Halloween was celebrated this week, but this secular holiday is actually pretty tame compared to what one encounters regularly in the real world. Some refuse to celebrate Halloween because they feel it glorifies evil. I hate to break it to y’all, but evil is alive and well in the world every single day. No, I’m not talking about witches, zombies, and vampires. I am talking about a four letter word which is evil spelled differently–HATE.
Some will scoff and note that “hate” is simply a feeling or emotion. But it is our emotions and feelings which drive us to act. When the feeling is strong enough, people are spurred to do some crazy things, like climb the highest mountain to reach his/her beloved because “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep you apart.
While love might spur us to do positive things, hate elicits some unbelievably heinous behavior such as taking the life of another human being. Before this month, the atrocities of war were merely something that I had read about in a history book. But standing in the spot where someone has been murdered in cold blood tends to make things a bit more real.
In early October I was in Budapest on a mission trip. Some of our group took a tour of the city which brought us down to the banks of the Danube on the Pest side of the river. Stretching before us was The Shoes On The Danube Bank Memorial with an untold number of shoes by the river’s edge. Right in the spot where I was standing and taking pictures, thousands of Jews had been marched by Fascist militiamen from the Budapest Ghetto, ordered to remove their shoes, and shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies fell into the Danube and were carried away. And these Jews included men, women, and –yes–children.
Words cannot express the emotions which overcame me as I surveyed this memorial. I fought back the tears as I looked at the small shoes of a child. Who could shoot an innocent child? And what feelings must have gone through the minds of those who walked en masse from one horrible place (the Budapest Ghetto) to a certain death? How would a mother have felt advancing toward the river with her child’s hand trustingly placed in hers? Would the beauty of the Danube have distracted anyone from the thought of his imminent execution?
This scene in Budapest was as surreal and haunting in my mind as any horror movie I have ever seen. In fact, it is worse, because a horror movie is fiction and this massacre is sadly all too true. The only answer to how something like these killings could have occurred is “HATE.”
But the shootings on the bank of the Danube took place a lifetime ago. They occurred in December 1944 and January 1945. Our world is so much more advanced now. Or is it? Sure we are tech savvy and connected with the whole world electronically. We’ve even put human beings on the moon and begun to explore space. Nevertheless, we are still human and we still hate.
Certainly the killings of the Jews in the context of World War II might be explained (but not excused or justified) by the fact that a war was raging. But how do we explain how in 2018 a man can walk into a Pittsburgh synagogue, a place of worship, and mow down numerous people simply for who they are? Again, the only answer that can be advanced is “HATE.”
Apparently the concept of hating a fellow man has long puzzled those who took the time to consider it. Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1784 work, “Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge,” decries “Man’s inhumanity to man” which “makes countless thousands mourn.” Yes, killing another human being out of hate is inhumane and leads many to mourn.
The passage of time has not helped to provide an explanation of why this inhumanity occurs. Some 200 years after Burns’ poem, the English electronic band Depeche Mode produced “People Are People” which contains the lyrics: “I can’t understand/What makes a man/Hate another man/Help me understand.” Well, chaps, I don’t understand it either.
We may not understand what gives rise to hate sufficient to want to snuff out the lives of our fellow man, but we do have to do something about the hate. But what can/should we do? Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, put forth his suggestion by proposing, “We must counter this hate with love and love’s public face which is justice….” Acts of hate must not be tolerated; when they occur; justice must be served.
Outside the judicial system, nothing is gained by returning hate with hate; in fact, it may simply escalate the existing hate. It warmed my heart to hear that the alleged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was treated by Jewish medical personnel in the hospital. However despicable the patient’s actions may have been, these doctors and nurses gave more of a priority to the value of a human life than to the human reaction of hate toward someone who had senselessly murdered fellow members of their faith.
The scene of the shoes on the bank of the Danube is burned into my memory. Nothing can bring back the lives of those who were slaughtered there due to hate. Hate still exists and continues to take a toll of human lives. I may not be able to wipe out hate entirely, but intentionally showing love to my fellow man on a regular basis may soften someone’s negative emotion. I want to do everything I can to use my shoes to kick hate to the curb. How about you?
Just WONDER-ing: Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of a hate crime? What do you think is the best way to react to hate? Is it possible to show love to someone who has acted hatefully towards you?