Early in the morning on March 21, 2018, the suspect in the more than seven bombs exploded in and around Austin, Texas, detonated an eighth in his car to avoid capture by police and federal authorities. For three weeks, he — and perhaps others, we still don’t yet know — terrorized a city that’s built a reputation as safe for its size, a relatively peaceful community that’s also the fastest growing in the US, easily the most progressive in Texas, and home to transplants from all walks of life. I live here; I am one of those transplants.
I moved to Austin on 1.1.11 from Buffalo, New York. I came to make a better life for myself, and — although there have been hiccups — I’ve done just that.
Some 60 years earlier, my Papa left Marseille, France to move to Buffalo, New York. He came to make a better life for himself and his family, and — although there were hiccups — he did just that.
A generation before that, his father and mother left their Sicilian homeland for Marseille, escaping the threat of a fascist terrorist regime in Italy. They came to make a better life for their family, and — although there were hiccups — they did just that.
Our family draws roots from a small coastal Sicilian city called Agrigento. Throughout my family’s centuries in that city — still, a significant plurality of people related to me reside there — it had been occupied at various times by Ancient Greece, Carthage, The Roman Empire and the Arabs. That’s a lot of blood mixed. And it all bleeds the same when spilled.
I tell you all this to tell you that we all come from somewhere, and that the “somewhere” traced back to its root generally means we’ve all crossed paths and mixed blood either in this life or the past. And that means its important to remember that there are no in-groups or out-groups, only the collective “us.”
Remember this as we try to process what went down in Austin since March 2. This was the work of someone, but it was also the work of humanity as a whole, as it takes all of us — the systems and ideologies we put in place, the people in power who fail on their promise to deliver true leadership — to create a serial madman (and, yes, 98% of the time, it’s a man). It’s hard to swallow hard truths about the demons in our nature when raw emotion takes the wheel.
In the wake of this wickedness, we’ll learn so much more about the who and the why behind the how behind the horror. We’ll learn that these were people who lived, worked, and thought just like “us,” and that through their own perceptions, life events and incentives, they were driven to act out in ways that were detrimental and debilitating to our community, to the human spirit, and to human life.
We’ve also already learned about the victims. They are also “us.” Students aiming for the stars. People working an evening shift to make ends meet.
We are all factions of a species trying to survive and thrive. And these contrasts that pit people against each other — whether religion, gender, politics, ideology, race, class and nationalism — these must be seen for what they are. They are different shades on the swatch of humanity, all colorful and their merits and methods can be debated until you are blue in the face. They’re all real. At times like these, they are all too real.
Many of those who commit acts like these do so because they feel it is the only thing left to do. It is loneliness and desperation taken to its ideological and pathological extreme. They’ve also been poisoned by toxic influences all around— in media, in propaganda, in their peer groups, in politics, in the White House.
It is sad. It is tragic. It is cosmic in its evil. And yet, none of this should never be used as grounds for persecution, intolerance, or, heaven forbid, more violence. All closed minds or closed borders are surefire barriers to the human freedom we so desperately crave and deserve.
This world does not need more prayers, more guns or more profile picture memes. This world needs healing. The kind of healing that comes from solidarity and empathy. We need to remember our humanity, and remember to live an understanding, compassionate, thoughtful life. We need to make friends of enemies, and shine the brightest light into the darkest hour of the night.
We also need to work to enact real change that proactively diffuses the potential for more events like this. We need to take away weaponry, we need to back away from the cliff of extreme ideology, we need to reexamine masculinity in sum, and we need to provide a better and safer life for people everywhere — regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality and orientation.
We should not fear each other. We’re all human and our common goal — survival — dictates we all have the right to grow together peacefully. We need to work to understand each other, lift up those who live on the margins, and take away the means and motive for people to continue to poison the rest of our reef.
We must continue to try. Layered beneath that caustic sheen, personified by the grace and goodwill of so many, exists a general undercurrent of collective empathy — a radiant glow of humanity so bright, vibrant and giving that it rises up to meet the challenge presented by forces that wish to do harm. First responders, shelter givers, good people offering their best wishes and best approximations of help. It is a presentation of “us,” at our strongest and most generous. These are the moments when its important to remember our collective humanity rather than strip others of theirs through violence, slander and cruelty.
When the forces that unite us outrank and overcome the forces that divide us, good will prevail. Peace will prevail. We will prevail. “Us” will prevail. After all, we’re all here to make a better life for ourselves, and — although there will be hiccups —for the most part through human history, we’ve done just that.