessing in this country and the world around us, I wondered if this could be the chaos of change in an Adharmic period? Could it be that the old societal structures of the past that are no longer working and breaking down are like labor pains that precede the new birth?
President Obama’s words broke through my thoughts, “They were upholding the constitutional rights of this country in protecting the protestors. Even though police conduct was the subject of the protests, these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals they were. The Dallas Police Department posted pictures saying ‘no justice no peace.’ Some of them supported and even posed with protesters for pictures…and then the gunfire came … another community torn apart … more hearts broken. I know Americans are struggling right now…first the shooting in Minnesota and Baton Rouge and then the targeting of officers based on racial hatred. This has left us all wounded, angry and hurt. These deepest fault lines in our democracy have been exposed and even widened.’
‘Faced with this violence we wonder if the divides can ever be bridged. When we turn on the TV or surf the Internet, we see even more divides. It’s hard to believe that the center at times may not hold and that things could get worse. I am here to say we must reject such despair. We are not as divided as we may seem. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds from what I have seen of this country and the goodness of the people of the United States. You here have shown us the meaning of perseverance, character and hope.’
‘When the bullets started flying the Dallas police did not flinch or react recklessly. They showed incredible strength. They protected and evacuated the people and saved more people than we may ever know. Everyone was helping each other. It wasn’t about black or white. They were picking up people and moving them away. The police helped the woman shot trying to protect her four sons. She said to the Dallas Police Department that her son wants to be a policeman when he grows up” … thunderous applause and a standing ovation ... “This is the America I know,” President Obama shouted over the roaring of the crowd.
“In the aftermath of the shooting, we’ve seen the Mayor and Police Commissioner, a white and black man working together to unify a city with strength, grace and wisdom. The Dallas Police Department has been on the forefront of helping to bring people together. You have been doing it the right way. Thank you for your example. Again, there was thunderous applause and another standing ovation honoring all their efforts. When everyone finally settled back down into their seats, President Obama continued.
“I see people who mourn for those who died and weep for the families. I see what is possible when we see that we are one American family all deserving equal respect as the children of God. I’m not naïve. I’ve spoken at too many memorials during this presidency. We’ve seen how the spirit of unity born of tragedy can dissipate as we return to business as usual…old habits. I see how we slip back into our old notions because they are comfortable. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been. I’m reminded of John the gospel. ‘Let us not love with words and speech but with action and truth.’ If we are to sustain the unity getting us through these difficult times and honor these officers, we need to act on the truths that we know. This is not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We know the overwhelming majority of our officers are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. Anyone, no matter how good their intention, who paints all police with bias is responsible for furthering bigotry.”
“Those that do them violence are doing a disservice to the justice they aim to promote. We also know centuries of racial discrimination, slavery, subjugations and Jim Crow. They didn’t stop when the laws changed…they did not suddenly disappear with the voting rights. They didn’t stop with those who helped us achieve that progress, like Dr. Luther King. But now it is obvious that bias still remains. The bigotry still exists, even in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard it within our own leaders … we know it can be there. Most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better.”
“No one of us is entirely innocent and that includes our police department that is not immune. Studies show that when there is unequal treatment the justice is different for whites and blacks.”
“When mothers and fathers give the talk to their children and still have fear when their child walks out the door…knowing that if they don’t do it right, it can end their lives. Even after the civil rights act was passed, we cannot dismiss this as political incorrectness or racism. To have your experience dismissed by those in authority…it hurts. We also know what Chief Brown says is true. So much of the tension is produced because we ask the police to do too much and give so little of ourselves.”
“As a society, we choose to invest in schools. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier tor a teenager to get his hands on a gun than a computer or book…and then we tell our police, ‘you’re the drug counselor, don’t make a mistake that will disturb our peace of mind.’ Then we are surprised when the tensions boil over. We all know how dangerous these communities are where our police officers serve. If we can’t connect with those who look different from us and bring a different perspective we will never break this cycle.”
“We need to find the will to make a change. Can we find the character as Americans to open our hearts to one another? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity? It doesn’t make us good or bad…just human. I confess that I too sometimes experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these memorials. I’ve seen too many families grieving the lost ones. The lord says in Ezekiel, ‘I will give you a new heart. I will remove your heart of stone and give you new flesh.’ Let’s pray for a new heart not of stone, but a heart that is open to the fear and challenges of our fellow citizens. With an open heart we can stand in each other’s shoes and see each other through one another’s eyes.”
“With an open heart we can abandon overheated rhetoric not just to opponents or enemies. With an open heart, we can acknowledge the efforts of this Department here in Dallas. Police can say we are not perfect but can we find solutions not with racial violence or an attack on cops, but to live to our highest ideals. This can be hijacked by the irresponsible few whether black or white. Even those who dislike the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter,’ surely we can feel the pain of Alton Starlings’ family.”
“We can feel the affection of Mr. Castile. He was a gentle soul. These lives mattered to all those who knew them and their family. Perhaps we can join sides…to do right rather than always seeing what they’ve done wrong. The killer in Orlando and Charleston…We know there is evil in this world.”
I always cringe at that word. Spelled backwards it is “live.”
“That is why we need a Police Department but as Americans we can decide they will not drive us apart but help us come together to share the hopes and dreams of our future together. For all of us life presents suffering, accidents, loss of loved ones and calamities, natural and manmade. Often we make mistakes. We learn we don’t always have control over these things. But we can control how we respond to the world. Our founders gave us institutions to guard against tyranny and a democracy to work through our differences and debate them peacefully. America gives us the capacity to change … but as the men and women we mourn today, these five heroes knew the most, we cannot take this nation for granted.’
“We do not persevere alone. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow men down but it is found by lifting others up. This is what I take away from the lives of these understanding men. I believe our sorrow can make us a better country and our righteous anger can be transformed into more joy and peace. We cannot match their sacrifice but surely we can match their sense of service. We cannot match their courage but perhaps we can their devotion.” The audience sprang to their feet with thunderous applause as President Obama lifted his hand and shouted “God bless this country that we love.”
The organ played as the choir sang, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is stomping out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Hallelujah.
I felt patriotic for a moment even though I shuddered with images of the Crusader’s invasions and occupation of the Middle East in attempts to convert “the infidel.” The choir didn’t sing it … but I could not help but think of the words “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.” I wondered if this was the origin of the Mideast conflict we are experiencing today. “His truth is marching on.”
I thought of the Pete Seeger song, “When will we ever learn.”
“Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” Men and women burst into song, separately and then all joined to sing that his truth is marching on as pictures of the five fallen men flashed on the screen.
As the songs continued I couldn’t help but wish that all those who have died under the hands of the police could also be honored in this way. “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” My heart was lifted into the heavens as I imagined the blessings being showered upon all victims of shootings and violence and those that were the cause of human suffering. Their souls too needed the light for their own transformation.
The group quietly filed out as newscasters rushed in a little too quickly, to give their summary of the event. I wondered if they would be able to capture the heartfelt words of all speakers and the mood that prevailed in Dallas today. Young and old, black and white all religious denominations joined together, cried, embraced and loved.
I was witnessing the blessing that Yoga gives when long-stored impressions in the psyche rise to the surface for healing, new understandings and transformation. Just as individual impressions arise from our psyche, there is also the collective psyche where deep societal impressions arise to the surface of our social body. Until they arise, they cannot be fully healed. As we say in the practice of Yoga, “The invisible must become visible before it can be eradicated or transformed.”
Yes, I thought, President Obama was right. Memories are short, we may return to old habits. But, I thought, it will never be the same. The lid is off and deep dialogue is beginning. There will no doubt be more marches for justice, more shootings, more pain and heartbreak but instead of dividing us from one another, perhaps these events can now bring us closer together.
This day was not an end, but only a new beginning.