I stopped wearing my gold chain when I moved to Venezuela. I also started carrying my purse across my chest instead of slung over my shoulder. I used an anti-theft device that locked the steering wheel to the brake pedal, every time I parked the car. All precautions against petty crimes I had been warned about. As the political, economic and social fabric of the country deteriorated, the frequency and severity of the crimes increased. If we weren’t victims of crimes ourselves, we personally knew someone who was. All homes had bars on their windows and several locks on the doors. Despite all these security measures, thieves still broke into houses, cars still got stolen and ordinary people were held at gun-point at the stop light and taken to the ATM to withdraw all the cash in their accounts. But we got used to living like that and developed habits and routines to protect ourselves and maintain a certain level of tranquility; the most vital one being prayer. Every morning as I left the house to take the children to school, we would say these words of a Bahá’í prayer for protection:
I have risen this morning by Thy grace, O my God, and left my home trusting wholly in Thee, and committing myself to Thy care. Send down, then, upon me, out of the heaven of Thy mercy, a blessing from Thy side, and enable me to return home in safety even as Thou didst enable me to set out under Thy protection with my thoughts fixed steadfastly upon Thee.
There is none other God but Thee, the One, the Incomparable, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
I was still living in Venezuela when the Columbine High School shootings happened in 1999. At the time I thought to myself, here I have to worry about being safe on the way to school; there I would have to worry about my kids being safe inside the school.
We moved back to Texas in 2001. Our home did not have bars on its widows. There was one lock on the door. Little children walked to school by themselves. People parked their Lexus on the street and locked up their junk in the garage. It was very easy to be lulled into a sensation of safety. So much so, that although we prayed every morning before going to school, we didn’t feel the urgency to say the same prayers for protection as we did before. Then one morning in September, as I took the kids to school I heard about planes crashing into buildings in New York and I was reminded of the fact that a complete and total feeling of safety, anywhere in this world, is an illusion.
Yesterday, more innocent people were killed or injured in San Bernardino, California. People got up in the morning, went to work not knowing that a horrible tragedy was about to happen. Just as the people who were dining out on a Friday night in Paris never thought they would be targets of violence. But every day millions do live in real fear of violence. So what are we to do? How do we carry on with our lives? We can’t lock ourselves in our homes. We can’t stop traveling and going to work. It is a sad and scary thought to think that there is no place safe in this world. Here are three things I tell myself to keep going on with life with hope and optimism:
1. There is no safety but in complete and utter reliance on God.
2. There are more good and peaceful people in this world than otherwise.
3. What we are witnessing are the results of living in a divided world and I can do my part by building as many connections as possible with the people around me.
The Irish philosopher Edmund Burke says: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And as the good people of this world, we can all do something to erase all traces of “otherness”, a little bit each day.