As I sat with the rest of the nation, watching the events of Jan.6 unfold, my heart was filled with sadness. Tears began to well up in my eyes and my mind reeled from anger, to hurt, to grief. I am trying, as I know you are, to grapple with the reasons why. How did we get here? Have we come any closer to our American ideals of peace and equality?
As a nation, we have embraced different races, different religions and different cultures as necessary components of our strength and solidarity — at least that’s what we strove for. As I continued to grapple with recent events, the words from Emma Lazarus’s well known 1883 sonnet “New Colossus” came to mind. It stands on a plaque attached to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, welcoming all who long to be free. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
As Americans, this is who we are; or who we should be striving for. As a nation, and as a people, we felt our might and power came from our unbounded belief in the worth of each and every life. From the events of Jan. 6, it may appear that we are no longer the welcoming nation we once were. Or are we still that nation that welcomes rather than vilifies others? I think we are!
Maybe, just maybe, this time, this day, this hour is simply the, “Winter of our discontent” (from Shakespeare’s play, “Richard III”). Winter’s icy grip may seem long, but it always gives way to spring.
Let me repeat that: it always gives way to spring.
Did you know that tulips, in all their beauty, only bloom in spring if they are planted when the weather is cold? I didn’t know that, until my wife and I planted them. They are planted in the cold but burst from the hardened soil of winter in the warmth of spring. Maybe America, like the tulip, is only buried in the “‘winter of our discontent,” the winter of our intolerance, the winter of our exclusivity, the winter of our hate. Maybe we, too, are waiting for the newness of spring.
This, to me, is not a political issue. Nor do I see this as a left or right thing that needs to be debated. It just is. If we take away all the hyperbole, we take away the rhetoric, we take away all the anger and hatred, we take away the misguided understandings, and boil it down to its most basic elements, what is left?
What is left is profound; it’s a person, a life, a human — not unlike you, and not unlike me. A person that wants the exact same thing we all want; to live free, to love, to live joyfully and to live without fear; fear of judgement, fear of condemnation, fear of fear.
This is about the America that will be passed on to our children and our children’s children. We must not bury our heads in the sand. We must not stand idly by to let hatred take root in our hearts and minds. Hatred does not and must not have a home in our community.
Is it too much to ask that we all, as President Lincoln so eloquently put it, “embrace the better angels of our nature”? I think not.
President Regan, during a speech to the NAACP said, “A few isolated groups in the backorder of America still hold the perverted notion of what America is all about … recently in some places … there has been a recurrence of bigotry and violence. To those who persist in such hateful behavior … you are the ones who willfully violate the dream that is America … and this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.”
I ask myself, how will I confront and process the events of Jan. 6? I ask you, how will you confront and process the events of Jan. 6? Hate dies when it is not allowed to establish residency in our hearts, our minds and our souls. Hate loses its power when we embrace love, acceptance, and tolerance. Hate transforms into understanding when it is examined for what it is. Hate is a falsehood, not based in fact, but in fear.
Let us choose to see hate for what it is, and choose better.
Dr. Richard Stride is CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare.