When I was growing up, I was told that love is all you need.
But now in the face of such hatred toward people of color, I’m not so sure.
Three brave people put their lives on the line to stop a knife-wielding white supremacist on a bus in Portland, Oregon, yesterday. Two of them – Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche – lost their lives defending two young women being menaced with anti-Muslim slurs. The other – Micah Fletcher – was viciously wounded but survived.
As Meche was bleeding out on the floor of the bus, a witness recorded his last words: “Tell everyone on this bus that I love them.”
What are we to do with such knowledge? Three people filled with love and one maniac filled with hate.
Was love enough?
It saved the would-be targets this time. The attacker is behind bars. But two precious lives have been snuffed out.
Why? So one scared little man can vent his xenophobia and intolerance?
The America I grew up in seemed to have learned the lessons of the Civil Rights movement. I was born after the murders of Dr. King, Malcolm X and the Kennedys. I was born after the church bombings, bus boycotts, freedom rides and marches.
I grew up in a time when we could look back on all that and wonder what we would have done had we been faced with the same challenges. And now…
Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” What better term to define the age of Trump and the Alt-Right than farce?
Capitalism is dying and the one percent are so ignorant they’re only fueling the fires of their own demise. They ship jobs overseas and then wonder why no one has any money to buy their products. Meanwhile the frightened and forgotten white American men who used to sit atop the social ladder are once again looking for someone to blame. And the same convenient scapegoats present themselves.
I find myself asking what so many generations have asked before: will we survive this time?
It is not just racism and prejudice. It is not just economic uncertainty and systemic inequality. It’s climate change and nuclear proliferation. It’s a world on the brink of collapse and civilization-ending war.
And the only thing we have to fight all these enemies at the gates, the only thing we have is love.
Will it be enough?
Do we have enough love to overcome all the fear and hate?
I don’t know.
I love my daughter. That I can say with absolute certainty.
I look at her innocent enthusiastic face as she draws a crayon portrait of Ruby Bridges, the first black girl to desegregate a historic New Orleans public school in 1960. I smile and try to hope.
I love my wife.
I watch her look of triumph as she beats me again at Jeopardy. She can read the answers faster than I can voice the questions.
I love my students.
I smile as they furiously write their final 8th grade projects connecting The Outsiders, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and To Kill a Mockingbird in one glorious essay. How much more confident they are now completing a project that would have seemed impossible 8 months before!
But do I love the stranger, too?
Will I look across the aisle at the black and brown boys and girls riding with me on the bus and have the courage to love them as much?
When a man who looks just like me stands and threatens them, will I love them enough to stand in his way? Will I suspend the love of all those I know to protect those I don’t?
Do I have enough love?
I hope so. Because in writing this article one thing has become clear to me about myself that I didn’t realize when I began.
I don’t know if love can save the world. I don’t know if it can heal the environment, stop global war, provide an equitable economy and eradicate racism.
But I still believe in spite of everything that it’s the only way to live.
We may not survive today. But we’ll love each other.
And maybe that matters the most.