Another senseless tragedy, this time at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. At the end of the day on the last day of the festival, a white male entered Christmas Hill Park and started shooting. In a flash 3 people were killed, including a 6 year old boy, and many more were wounded.
On the other side of the country, I learned about it within minutes on Facebook. Friends posted their shock and disbelief, their concern for the victims.
I was shocked too. Gilroy was my home in the 1980s, where I worked, raised children, and made good friends. My home was a block from Christmas Hill Park. I volunteered at the Festival for several years. My first assignment as a city planner in Gilroy was to document a massive flood that impacted much of the city, including Christmas Hill Park.
After hearing news of the tragedy, I posted my personal connection to Gilroy and the Garlic Festival on Facebook, and read many similar messages from people who have even a tenuous connection to Gilroy.
Then it hit me.
Although most people are saddened by a tragedy, we feel a visceral connection when the tragedy “hits home” and touches a place or person we actually know. That’s when we want to share our stories and humanity where there were inhumane acts committed.
I think it must be human nature. When we feel a connection, we can reach across the time and distance that divides us and reconnect with the victims. We are one.
It’s not yet human nature to empathize with the “other” — those we don’t feel a connection with. I know, because I’ve watched my own empathy quotient rise as I’ve connected with people.
Before 2016, I had no connection to Sudan and probably couldn’t even place it on the map accurately. Then I met a Sudanese woman who made my Subway sandwich in Baltimore every week. We talked, we got together for dinner at each other’s homes, we shared a Christmas Eve together, and we bonded. Today, I can’t hear news about Sudan without thinking of my friend. I hope to visit her in Baltimore in a couple of weeks.
Before 2004, I had no connection with Palestine. That’s when I made my first trip to Gaza with a friend. (I’ve written about that trip on this blog, and it’s included in the book I’m writing.) I knew the Zionist messaging about the Israel-Palestine “conflict” but nothing more. Then my eyes and heart were opened.
I wish all Americans could open their eyes and heart and be one with the Palestinians in Gaza. Maybe I can because I lived there, I worked there, I visited there and I know people there.
Maybe that’s why the U.S. State Department prevents Americans from traveling to Gaza; it doesn’t want Americans establishing a visceral connection with the Palestinians. Israel doesn’t want the world connecting either, which is clear from its 12 years blockading the 2+ million people in the Gaza Strip.
Will homo sapiens evolve? Can we connect with each other as one, and leave the “us versus them” paradigm back in the savanna? I hope so.