NAZIS, ANGELS, AND KWAN YIN

It’s not even noon and already I’ve heard from a few people this morning about their fear of a conflagration with North Korea.

I don’t spend much energy on bemoaning Donald Trump and his divisiveness, bullying, and all-around ignorance. But I can’t ignore the impression I have that he, like so many other heads of state, can stumble into a completely avoidable war. If that happens, he will trumpet how necessary it is for our very existence and hope for a rise in his ratings.

The Jewish part of me, the one that’s concerned with survival at any cost, gets flinty hard when it comes to Trump. There is no question that he has provided legitimacy to racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists that they haven’t gotten in this country in quite a while.

I remember clearly a scene from the film Cabaret of a picturesque German village, people relaxing in a cafe against an Alpine setting, and suddenly we hear an angelic voice singing. The camera pans over to an equally angelic face, obviously of a very handsome young man, blonde and blue-eyed, singing a heavenly German song with a heavenly voice. You’d be proud to be this young man’s mother. Then the camera backs out to give us a bigger picture of him, and we see he’s wearing a brown shirt. It goes back even more, and we see the entire group known as Brownshirts, all handsome, fervent men, with loving and doting mothers, who acted as paramilitary to help bring Hitler to power, intimidating, brutalizing, and destroying anyone who stood in his way.

Angels can do some very bad stuff. They’re not Satan’s angels, they have good intentions, they want to be proud of their country once again, and they can do some very bad stuff.

The Jewish side of me gets frustrated with those who argue for nonviolence and inclusivity. I studied Gandhi’s teachings for a long time and deeply admire him. Gandhi actually respected soldiers because, he said, they are disciplined and ready to give their lives for what they believe even if he disagrees with them. He knew very well that nonviolence activists had to have equal discipline and training, so that they too would be ready to give their lives in the cause of nonviolence, and he trained his people accordingly.

That’s a far cry from many white people here, in good old safe USA, who announce they’re into nonviolence with no idea of the sacrifice that entails. I have a baseline litmus test for anyone telling me they’re into nonviolence: If people come with clubs and knives to beat and stab your children, what will you do?

At the same time, I know people change. The story of the Kwan Yin standing in our yard is that of a young man, a neo-Nazi carpenter, who asked his teacher who had helped him a great deal if there was something he could do for her. She, a Buddhist, asked him to carve for her a Kwan Yin, the female manifestation of compassion seen throughout Asia. This is the Kwan Yin that you see in the photo. The teacher died and we got the statue, and the story behind it. I have no idea what happened to the young man. Caro, who works on our garden, has put rocks around it and is in the middle of putting in plantings.

But today I read a very moving article about George Wallace in the Washington Post. If you lived in the 1950s and 1960s, who doesn’t remember George Wallace? His was the widely televised face of hatred and bigotry, screaming in favor of segregation, egging on his white supporters to fight for their rights forever. People lost their lives, often brutally, because of the hate he stoked. To many Americans, he represented the very opposite of Kwan Yin and I didn’t know too many who mourned when he was shot and doomed to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

But I also didn’t know about the latter stage of that life, when he publicly asked for forgiveness of African-Americans many times. I especially was moved by his words quoted in this article: I have learned what suffering means. He was referring to what it was to lose the use of his legs and to the tremendous pain he lived with to the end of his life.

People change. The circle must always remain open. And at the same, vigilance.