When I was in the eighth grade in 1968, I had the only fist fight I have ever had in my life. I started it, but for the life of me I cannot remember why.
It happened after football practice. I was the quarterback of my team. One of my teammates, Ben, had been a Pop Warner All-American football player when he was 12. I guess that put a chip on his shoulder. For some reason he irritated me.
We were both new to the private school we were attending. I don’t know what got into me, but one day we started arguing in the locker room. I thought I was Muhammad Ali and put up my dukes. What was I thinking? I hit Ben in the face. It didn’t seem to phase him. My hand was hurting. Others stepped in and broke it up. That was it.
I immediately felt ashamed, but others who didn’t like Ben started patting me on the back. I was a hero. Of sorts.
Is my middle school altercation in the boys’ locker room an anecdote for how violence begins? What is it that makes it acceptable? Can we just blame TV and the movies?
I have never known anyone who experienced true, life-shattering violence who was glad for the experience. Violence changes you. It makes you afraid. It makes you angry. It makes you want to build fences, to run away.
Fear sometimes leads to buying a gun. To moving to the suburbs.
I recently was told by a friend that he and his wife are moving to either Northern Ireland or New Zealand because those are the only places they believe they can be safe from ISIS. Violence and fear lead us to doing dramatic things.
But fear of violence cannot rule our lives. While we know that violence is all around us, we also know that there is no where we can truly hide. No place is safe if what you mean by “safety” is the state of being impervious to hurt and pain. Pain is lurking at any moment.
The only way to confront violence is with courage born of love. Violence can bring any of us to our knees, but seeking to experience love no matter where it leads is the only way to live. The New Testament tells us over and over and over to “fear not.” Jesus does not intend this to be simply an inspirational intimation. It’s a mandate. If we’re going to stand for righteousness, love, equality, and nonviolence, we must put our own fears aside and depend on God to guide us.
Saturday’s mass murders in Orlando do not mean that nowhere is safe; it means that all of us need to lead lives born out of love and its accompanying fearlessness every day because we do not know what will happen next. It means that we live in a broken world that needs our light now more than ever, that we must advocate for the oppressed and the hurt. We must stand in solidarity with those in the shadows and denounce violence. We’ve always been called to create the change we want to see in the world, but with acts of dehumanizing murder such as these becoming more and more frequent, that call is even more urgent.
I have not seen Ben in 40 years. If I did see him, I don’t know if he would remember the day that I hurt him, but even if he didn’t, I would tell him I am sorry for fighting with him and hurting him. Knowing that the kind of violence I enacted on him so many years ago is within me scares me, but it makes me focus even more on the need to cultivate love.