Many thoughts crowded my brain as the news came in. Beirut. Paris. Nigeria. I watched, horrified, as the World Trade Center came down. I read, frightened, as bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, mere steps from where I’d planned to be that same evening. And I hold my breath awaiting news of the next place targeted by those we, rightfully, call “terrorists.”
In light of the seemingly endless spasms of violence, I felt shell shocked and, frankly, a little hopeless. I vacillated between anger at the perpetrators, sympathy for the victims and disappointment in the all-too-predictable finger pointing and vilification that follows each attack. Worst of all, I wasn’t surprised by any of it, which was probably the worst feeling of all.
I started documenting this stumbling journey towards enlightenment exactly one year ago today. Writing about the little joys in life – watching my children (and celebrities) dance, appreciating the underdog’s hard work or simply staring at the sky in awe again – kept the inevitable challenges in perspective and served as a regular reminder of all that can and should be cherished about this world. As I wrote, I became more mindful, I put down my phone more often and I enjoyed life.
With Paris on my mind, however, I found myself at a crossroads. Did any of this really matter? Suddenly my exhortations to “Be The Buffalo” or “Salt The Napkin” seemed trite and meaningless in the face of such senseless human slaughter.
But then, as I stepped outside of my writer’s cocoon and pulled my jacket around my neck on a cool, autumn evening, I heard it. An eclectic little band was jamming on a nearby street corner. As I approached, appreciating the unique yet harmonious combination of guitar, violin, viola and accordion, I noticed a couple of very young children dancing in the way only young children can.
And that’s when the cloud of toxic emotions lifted and I understood something about this world, my first glimpse of what passes for enlightenment on this journey, if you will. Bear with me, because I’m still not sure it makes sense even to me. But hopefully I can do justice to that brief feeling with these mere words.
Yes, there are terrible people in this world, and they do terrible things. But they are the exception, not the rule (obvious, I know, but again, bear with me). We can count the number of people who carried out the attacks in Paris on two hands. The entire population of ISIS, or Al Qaeda or the Ku Klux Klan or whatever hate filled group whose name you care to conjure is a rounding error in the context of the 7 billion people who populate our planet. Likewise, the people angrily pointing fingers, looking to place blame upon our politicians or the entire Muslim religion or whoever they think is at fault when bad things happen are also a percentage point of a percentage point in the world today.
Most of world is populated by people who want to hear the music. They sit in cafes, sipping coffee and writing books, they paint, take photos, go for nature walks or… whatever else moves them in the moment. Human beings with problems, yes, and fears too. But also hopes and dreams, loves and lusts, who are far more likely to laugh with me than try to kill me.
So, as the title of this post gave away, I believe that nothing matters except what matters. Forgive the fortune cookie phrasing, but it means this: we can let the tiny population of terrible people make us feel hate and anger and fear towards one another. We can let what they want matter to us. Or we can, as best we can, ignore them, and go on making our own “music” for the rest of the world to enjoy. We can make love, peace, compassion and beauty matter to us instead.
This is how the world came out of the Dark Ages, with an explosion of art and thought and creativity, the sparks of the first Enlightenment with a capital E. And it is today’s Bachs and Mozarts, Franklins and Jeffersons that can help lead the way out of our current darkness.
Now, this might all sound sweetly naive, and maybe it is, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. The man who played John Lennon’s Imagine on a grand piano outside the Bataclan theatre, the father who told his young son that flowers and candles protect us against the bad guys, the husband who told ISIS they cannot have his, or his son’s, hate in spite of losing his wife in the attacks… these are the people that understand that we, and we alone, have control over what matters to us. That we cannot be made to feel what we do not wish to feel. That we get to decide whether or not this world will be driven by violence, cynicism and despair or hope, compassion and, yes, music.
And so, I will continue writing, about whatever I deem meaningful to my understanding of this world. I hope you will find that my writing matters to you, but if not, that’s okay. More importantly, I hope you will continue to do whatever makes life matter to you. Sing. Feed the birds. Paint. Do Yoga. Meditate. Give long hugs. And no matter what, don’t let what others do, no matter how horrific, take that away from you. The harder they try, the more important it is that we cling, to each other, to what matters to us and to all of the ways we define ourselves and our humanity.
Last, but not least, no less an authority than the Dalai Lama spoke about what we can do when such terrible things happen in the world. I could interpret his remarks, but I’d rather simply leave you with his own words, which are so much more powerful than my own.
“If we emphasize more on nonviolence and harmony, we can herald a new beginning. People want to lead peaceful lives. We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place. We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments. If you consider others as brothers and sisters and respect their rights, then there is no room for violence. We are one people.”