Just think for a moment how often we undergo the process of healing in our lifetimes. Whether it be simple, or complex, physical healing or deep emotional healing, perhaps even healing our souls, each and every one of us experiences it. Stop and ponder it a while. At first it seems like the pain will never go away. Then, over time, you notice the pain is disappearing. One day, perhaps when you haven’t thought about or noticed it in a while, the pain is gone. Biology plays a part in physical healing. Emotional healing takes so much more work because it isn’t as simple as a new layer of skin forming, not that I consider that simple!
I’ve been meaning to write about something, but haven’t had the energy to do so. A week ago yesterday, my hometown was the scene of an awful, disgusting act of hate and violence. I’m talking about the hate-motivated killings on one of our light rail trains, in the midst of Friday afternoon rush hour. By now, most know the details. What I want to write about is the emotional impact.
Horrible things happen to innocent people every day around the planet. Unfortunately, this seems to be an inescapable aspect of human existence. What touches me about this situation is, it’s so relatable. I ride those trains, through that transit center, just about every day. I know the Hollywood District well, as it’s close to my neighborhood, and family members land friends live and work in the area. It’s my part of town, my community. I also know what it’s like to hear hateful speech and want to stand up and speak out. Would I have the courage? I’d like to think so. I also know the uncomfortable feeling of being near a person who appears to be on the verge of violence. No one wants to be in that situation. Being able to face it head on and not cower, that is the definition of courage in my dictionary.
I think of those two girls, having to endure those hateful words, in public, in front of everyone. How frightened they must have been. I would have gotten as far away from that man as I could. What trauma they must be experiencing. With time they will heal. However, what they need now is love.
Of course I think of the brave men who stood up. Their actions restore my faith in humanity. The whole concept of good vs. evil is complicated. However, some people are just decent human beings to the core. The bright lights in dark times. People like that will never be forgotten – their lights will always shine. The bright lights are what keep humanity going, through the years, decades, and centuries.
With time, the community will heal. The survivors and witnesses will heal. Sure, a scar will remain, but life will move on as it always does, scars and all. I’ve been thinking a lot about another horrific, hate-filled event in my hometown’s history. In November 1988, Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant, was murdered by Skinheads on the streets of the Laurelhurst neighborhood, not far from where I live now. (Portland, and the entire Pacific Northwest, has a complicated history when it comes to racism and exclusion. I don’t know if a lot of recent, hipster, Portlandia transplants understand this. Please do some reading and research. It will open your eyes.) To this day, almost 30 years later, I think of him as I pass through Laurelhurst. As a young college student, majoring in Sociology, that crime shaped my worldview. I wanted to know what led to people feeling such hate. I longed to learn about the experiences of people from all over the world. I delved into learning about different religions, cultures, communities, all in the hope of understanding this thing called human existence. Why couldn’t we embrace our differences and find our common threads? I wanted the answers.
Not long after Mulugeta’s death, I participated in a march in his honor. We started at Laurelhurst Park, held a moment of silence at the location of his murder, walked across the Burnside Bridge into downtown, and ended up at Portland State. One of the most powerful and meaningful days of my life. I was interviewed on a local news station with my name and “College Student” displayed on the screen. I’m convinced I said something silly and dorky. However, it was heartfelt. As I said, I’ll carry that day with me until the end. He did not die in vain.
Last evening, I visited Hollywood Transit Center for the first time since that awful, heartbreaking late-afternoon commute. I’ve passed through the station several times this week on the train. However, yesterday was the first time I walked into the heart of the transit center. As soon as I stepped off the train, the air felt different. The sky was still blue around 6 PM. A soft, warm breeze carried the scent of all the flowers through the early evening air. The station is usually a chaotic, loud place. It was unusually quiet for a Friday evening. Messages of peace and hope were written in colorful chalk all over the concrete. People of all sorts – young, old, black, white, whatever – silently read the messages. Some in pairs, some alone. Oddly enough, everything felt peaceful. Part of the healing process…
I took a quick photo. As much as I wanted to snap photos of all the wonderful sentiments and beautiful flowers, I didn’t do so out of respect. I just absorbed the moment. To those who died, you did not die in vain. To the survivors, you will go on and be stronger because of this. To the community, continue to search for answers.