Come with me. Out under the stars in the dark of the night. There are trees all around and the grass is heavy with dew. Can you hear the stream? The water running over the rocks from the hills we walked on during the day and finding its way, I suppose, out to the inlet, and out the inlet to the sea.
Sit down by the camp fire where the embers still pulse under the blackened wood where we cooked our dinner a few hours ago. Sit down on the thick wooden pieces of trunk, and let the mind clear of the junk of the day, let the cloudy dirt subside and settle and leave the water of the heart clear.
Here you are my brother, my sister, feeling calmer, feeling at ease with yourself and at ease with me. Finally. You make the effort to relax, to let the tension go out of your face, the tension that seems to hold it in a permanent scowl now that I am middle-aged, now that I have responsibilities. Brother, sister, we all wrestle with ourselves. Sometimes I am tied in knots inside; sometimes I want to walk out into the hills and the bush and lie down and be free; sometimes I want a perfect clean world and burn in rage against reality. We share these feelings I think.
Put down your gun and let me apologise.
I won’t say I understand, because I don’t. I won’t say I know what you mean, because I don’t. I am a peaceful soul I think, but I do know rage. I’m human after all. I know how rage rises like a red surging pulse and fills you with a disembodied purpose. I’ve wanted to kill someone. I’ve wanted to smash things with my fists. I’ve felt pandemonium and chaos barking inside my head like liquor, like bulge-eyed dogs flecking the ground with spit straining at the end of a chain.
I’ve know love. I’ve known tears at the sound of a voice soaring in the heights of dome, I’ve known the soft skin of my wife in the night, the fluttering open-mouthed breath of my children when they were babies and only knew me as a sound, a smell, a shape hovering out of focus above them and giving off the vibration of love.
You’ve known those things. Both hate and love and all of the things in between. You’re human like me. You’re my brother. You’re my sister.
Because of what you have done in Paris many voices will be hard. People will be saying hard things and projecting strength and using tough words. That is their business. They should say what they feel. I am going to say what I feel, just in the moments before you go, here by the fire, in the night, with the stream running by.
That’s what I mainly wanted to say.
No one will understand you even though what has happened is a familiar pattern. They will say that they are peaceful and you have forced them to be violent, but they will forget that their peace, their civilizing mission – the peace they claimed for North Africa and the Middle East – can be like a grinding, humiliating oppression that poisons some while it feeds others. They will forget that generations of oppression can be defused by being honest with those who come in peace and ask for change, but that if you humour and then betray the Martin Luther Kings you will be left with the Black Panthers, and though you may wear them down too the sickness of injustice will persist slowly destroying both sides, eroding everyone’s right and ending in mutual wrong that consumes all in hate and blood.
The hate and the blood is running high, and we are not yet at high tide.
I don’t believe in your world, but I don’t believe in their world either.
I don’t at heart believe that every crooked place can be made straight. The heart cannot be made perfectly straight, and the perfectly straight heart by one ruler is deformed by another measure. I don’t believe that anyone has the one right measure of how the perfect heart should be. This is not because I am an atheist, it is because I believe that should Allah exist no one has the right to speak for that being. Not you, and certainly not me.
But I also don’t believe that democracy and capitalism is to be forced on anyone. I don’t believe in the basis of my own country. The very country I am from, and that I love, and that I am glad to be a member of, that very country is predicated on the violent overthrow of another people, and their continued political and cultural subjugation. It’s something that makes me profoundly unhappy and yet I walk around the very symbol of oppression. I am white. I am male. I live on someone else’s land, and I – like my peers – are among the richest, healthiest, and best educated of any generation in the history of the world thanks, in part, to violence and oppression.
So I am sorry, because you were one of those oppressed so others could have the best lives (by one definition) of any people who have lived. Even though I live in a democratic country very little my country does represents what I feel but, equally, please understand that I do not agree with what you have done. What you have done is wrong. The feelings that led you to it I can understand, the feeling of wanting to do something extreme I can understand, but that actual killing of others… I am against you. I will never be with you. You are wrong. Your ideology has been distorted into this terrible shape by the systems that I participate in, I acknowledge that, but I still don’t agree. You may say, “but what recourse was left?” and I might limply shrug my shoulders, and that may enrage you but, still, I cannot support your actions.
I see that you are rising to go because you must. The inky heart of the night is calling you and you must leave and not return, and I must head back to my sleeping mat and dream. I will get up, and get ready for the day, and try to be more grateful, try to take the time to show more love in the world; for my family, for the people I meet. But here, now, let me take your hand, already cooling, as the embers finally fade, let me say my last thing.
None of us are actually free, and none of us have real power. I am the legacy of the oppressor and you the legacy of the oppressed. Neither of us made the decisions that created this world which is not just, and is not just for you mainly because of me (if we speak metaphorically). Though neither of us are Christian, I think you might understand when I say that I believe my people should come and wash the feet of your people. You cannot serve God and money. It’s an impossibility that we have long forgotten in my country, and forgetting it has led us into other people’s lands sometimes with an open hand, but always ending with the clenched fist. And always we recoil with indignation when we are finally punched back.
So let me wash the dust from your feet. You have to go on your final journey. I can see it is already in your mind. I can see by the light in your eye that you are thinking of paradise. It’s not for me to tell you of the emptiness I think lies ahead. After all, I am likely wrong. Shall I fill the bowl with water?
But you won’t let me. This is all a dream after all. Just me in the night alone talking to the dead assassins of the innocent in Paris. The embers gone, the stars wink out behind the incoming cloud, the water in the stream thickens and tenses with the influx of rain on the ranges. On either side of me I can almost see the poised, leaping forms ready to plunge at each other, and tear at throats, but I will stand up and walk another way. I want nothing of it. Do I have the bravery required? Probably not, but I will set off.
Will you walk with me?