Writing the Wrong
I recently read that to be a truly compassionate human being, one needs to be empathetic. Well obviously, I thought. This is like compassion 101. I rolled my eyes and thought I could write some of this spirituality crap. I could call it Pray, Piss and then Play Poker To Find Your Bliss or something like that. I would lace it with charming parables (involving good hands and making the best of what you’re dealt, blah blah, blah.) and metaphors that illuminate life lessons and teach one how to bluff their way to enlightenment. Oprah would interview me. I would crack jokes and the audience would love me! I indulged in this fantasy for a spell (I was wearing a very cute black shift and Stuart Wietzman shoes that made my calves look toned) and then I remembered that I actually know nothing, and was abashed and embarrassed all alone in my room. “What?” I said to the small Japanese Buddha I filched from my mother.
He just stared back at me all peaceful and detached but I could have sworn I heard him sigh and I was forced to sheepishly read on.
Real empathy, meaning the kind that actually is able to heal another person or offer them a measure of succor does not internalise another’s pain. Effective empathy requires utter detachment. Confused yet? Well, I don’t blame you. But I am starting to understand. There is a great deal of horror in the world. The other day, a good friend of mine said to me, “why are all human beings so hell bent on riding this samsara wheel?”
This is a very legitimate question. Samsara is the Buddhist idea of an endless cycle of suffering caused by birth, death and re-birth. It’s all about karmic debt, really. I am, of course, distilling this definition for word count purposes. This reminds me: I suppose the fact that I actually stole the Buddha statue from my mother but am admitting to it in the international media should kind of pay off the debt I incurred at the actual theft, right? Well, mull it over and get back to me.
At any rate, samsara is a pretty Sanskrit word for a decidedly painful notion and it’s a wonder this wheel turns at all as it is carrying the weight of the world. But turn it does and it spun up a storm on November 5, 2009 at Ft. Hood Texas.
On this date Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on the base, killing 13 of his fellow soldiers, one of whom was pregnant, and wounding several others. He was finally stopped by a civilian officer, who shot him but did not kill him. He is, as of now, listed in stable but critical condition and paralysed from the waist down. This is instant karma one might say, but there is more here than meets the eye. I have really taken to this processing business and am learning not to react at once to either good news nor bad--especially bad news, because that is what we are bombarded with almost incessantly. If I responded to everything viscerally, I would be catatonic from spiritual exhaustion and believe me I have been there; it is the kind of weariness from which it is hard to recover. It is world-weariness really, and frankly who the hell appointed me the world’s worry wart? So I waited, in my own head, that is, I waited and listened and read and am now trying to make sense of what happened.
Major Hasan is an American, born and bred in the south, Virginia to be exact. He is of Jordanian origin, which some news outlets (can anyone say Fox) decided to view as Palestinian. That’s interesting. That’s like someone looking at a striped tabby and insisting on calling it a tiger. His religion is of course now the main focus as are his alleged ties to some nut case fundie <>imam<>--there is always one waiting in the wings it seems, stroking his hennaed beard and fingering his <>thazbi<>. Apparently no Muslim can lose it without a diabolical <>imam<> coaching them.
Two days after the tragedy at Ft Hood, a man took the middle school principle of Pine Plains High School in upstate NY hostage at gunpoint. The swat team was called in, parents were terrified. What this man did was terrorising, yet he is just being called a nut acting under duress. No one was killed this time, but many were several years ago at Columbine and at the Major’s alma mater VA Tech. I do not recall the media referring to those killers as terrorists or pondering their religious affiliations.
The fact is that this man was a Muslim by birth and also an American. The fact is he listened day in and day out to other soldiers recounting to him the horrors of combat in regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The inestimable violence and spiritual degradation these men and women face when taking another life--when their orders are to kill anything they view as suspicious, a man, a woman, a little girl playing by the side of the road-- is unfathomable to the rest of us. It must have had an impact on Major Hasan, whose task it was to determine the level of psychological damage combat wrought on these people. He must have felt an empathy for both the soldiers doing the killing and those that were killed given that he successfully held this post until November 5. Further, being of Jordanian origin and knowing the unofficial US policy as well as the pervasive American attitude concerning Arab states and Muslims in general begs the questions: what must have been going through the Major’s head? How torn must he have been? And how fiercely attached to their experiences and therefore his own? His empathy for them, both his patients and their victims, ultimately, might have led him to take more innocent lives. Some might say all these soldiers have a choice, including Major Hasan. They don’t have to join the army. Yes, true, but some feel it is the only way to make a better life. For many it beats life on the streets and there is the possibility of higher education when they end their tour of duty. The only problem is that many of them never seem to finish their tours of duty. Many of them are being sent back for a third or even fourth tour, more than anyone who fought in Vietnam or Korea--two conflicts whose reasons for existing were also politically driven and most assuredly not righteous. It follows that these multiple tours must have a psychological impact on the soldiers.
I was gratified by many postings of this nature on various sites concerning the killings at Ft Hood written by soldiers or their spouses who urged civilians not to jump to the conclusion that this was merely an an act of religious fervor and hatred. Some spouses talked about the shame and stigma attached to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced by soldiers sent in for multiple tours of duty.
An army veteran said it best:
*I have deployed twice out of Ft. Hood and I am currently in Germany. Troops undergo so much stress while down range and it takes well beyond four to six years (estimate) for anyone to recover from their psychological wounds, trust me. This guy was the recipient of everyone else's nightmares and it broke him, who was checking him? Just because he was a high-ranking officer in the Army it does not make him invincible to the stress and the horrors of war! We need to start looking at the real issues that affect our troops.
Major Hasan was most assuredly the recipient of everyone else’s nightmares. I believe he could not detach. His empathy consumed him and became toxic. It turned to anger and then fear and then hatred. Perhaps he killed for those innocents who had been killed. Perhaps he killed because he was taunted after 9/11 as some reports claim. It just proves what I am starting to understand more and more. We are all connected. The choices that Major Hasan made will now directly and indirectly impact someone else a world away. Samsara, baby, and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand that.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009