Writer’s note: This is a travel-related blog. Yet, from time to time, things happen in the world that I feel the need to write about. Writing helps me get out my emotions. Since this is one of the forums I have, please excuse me for taking a break in travel writing and getting this off my chest. If you come back later, you’ll see a travel post about a penis festival in Kawasaki, Japan .
An unmanned drone kills tens of innocent civilians who happen to be sitting in the vicinity of a known terrorist organization leader.
A soldier with a history of post-traumatic stress kills an innocent family in a country he should have no place being given his mental history.
A man in France guns down four Jewish citizens simply because they are Jewish.
The events above happened hundreds, possibly thousands of miles from where you are sitting now, reading this post. You cannot hear the cries, see the tears or feel the pain, but you know that someone far away is grieving at the tragic loss of an innocent life they dearly loved.
Every one of us starts life innocently. It is not predetermined that we will become soldiers, terrorists, lunatics or even doctors, accountants, athletes and teachers. For the first few years of our lives, despite our surroundings, we can become anything in the world. During that time, the majority of us are loved by at least one person.
The love we receive does not come with conditions are requirements. Until we begin learning to talk, we aren’t even asked to return the love. We are nurtured and cared for by someone who will quite possibly love us our entire life. We learn to love before we learn to hate.
Love is an instinct. Hatred is a learned behavior. When we first learn to hate depends on our pre-adolescent influencers. My own earliest memory of hate was at the age of 4 or 5 possibly. I was in pre-school or kindergarten at my school in Oakhurst, New Jersey. The school bus would drop me off at the hair salon my mother worked at every day. I’d usually spend the time waiting for my mom to finish work, having a slice of cheese pizza and playing Digger at Tony’s Pizzeria.
I recall one day on the school bus, sitting in the back of the bus with the older students at Oakhurst. They wanted to show me something and wanted me to demonstrate it. It was that day that I learned to stick out my middle finger at some one. As we looked out the back of the bus- where the emergency doors were- I’d stick my middle finger up at the cars behind us. I didn’t know what it meant to do that, but I remember the reaction of a woman in one of the cars. Her non-verbal reaction made me understand that I was doing something wrong yet the older students were laughing and that was enough for me to continue doing it. I’m sure that my mother was told about what I had done, but I can’t recall if anything was said to me about it. To me though, that was the day I learned about hate. My middle finger was the first time I learned about evil.
At some point during those same formative years, we learn about our differences. A look at my pre-school class photo will show you a collection of Jewish, Italian, Puerto-Rican, bi-racial, black, Irish and WASP children. At that time, that information meant nothing to us. At some point, we discovered it and that’s where things changed. As a black child in America, that change begins to bring about an awareness that you’re not as fortunate as your white classmates. At least it did for me and where I lived. I suddenly became aware of being the darkest child at parties, the only one referred to as ‘black.’
The earliest memory I hold of hearing verbal prejudice possibly occurred prior to the age of eight. I remember my father briefly holding a job as a bus driver for a predominately Jewish academy. I can’t recall how many times he had me ride the bus with him, but I have a recollection of the day when the children on that bus couldn’t stop saying the word “nigger.” I don’t know if it was directed at me. With my father’s light complexion, I highly doubt it was directed at him. I just can’t imagine what it must have felt like being in his shoes and hearing that word, knowing he had to hold his tongue to keep his family fed.
My father never let me be a “nigger,” a “negro,” a “colored” or a “coon.” I wasn’t going to be one. I also was not going to be allowed to refer to anyone by those names nor any other racially demeaning moniker. As I grew older and my curiosity about my ancestry and the history of my race of people, neither of my parents allowed me to turn my anger at the mistreatment of Africans and African-Americans into hatred towards anyone. I learned that loving one’s self does not mean you must hate others.
Where and when does the opposite education happen for so many others? Why are we taught by others to hate? When does that hate turn to devaluing human life?
Life has value. As I mentioned when I opened this post, someone grieves when they lose a loved one. A lost life effects many things and many people. Does that fact still matter or do we live in a world so full of people that we figure every one is replaceable?
I’ve always loved life. I can’t say that I have always valued life though. Not when I think about my wild early days in college; the nights I looked for and raced other import tuner cars on So Cal streets; the times I’d drive home swerving because I was too tired to be behind the wheel; or even enlisting in the military. I’ve put myself in too many life or death situations that I didn’t realize where life or death situations until later in life. I definitely thought I was invisible when I was in my 20’s.
As I approached my mid-30’s and began traveling parts of the world, I started valuing life more. The more places I saw and the more places I dreamed of seeing, the more I wanted to live- to live longer. I see life as a precious gift and every day is an opportunity for me to unwrap something new. When the day comes that I can no longer unwrap this gift of life, I can’t imagine the feeling.
I’ve discussed my crisis of faith with friends and family on my Facebook page. I don’t hide the fact that I have doubts about religion and whether or not there is an afterlife or reincarnation. The surprising thing is that my doubts about afterlife have led me to enjoy life more. Perhaps that’s the problem with people who seem okay with killing.
I can tell you that many of the generals and admirals who control our weapons are church going Christians and Catholics. They are fighting against Muslims who hate our relationship with a Jewish nation. All these people have a common belief in an afterlife: An afterlife that promises them a better life than the one they have here. Is this the reason why death is so casual to them?
There is no promise of an afterlife. You have faith in it and I respect that faith. I hope that there is life beyond this one. I don’t want to just wither away and become an atom. I would like to see the advances in technology, the discoveries of the future. Reincarnation would be great, yet, I will never remember this life I have now. If there is afterlife in Paradise, will I also have memory of the life I currently enjoy?
If that answer becomes ‘no,’ then what I need to do, what we all need to do, is live our lives to the fullest. The first step in doing that is valuing all life that surrounds us.
Whether or not Trayvon Martin was killed in self-defense is not the issue. The issue is that a young man was killed before he had the chance to experience life. That’s what makes it so tragic for us all. Think about everything you’ve experienced since you were 17 or 18. Now imagine all that being taken away from you because someone felt your life was not valuable. It happened to Martin and it happens to people every day in our world. Lives taken away before they had a chance to fully live.
I saw a movie recently- ‘The Hunger Games’- about what happens when society devalues life to the point that survival becomes a reality game show. We are not too far behind watching that type of entertainment. The Romans did it. If you read Gibbons’ ‘The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization,’ you will see that we are not too far off from the Romans. Could we ultimately reach the point where watching caged gladiators in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) octagon is not enough blood? We watch men and women pound one another into submission for what? Is there really a value beyond our own sick primordial instincts in watching two human beings choke, elbow, kick, ground pound and practically break the limbs of one another?
I wish every one could experience the joy of exploring the world. I believe that exploration is an instinct. Since we learned to walk on two limbs we traveled beyond the horizon. We learned ship building and migrated across oceans. Travel has given us life. Travel has given my life a purpose.
As you see how other people live across this world, you see what they value, what makes them smile. In some places it could be a Mercedes-Benz, while in others it could be a scooter. What one values is by means less or more than what someone else values. In America, I may see kids at Toys R’ Us begging uncontrollably because their parent will not buy them a certain toy. In Angkor Wat, I may see kids begging uncontrollably because their parents cannot feed them unless they sell me a postcard. It’s tough to see the differences in what people value sometimes. Yet I understand that we have no control over where we start our lives, only how we live them.
Life. It’s beautiful. It’s sometimes feels too short, sometimes feels too long. It’s filled with joys and pains. It’s full of love and hate. It’s ours. I wish we could all learn how valuable life is. I wish we could put down our guns, ground our drones, unplug our missiles and throw away centuries of hatred. Do the Jewish and the Muslims even know why they started hating one another? Come on people. It’s time to put an end to our ways of being and started being a little more like human beings.
That’s all I have. This is my rant. Thank you for reading if you read this far. Life. Live it. Love it!