My Turn: Human emotions are universal

Posted: Friday, April 19, 2002

This Saturday is 4/20. It is significant for several reasons. One, it happens to be the birthday of one of history's cruelest haters: Hitler. Coincidentally or intentionally, it is also the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. It is also the day of a nationwide vigil for peace. Washington, D.C. will see thousands of visitors this Saturday, bringing an intention for peace and the end of suffering to others.

In Juneau, let's also make it a day of peace and healing, not history's day of hate and violence. I would like to propose a challenge to anyone curious enough. Let go of your fear for a day. Try this. This is an adaptation of a practice I learned from two heroes, Pema Chodron and Joanna Macy. I think of it as the "same boat practice." On Saturday, when you go to the grocery store, really look into the eyes of the person scanning the food that will nourish your family. Think for a moment about where the food has traveled, how it got here, and who grew it or highly processed it. Then really look into the eyes of the person who is handing you your change. Don't look away. Realize that when you make eye contact with this person, you are looking at another being who shares the human experience. This person feels grief, jealousy, fear, love, joy, and the need to belong to their world just like you. When you say "thank you," be sincere. As you leave, reflect on the fact that we are all in the same boat, the human condition. Or, literally visualize in your mind the earth as our boat, our shared vehicle. There are stories of astronauts, who upon seeing the earth for the first time from space, report a spiritual recognition that there are no boundaries, no flags seen from a distance.

And then, go out and be grateful that you live in a paradise on earth, Southeast Alaska. And then go beyond gratitude. Realize that there is another component to life in Shangri-La. We get easily duped here. We have to put real effort into educating ourselves about world events. We can think that we are separate from the pain and suffering of the world because there is no road in or out. We like to think that we have somehow extracted ourselves from the thick of it by choosing life in the Last Frontier. It is an easy trap for me.

However, on this day, as I kiss my baby daughter on her sweet smelling head, I can't pretend I'm immune from feeling the suffering halfway around the world. I ache inside with the most powerful love for my daughter. Yet, I also ache inside with the knowing that a mother in Jenin, who loved her baby as much as I love mine has felt the deepest grief. The media and our leaders would like me to believe she doesn't feel what I would feel. Today, I don't buy the lie. Even though her leader wears that "funny thing" on his head, even though she speaks a different language, even though she attends a mosque instead of a church, even though she should somehow be used to death because she is a Palestinian. I know as all mothers know in their bones: She feels what I feel.

Today I listen. I hear the wail of a mother's grief in Afghanistan, where Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that we've killed more innocents than 9/11; I hear them in the death camps of Nazi Germany; in Palestine and the mass graves alleged to be dug outside Jenin last week; in Mali West Africa, and the Indian Himalayas, where I've lived with families; and outside Columbine High School on an April 20 afternoon. Their wails transcend language. A mother's grief is universal. That grief remains in a mother's cellular memory, in the nucleus. Nuclear waste.

I encourage you to be grateful for living in Southeast Alaska, our Promised Land. On this day, don't numb yourself to the pain in others. To fellow Juneauites, and for those in the midst of the horror in the Middle East, open your heart to others' suffering and our commonalities in the same boat.

Mary Noble of Juneau is a concerned mother who encourages others to support peace at a gathering at Marine Park from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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