“When the wicked rule the people mourn. . . . Renounce war and proclaim peace” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:9, 16).
Seven or so years ago, my sister and I were returning to shore from a river cruise in Mystic, Connecticut, on a gorgeous sunny day. Just as we were disembarking, we looked up to see a smallish fireball of an explosion about a hundred feet away. A truck had crashed into a telephone pole and the transformer had gone up in flames and black smoke. Power in Mystic was down, and the police blocked access to Main Street, which crossed the river, with our car on the other side.
Aside from the shock of seeing a sudden, unexpected open flame on an otherwise beautifully placid day, we were sobered to think that in a couple of minutes we would have been walking in that exact spot as we returned to our car. I still remember that sick feeling of being thrust into a chaotic situation with a number of unpredictable variables and instantly needing to problem solve how to stay safe. My body’s stress response clicked on, adrenaline pumping, and it was an anxious, emotionally exhausting afternoon.
After walking half a mile over to the Mystic Seaport Museum Visitors’ Center, we eventually caught a ride back to our car. My mom called some friends who lived in Connecticut about twenty minutes away, and they generously came to drive us, saving us more of a hike or waiting for several hours for the power to come back on and for the bridge to be safely cleared (thank you, cell phones!)
This experience came to mind yesterday when I heard about the attacks in Brussels. It may seem like a trivial reference point since the character of these events differs entirely. My brush with fire was not a war-time event. I imagine that the hapless truck driver had no malicious intent, although he could have had, I suppose. I was not physically hurt (and I firmly believe we were protected at several crucial points along the way). However, the heightened, dramatic, and unexpected nature of those events left an imprint I doubt I will be able to forget. My gut remembers them.
I have not experienced and thus cannot fully comprehend the horror and trauma of direct contact with a force of evil that is bent on annihilating human life. I have not felt the pangs of war at close range. I can only imagine the vibrations of hate that accompany such explosive actions. That kind of destructive energy damages its victims on an emotional level, in addition to a physical one.
“If someone is broadcasting hatred, if you are tuned to that hatred, you will get it; but if you are tuned to love, no matter how many hateful vibrations are sent, you will not get them. You must cultivate love in your heart, for it is the magnetism that draws souls to you and it is the dagger that kills hatred.” Paramahansa Yoganandya (as quoted by _nitch)
Accidental violence, chaos, and uncertainty are a natural part of life, one to which we are all prone, and they all entail an emotional effect. My experience was a result of human error, an accidental violence. The rippling consequences of that driving error (perhaps a chain of errors preceding that) affected a whole town for an afternoon. On the other hand, a premeditated act of violence of the magnitude of these attacks, creates even more painful waves throughout the world, wounding bodies and hearts in its wake.
Reading about the events in Brussels I have felt the ripple of sorrow that many have. I feel the truth that we are interconnected, that we are diminished individually and collectively when our brothers and sisters are hurt, when people decide they are above our common humanity. Each emotional outpouring after these tragic events is appropriate. Our hearts go out. They want to comfort, to heal. And they do. They beat back the tide of hatred with each compassionate beat. Even if the world seems dark and hopeless at times like these, our love counts for something.
Even if we cannot control chaos, our emotional energy, our intent, matters profoundly, as the Book of Mormon attests and as we see in conflicts like this. The seeds of hatred between brothers can sew national and international discord. Hearts that are hardened past feeling compassion for others eventually lead to civilizational ruin. And by the same token with love comes more love, and with peace comes peace. Our feelings leave a profound imprint on our souls and in our DNA. Noble and ignoble feelings can be passed down for generations, multiplying joy or despair. What we think and feel now will influence what others think and feel in the future.
Many people today would still agree that a value for the sanctity of human life is a foundational aspect of civilization. The urge to death of self or others is a countercultural impulse that has continually emerged throughout history (and which will continue to emerge until we globally attain a higher level of spiritual and emotional maturity). On a very basic level this urge is a perversion of the truth that all human life is sacred, and not just some of this or that tribe’s members’ lives or this or that class members’ lives. Each heart that beats is sacred. Each body that breathes God-given breath is sacred. Destruction of those lives and hearts is unconscionable. It is not the way.
No one is immune to the pain aggressors inflict on the body of humanity. We are not many nations. We are one people united by our right to live. What wounds one or dozens or thousands or millions wounds us all. Yesterday was one more rent in the fabric of humanity. One more tear. It wounds us all. I felt it.