Friday, September 12, 2008

The breath of hope


A tiny seed. A quiet ember glowing in the dark. A drop of water.
Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do. Pope John XXIII

Yesterday was September 11th. A day of silence. A day of sorrow. A day of remembrance. A day that changed everything.

When I was in New York last week, our cab driver, an Egyptian who had moved to New York to live 'the American Dream' as he called it, in 2000, told me that after September 11th, "Everything changed in New York." He paused and added, "The whole world changed."

Yesterday, I taught a self-esteem course at the shelter where I work. One of the trainees, when asked to name someone he admired and the attributes about the individual that inspired him replied, "Adolf Hitler." He went on to list intelligence, commitment to his goal, a belief in himself, courage, ability to inspire a nation as attributes he admired.

I was stymied for a moment on how to respond. Adolf Hitler is not one of my heroes. The attributes he listed however, are all characteristics I aspire to emulate.

"What about his impact on humanity? What about the millions of people he murdered?"

The trainee paused and then replied. "You didn't ask if what he did was right or wrong. You asked me to name someone who possesses characteristics I admire."

Is there anyone else you admire? I asked.

Mother Theresa, he promptly replied. She was kind. Caring. She believed in herself and was committed to people. She didn't bend when the Vatican told her to leave India. She didn't give up on people.

Juxtapositions. Contradictions. Everything changes. Everything stays the same.

On September 11th, 2001, a group of zealots brought terror onto North American soil and changed the psyches of everyone in the world. Terrorism became the thing we fear, the thing we cannot see, yet know is possible.

In the 1930s to mid '40s, Adolf Hitler reigned throughout Europe. His brand of terror killed millions of people and brought humanity to its knees. We who are capable of so much, are also capable of this atrocity.

In the 1990s, almost a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda in a brief and bloody conflagration.

I could go on to list the hundreds upon thousands of atrocities around the globe that have occurred since man first began recording history, but what's the point? It's not what they did that changed the world. It's how we responded, how we still respond that makes the difference.

As we talked more yesterday about the people and events that inspire us, challenge us, change us, I asked the trainee what he wants in his life, big picture.

Respect. Dignity. Love, he replied.

What keeps you from having those today? I asked.

Anger, he said. I'm very very angry.

What prevents you from letting go of your anger, I asked.

I don't know, He replied.

If you did know, what would it be?

I want to stop the world from killing itself off. How do I make sense of all the death, the rapes, the murders. How do I make it stop?

What if the only way to make a difference in the world is to make your world different? I asked him. What if all you can do is create a change in your world so that the ripples from that change begin to expand out with every breath, every step you take?

He sat silently for a moment. "You mean if I'm always angry, everything around me will be angry too?"

What do you think? I asked.

"I don't know how to not be angry," he replied. "I can't remember a time when I wasn't angry."

What if you gave yourself the grace of taking a moment right now to not feel angry. What if you take a breath and think of that breath as the hope for a feeling other than anger. Can you take a breath and concentrate on hope? On love? Joy? Could you do that?

He nodded his head. I invited him to do it. He took a breath. He held it. He let it go.

I'm still angry, he said after a moment's silence.

Did you feel angry in that one breath?


Then it's possible to expand that one breath into many. For that one moment you felt something other than anger. If that is possible, it's possible to let anger go if you keep concentrating on breathing into hope, into love, into joy. When we fan the flames of anger, we create more anger. When we fan the ember of hope, we build the possibility of change. We create the possibility for love.

On September 11th, the world changed. Those events didn't just create fear, they also created the possibility of hope, of love, of joy of peace.

The difference will be created through what we breathe into the fires that remain.

The question is: What inspires you to breathe hope into everyday living? What inspires you to create value in your world today? What connects you to the wonder of the human race? How do you fan the flame of hope?


sonicido said...

WOW. Thank you for sharing that. I hope to do what you do one day. I wonder if he is angry because of a lack of justice somewhere in his life? I know, from myself and others I have talked to, this is a main source of hidden & confused anger.?

M.L. Gallagher said...

Hi Sonicido. I think you're right. He probably has a great deal of injustice in his life -- the challenge is, none of what happened to him can be changed. He needs to look at today and ask himself -- Where does my anger perpetuate the injustice?

Those we are angry at, the events that made us angry move alone. Often, as you suggest, we're confused about what made us angry in the first place. In our confusion, we stick ourselves in the emotions of the there and then, and let go of our truth in the here and now -- I am 100% responsible for my journey. What will holding onto my anger get me? What/how can I be different? Create a difference?

Hugs to you too!