Road Trip Day 3: Note from the Redwoods to Orlando

June 17, 2016
Road Trip Day 3: Note from the Redwoods to Orlando

I emerged from the redwoods a few day ago to a cell reception spot, and saw a note from my friend Abigail. She and her partner Shoshana are getting married on June 20, and have been planning for the wedding with great excitement. Like so many Americans, especially gay Americans, she was devastated by the June 12 Orlando massacre, and looking for answers about what this means for America, the gay community, and her personally. The note, which she sent to some of her friends, said in part, “Folks help me think about this.”

Although I’ve been in the woods, I’ve also been aware of the huge volume and variety of responses from people all over the country. Being so removed from all of this, what could I possibly add? On the other hand, how could not respond to my friend? Here’s my response in part:


Dear Abigail,

Love and hugs to you my sister.

I’m reading about the Orlando massacre from where I’m sitting now in the redwood forest (when I find a spot with cell signal! 🙂 I’ve been asking these ancient beings, some of them close to 2,000 years old, to share their wisdom and perspective to my questions. The cruel and reckless greed of humans has destroyed 94% of all the ancient redwoods. But human caring and kindness have managed to save and protect the remaining 6%.

Sadly, I don’t see hatred going away in our lifetimes. But I don’t see love and compassion, courage and kindness, going away either.

A lesson I’ve learned from the redwoods is, a key to their survival through centuries of extreme conditions, and to their ability to live so long and grow so high, is by linking roots with each other. You can’t knock down one tree without knocking down a whole neighborhood.

So let’s continue linking roots, all of us, in supporting each other. And let’s keep extending our roots in all directions, to make the neighborhood bigger and stronger — more and more people connected and supporting each other in love.

Abigail, I want to remind you I’m there for you when you need me. And if you know anyone who is being harassed or threatened because of their sexual orientation and help is needed, call me.

The slaughter of the ancient redwoods in these parts didn’t stop until an out-of-control logging industry was disarmed by law from continuing.

So this is a second lesson: disarm hatred. I don’t know what it will take, or how long, for America to disarm haters. But here’s a challenge facing all of us: what can I do, and what can we all together do, to bring that day closer?

A third lesson appears to me, not from trees but from people — from many teachers in many communities: change hatred to love. How to do this? I can’t do it by arguing with them, by trying to show them the error of their ways. The only way that works, the only way that has ever worked, is through love — to reach out to others with acts of kindness. How to sincerely do this? My personal experience: it takes a lifetime of working on myself, and it’s still a work in progress.

A lesson from our teacher Reb Zalman. One time on the ALEPH email list, I believe it was about 15 years ago, there was a discussion of the bedtime Forgiveness Prayer, which Reb Zalman, who was participating in the discussion, had beautifully translated. There was back and forth about whom we are required to forgive, and how. Finally someone said, “What about Hitler? Do I have to forgive Hitler too?”

The list was silent for a day. Then came a post from Reb Z. “On your level, I don’t think you’re ready for Hitler yet,” he said. “So why don’t you start by forgiving the woman who cut in front of you in the grocery line.”

That’s Reb Zalman’s lesson. We can change the world by reaching out to that person in the grocery line — not only to forgive them, but also to find a way to show them kindness — and maybe next time they’ll do the same for someone else. And by linking roots with each other. It worked for Gandhi. It worked for Martin Luther King. Can it work for us?


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