In the days that followed 9/11, we at Tricycle quickly reached out to teachers to respond to what had taken place, and just as quickly they delivered. Stunned as we all were, everyone had something to say, drawing from Buddhist teachings a much needed and grounding perspective. New Yorkers themselves responded with intuitive warmth and generosity, and through the horror of the early aftermath, we managed to find our way.
I can’t say the same about the days that followed the shooting in Las Vegas. Something had changed. Like most everyone else, we at the magazine were at a loss for any meaningful response. Was there really anything new to say? Words of comfort from those in government rang predictably hollow. The major news outlets had begun to report detail, which engendered little more than deepening despair. For once our elected officials seemed too weary for the politics of spectacle, repeating empty platitudes or admonishing others not to “politicize a tragedy.” It seemed only to add to the darkening mood of the country.
Yes, there was outrage, but that has become routine; and there was a momentary ripple of surprise at the diehard gun advocates who, for the first time, favored mild remedies, although no one really believed that significant legislation would pass. The defeatist consensus was unspoken: yes, it’s terrible, and it’ll happen again.
At the time I write this, it’s been weeks since the shooting; the dead are buried, and in retrospect, horrible as it was, it’s been but one more event added to the malignant chaos of our times, part of a seemingly relentless assault on our most deeply held values. Our attention has shifted—to the next legislative battle, the next low-pressure system in the Gulf, loose talk of a potentially catastrophic war. Yet despite the daunting challenges we face, our responsibility to respond, however modestly, has been much on my mind.
I won’t pretend that we can change the course of history, or that anything can spare us the next massacre. But what we can do is continue to offer teachings that encourage us to cultivate minds of compassion and equanimity, particularly when the dispiriting familiarity of such terrible violence becomes more than we think we can bear. We do this not just for ourselves but also for others, and perhaps even more so for those who will follow us.
In the last lines of Middlemarch, reflecting on the life of her protagonist, George Eliot gives us a sense of what those who came before us have given us, and the impact our lives can have on the lives of others:
The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
It is important during such dispiriting times to recall the infinity of small actions that support what is good in life. And it would be a mistake to dismiss their power, whether they occur in the political arena or not. What kind of effect our daily actions have at home, at work, and among our fellows will depend in part on what kind of mind we bring to the world, and this is where the heart of Buddhist teachings lie. It is not for us to calculate the impact of our “unhistoric acts”; but we can rest in the knowledge that it is through such actions that goodness is transmitted and sustained.
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