By Alex Chong Do Thompson
I’m standing in the break room at work, preparing to make a cup of tea and a news alert appears on my phone.
I learn there’s been a mass shooting in Las Vegas. My heart drops, and I reflexively focus on my breathing.
The impromptu meditation keeps me standing as I stare at the screen; more than 50 people are dead, and hundreds wounded because of one man. Lives have been shattered and families torn apart because of one man. Unimaginable suffering caused by one man, in a hotel room, with a small arsenal of guns.
It’s hard to comprehend.
And yet, life goes on. I have to attend meetings and answer emails. I have to ride my bike home at the end of the day and make dinner. I have to keep living in the midst of this tragedy, and find a way to move forward. So I return to my desk, empty cup in hand, and get back to work.
A few days later, I ride my bike to a nearby church. A nonprofit called The Interreligious Task Force on Central America is located there, and I volunteer with them once a week. They deal with a lot of tragedies. In fact, the organization was started when four activists were murdered in South America while advocating for indigenous rights. Today they have me stuffing envelopes in preparation for a fundraiser. I go about my task dutifully, methodically, trying to focus more on the feel of the envelopes in my hands and less on the ball of sadness in my stomach. More than 50 people are dead and hundreds wounded. How do I respond to that?
The answer comes when I read one of the flyers that I’ve been mindlessly stuffing into envelopes for the past hour. The title states, Mi Existir es Resistir which translates to My Existence is Resistance.
It goes on to talk about the atrocities that have occurred in Central and South America along with different ways that people can get involved. The overall message is that the most powerful thing an activist can do in the face of cruel and unjust systems is to keep being an activist, and keep fighting for what’s right in the face of insurmountable odds.
After I finish reading the flier, I shoot a quick glance around the office to make sure no one is watching. Then I place my hands in gassho and bow. More than 50 people are dead and hundreds wounded; it hurts more than I can bear. But I know what I have to do.
I have to keep practicing the Dharma.
I have to keep studying, meditating and living a compassionate life. I have to let people cut in front of me in traffic. I have to smile at coworkers and do volunteer work. I have to take the fear and pain inside of me and use it as fuel for my practice.
My life, my very existence will be a response to this tragedy. It’s not enough, but it’s all I have to give. People can be cruel. This was true in the time of Buddha, and it’s still true today. Sadly, it will keep being true as long we’re trapped in the illusion of a separate self. But in the face of endless suffering and death, the most powerful thing I can do is to live kindly and compassionately until all sentient beings are saved.
In a world filled with suffering, an act of kindness is an act of resistance.
Editor: Dana Gornall