I didn’t plan on writing about the horror that struck Beirut and Paris, just a day apart, over a week ago. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why.
I guess a part of me didn’t think it was a time for heavy-handed words. Humanity was once again bleeding from wounds caused by senseless violence against itself. Infected and swollen from thousands of years of agitation, we had once again ripped off the scab.
I wanted to sit in that wound. I wanted to feel the pain and the sadness that my brothers and sisters across the world were drowning in.
A part of me wanted a moment to breathe. We humans, when overwhelmed with powerful emotions, are vulnerable to overreacting. I didn’t want to be swept away by the tsunami of aggression, hatred, bigotry, Islamophobia, and calls for vengeance that flooded my news-feed.
Another part of me felt a bit hypocritical writing about Beirut and France while I, like most of us, had largely ignored the other 287 terrorist attacks that have taken place thus far in 2015.
Even the tragedy in Beirut was barely whispered about, until the Lebanese community came together and made themselves heard.
There was also the part of me who witnessed so many of you fighting the good fight; rational minds not being overwhelmed by fear; pure hearts preaching love instead of hate; devote warriors of peace refusing to be goaded into a trap and ambushed by the desperate plotting of Ares.
In short, I felt that you didn’t need my words to echo your own, and I still don’t believe you do.
But I recently come across a story that Livy included in his “History of Rome” that really struck home with me. Although it seemingly has nothing to do with Beirut and Paris, I think under the surface the two events are directly related.
Gaius Mucius Scaevola was a Roman warrior who was captured during a war with the Etruscans. Mucius was brought before the Etruscan king who showed him a raging fire. Mucius was told that unless he betrayed his fellow Romans, he would be thrown into the flames.
The king was using the heat of the fire to strike fear into Mucius, and attempting to use that fear to break him.
Mucius announced that he was a citizen of Rome, and that he would rather die than be a slave to fear. Livy explains that after his declaration, Mucius
thrust his hand into the fire that was kindled for the sacrifice. When he allowed his hand to burn as if his spirit were unconscious of sensation, the king was almost beside himself with wonder.” – Livy, History of Rome.
Staring into the eyes of the king, Mucius demonstrated that he would always have the power of choice. Outnumbered and helpless, he choose to put his own flesh to the flame rather give into the fear the king was trying to use to control him.
He did not scream. He did not flinch. The pain was welcomed. It was a demonstration that Mucius, though in a dire situation, never gave away his personal power and freedom.
The king feared Mucius’ bravery might be a representation of the Roman people as a whole. He released the man and immediately sought a peace with Rome.
He knew that if the spirit of a people cannot be broken, then the people themselves cannot be broken.
We, as a collective people, are in the same situation that Gaius Mucius Scaevola found himself in.
Paris and Beirut were our captures. ISIS, sensationalized media, and governments with very specific agendas play the role of the Etruscan king. Muslims and refugees are our fellow Romans; our brothers and our sisters.
Here we stand in front of the king’s black flames of hatred of ignorance. ISIS watches eagerly to see if the heat of those dark embers will scare us. They watch to see if their tactics of fear will make us turn our backs on our family in the middle east. They need and want us to betray our fellow humans.
For their power comes only from our weakness; they cannot break us from the outside, so they pray that we will cave in.
The power of choice is ours. I look around me and I see the strength in all of you.
Stand before that fire of darkness. Look defiantly into the eyes of the love’s enemies and keep your steady hand in the flames of their hatred.
Choose to be a champion of love and acceptance, rather than a slave to hatred and fear.
If one man changed the mind of a king and altered the history of Rome, imagine what humanity can do if we stand together, as one, against prejudice, fear, and hatred.
Be good to each other,