My son’s 17-year-old schoolmate was killed last week in the most gruesome manner. Right here, in the oh so peaceful south of Portugal. The girl’s stepfather is the leading suspect. I haven’t been able to let go of what happened. I see images of her last hours, ask myself how long this man had already been using her, how damaged her life already was. I think about her mother, how desperate must she be feeling? What would I say to her, if she were to ask me how to live with such grief. ‘Embrace, gradually it will become lighter?’ This I wouldn’t be able to tell her. This is something too big, too unrighteous.

I also think about the perpetrator, how damaged must he have been? That the deep dark side canceled out all “sense” and led him to such a ferocious deed. Suddenly the dark side of life is awfully near. Images of IS, flight MH-17, senseless violence. Usually I am able to observe it from a certain distance. Human drama on a tv screen. It affects me, of course, but it is never my own life, that is shattered completely. It always happens someplace else.

There is something inside me that knows:
I am part of this in some way

These days it feels different. Something inside me feels responsible. Something knows: I am part of this in some way. The source of evil also lies within me. In various ways I take part by creating conditions that may lead to so much emotional damage. I am on facebook, where everyone, in particular young people, only post their sunny side. As do I. I post positive quotes, happy pictures, show beauty. Maybe this 17-year-old girl suffered from her father’s abuse for years. And nobody was there to see it. Because she only posted positive messages on her timeline, all but one. Because this is what everyone does. We don’t know how to deal with the dark side of life, or so it seems. Life must be good, fun and happy.

Imagine she had been my neighbour. And I knew her father drank and could be aggressive, as the newspaper articles indicated. Would I have acted? Would I have invited her to talk? And what if she would have remained silent, would I have left it at that? Or would I have searched for different ways to reach her? So there would be a place where she could open up and talk. Would I have been able to feel compassion for the neighbour who himself was suffering? If he had felt recognized in his pain, his anger perhaps, would things have been different?

On a subtle level I am just as responsible

In a certain sense I also take part by remaining silent. I also take a different route home when a man shows aggressive behaviour, or laugh when a drunken man stumbles through the street. I don’t ask him about the pain he is in. Don’t think about what will happen when he comes home. Whether there are kids at home who suffer from his drinking. When I look deeper and observe my own behaviour, I can’t but conclude that on many levels I myself participate in the injustice in the world. Not on a primary but on a subtle level I am just as responsible. Even though I am not aware of this.

It isn’t about being guilty, or wanting to carry or solve all pain in the world. It is about being aware of my own role in a web of relations that form a society and culture. Something which I am not separate from. I am part of the web. I can make a difference. If I am aware.

It is about realizing that good and evil aren’t so easy to separate. That it’s easier to point a finger at the perpetrator or at the mother who lets ‘evil’ into her home. Had I grown up under different circumstances, I would just as well have been capable of such atrocities.

“You can be peace-loving or be peace”

“You can be peace-loving or be peace” says zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh. When you are peace, you are aware of all your actions and learn to see that you can make a difference. Spirituality has little effect when it isn’t related to the world we live in. Being genuine also means being involved. Making contact with each other instead of remaining silent. Being open. Not judging.

Peace starts with love and understanding. If you want to understand the other person, it is necessary to be open and connect. It is about daring to ask the other; how are you doing now? Particularly to those people you would rather keep at a distance. The angry neighbour, the meddling mother-in-law, the difficult ex, the drunken man living across the street. How different would their world become if we were to be more honest in our contact?  If we were to open our heart to those that anger or irritate us?

Let us use the holidays to practice being in honest contact with others. To rise above the superficial “how are you doing?” and instead show a true interest in the person who seems so different. And imagine, just imagine you would succeed this Christmas, why not try it any other day? Why not let it be Christmas every other day of the year?