There is much I do not know. One of very few things I feel strongly about is that violence is always wrong. It is never OK to hurt someone for any reason. This is not an easy path to walk, it is the most narrow of doors to enter. And I have missed the mark more times than I care to think. I got my good Christian values about the sanctity of life from an atheist. If he has a God it is the greater good of all people and the planet. And I can respect that and respect his consistency in trying to apply these values in all aspects of life.
I most certainly did not have a perfect childhood and I saw my dad fail often enough to be really sure he is only an ordinary human being. But the ethics of non-violence permeated every aspect of our lifestyle growing up. I spent too many years wishing to live a normal life, with normal parents, in a normal house. I wanted more than anything to just be a normal kid and do normal kid stuff. But what I got was far better. I got a close-up view of what it means to live a non-violent life, to respect and care for all of creation. I got a strong sense of the inter-connectedness of humans and wilderness, of how small choices matter, of standing up for something for no reason other than that it is the right thing to do. I learned about structural inequality and diversity, materialism and marginalization.
I didn’t have the security of mountains of toys, or even of a full refrigerator. We lived off beans and rice. Over and over and over again. We spent days marching in cold rain with signs, my baby sister carried piggy-back when her toddler legs could go no further. The house was always cold. We didn’t have much and life was often uncomfortable. Older and wiser I see that we had something much, much better than comfort. We had love. We had freedom. We had education. We learned empathy.
I might not have eaten meat. I did have a wild fawn follow me home and eat carrots from my hand. I didn’t have a mountain of cheap plastic toys. I did have the best block and domino sets in the world hand made out of pine wood just for me. I didn’t have TV. I did have parents who spent hours reading and teaching, playing games and taking walks in the real world with me. I didn’t learn to play sports. I did learn to walk softly and leave no trace, to carry everything I need on my back and sleep in the wilderness. I didn’t have Twinkies or McDonald’s, I did learn to pick wild berries and to thresh wheat with my feet.
I still find much of the world very strange and puzzling. The cartoons my kids watch make me cringe. I’ve found there is a very fine line between gentle teasing and subtle, sarcastic bullying. I can’t get my mind around the idea that war is ever just or that it is ever OK to use force to get one’s way. I do, sometimes, feed my kids packaged convenience snacks or pick something up in the drive through and am always amazed at how much trash is left. I’m trying to find a middle ground for them, trying to give them a chance to both be normal kids and to learn that deep reverence for life and compassion for all creation. These are hard things to live, much less to teach.
It is simply a fact of life that there will always be conflict, between people, between peoples, between natural forces and human wishes. But the heart of this is that it matters how those conflicts are resolved. This is a challenge for me. Bit by bit I learn by doing. I got lost the last few years and am only slowly finding my way back to my path. It’s narrow and rocky and scary. I don’t know where it’s going. But I know I am right where I need to be. Learning, again, what true reverence looks like. For that is the marrow of non-violence, that all life has value. Or, as I heard in church recently, we are all children of God. For it is impossible to view someone as an equal, as part of God’s kingdom, and harm them.