In Memory of Kayla
For Kayla Mueller, who pursued common humanity, and a life of service, 'I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine, if this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.'
Her activism brought her here, not far from my home. She spoke out against the injustices in my city during times I was silent. Of her experiences with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, she wrote in October 2010:
'I could tell a few stories about sleeping in front of half demolished buildings waiting for the one night when the bulldozers come to finish them off; fearing sleep because you don’t know what could wake you.... I could tell a few stories about walking children home from school because settlers next door are keen to throw stones, threaten and curse at them.'
'The nature of impermanence is our greatest ally and soon the rules will change, the tide will turn and just as the moon waxes and wanes over this land so too the cycles of life here will continue. One day the cycle will once again return to freedom.'
Injustice is all around us. It’s simply a matter of what we will do, and when we will do it. Far too often we default to the answers of nothing, or maybe something, some other time. When we let the injustice remain and do nothing, violence is given free reign. Kayla gave her life to helping victims who suffered violence or the threat of violence. In her honor, I offer a few thoughts on violence and nonviolence, and how to lay the foundation for transformation.
We are surrounded by violence, beyond our borders, within our cities, and deep within our hearts. Who of us can say that we wish no other any harm? Many of us could easily come up with a list of those we wish to shame or harm. If we want to change the situation in which we find ourselves, the regional neighbourhood in which we reside, then we need to look within ourselves and find the strength to make a difference. From where many of us sit, this sounds like a lofty goal, but it isn’t. It’s actually within our reach. Transformation begins within us.
Gandhi once said, ‘means are ends in the making.’ What ‘end’ do we want to see? A peaceful one? One where we feel safe and secure? One where the kingdom of God is visible on earth as it is in heaven, emanating from the example of our lives? A community that loves so sacrificially and lovingly, that if our Messiah walked among us today, he would say ‘Well done’? If we want a peaceful end, we must live peacefully now. If we want to feel safety and security, we have to ensure that those ‘others’ also feel safe and secure.
We can have a different future than we see at the present. These are nice ideas, but how do we start? First, we need to realize it doesn’t begin with them; it begins with us. We can build a culture and worldview that eschews violence, and prepare ourselves for practicing non-violence through five steps (according to peace activist Michael Nagler).
- Meditate or pray, which connects us with our humanity, and connects us with others.
- Avoid mass media outlets and their low image of humanity. Seeing violent imagery makes us more accepting of violence and aggression. Seek out alternative media outlets that inform while maintaining a high view of our fellow humans.
- Seek information about non-violence, a movement also called ‘love in action,’ ‘to offer dignity,’ ‘soul force’ or ‘truth force,’ among other things. Look for nonviolence around you. It’s visible and successful more often than you think.
- Engage in more personal, genuine encounters. Use technology to connect with people rather than distance yourself from them.
- Find a way to be active. What issue do you care about? Find a way to get involved. Act on the change you wish to see. The more active we are, the more optimistic we will become. Our actions are more convincing than our words.
These five practices, as articulated by long-time practitioners of nonviolence, can prepare us for non-violent living in our actions, in our words, and in our thoughts. It is the only way we will ever build a nonviolent culture that embraces life rather than one that perpetuates suffering. We will only get there by cultivating compassion.
One beautiful example of countering injustice with compassion is Kayla, and her dedication and service to those suffering. She could not sit by idly as those in need had needs yet to be met. Our service need not take us as far away from homes, although Kayla’s areas of service in Israel and Palestine are available and accessible to all Israelis.
In 2010, Kayla wrote, ‘This really is my life’s work, to go where there is suffering. I suppose, like us all, I’m learning how to deal with the suffering of the world inside myself.’ Her activism led her to help in many areas, and while in captivity in spring 2014, she sent words of comfort to her family, ‘I have been shown in darkness light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.’ Our situation, reading these words behind a screen, presumably somewhere comfortable where we have time to pursue private interests, is much different than her final months of life. There is good to be found in every situation, but there is also good that we can bring into any situation. In January 2011, a few years prior to her capture, Kayla wrote, ‘Here we are. Free to speak out without fear of being killed, blessed to be protected by the same law we are subjected to, free to see our families as we please, free to cross borders and free to disagree. We have many people to thank for these freedoms and I see it as an injustice not to use them to their fullest.’ In Israel, our freedoms are similar, with a few exceptions (particularly for Palestinians), yet our number of freedoms does not determine our response. With the freedoms we do have, and with the strength in our hearts, we can make a difference.
May Kayla’s memory be a blessing, and her life an example of one person’s small but impactful contribution.