A couple of years ago I spent a few solemn hours visiting the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites in Hawaii. It’s a visit I will never forget, and its profound impact stays with me. This week, we will again remember and honor those American soldiers and sailors who died that day, 80 years ago. 2,400 were killed within two hours, 1,177 within minutes on the USS Arizona. For 1,102 of those service members, that ship remains their final resting place. Another 1,178 men and women were injured. The attack shocked our country and catapulted us into World War II. In the years since a number of surviving sailors have requested that their remains be placed in the ship. Each day, a couple of quarts of oil leak from the ship into the bay. Legend calls that leak the “Black Tears of the Arizona,” cried by the surviving members of the Pearl Harbor attack.
In our human experience death is the most difficult and painful challenge we face, yet in our world hundreds of millions of people have been killed by our own hands. Let’s stop and think about that for a moment. We are here to thrive, intended to connect with each other, love each other – and yet, we are the cause of hundreds of millions of our own deaths. As I write these words I think to myself, that’s not who I am. And that’s not who we are.
On September 10th, 2004, NYPD Detectives Bobby Parker and Pat Rafferty went to the home of a woman whose adult son had been victimizing her for years. They went there because she called them, asking for help. When they approached her son there was a violent struggle and Pat and Bobby were killed. They each left behind families, colleagues, and loved ones. They worked under my command, in my building, and I will live the rest of my days with the memories of their smiling faces etched in my heart.
Two days later, I was in a pharmacy in Brooklyn. As I approached the line to check out there was a brief exchange between two women, one who apparently accidentally got in front of the other. The one who made the misstep apologized and stepped back. Not only did the other woman not accept her apology gracefully, but she proceeded to berate her, while waiting for her turn at the register, huffing and puffing all the while, in between her toxic words. I looked on from a few feet away and something came over me. I thought to myself, “that’s what killed Bobby and Pat.” When those words came to my mind, I was filled with emotion. Sometimes, words come to us before we can process them. I needed to process those words that came to me, so I stood back a few more feet, and thought for a moment.
What I was witnessing was discord, a more subtle kind of violence, but nothing loving, nothing caring. A woman had made a mistake and apologized for it, and yet the other was verbally attacking her. As I reflect now and have through these years, I realize it’s all the same thing – anger, intolerance, impatience, aggression, and yes, violence. They manifest themselves in so many ways. Want to see how? Turn on the news, and you will see us fighting within.
As I’m writing this I take a moment to think that wars are fought by humanity – and I am humanity. So what part do I play in aggression against others? When am I impatient? Intolerant? Aggressive? What wars am I fighting right now? How can I find peace? How can I bring peace to others?
Know that we have a choice. We can choose what to focus on. We can feed conflict, or we can disengage from it. We can make that choice in every relationship, every exchange, every encounter. It takes practice, and not only self-care and self-love, but a love for humanity.
Hopefully, one day our humanity can emerge from the darkness that too often divides us. And the way we can do it, is in our own lives. We are borrowing but a few moments of existence in this beautiful experience of life.
It’s our choice how to live it.