“The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.” – John Muir
It was a Volkswagen. To be specific, it was a pale yellow VW that smelled as I imagine all VWs of that era smelled, with two doors, the engine in the back, and a stick shift.
“It” is how I learned to drive. Everyone should know how to drive a stick shift. Since many people today do not know how to drive a stick shift, I’ll move to the second version of that — Everyone should know how to shift gears.
Shifting gears, I move from the article I had almost finished to the one that is more difficult to write and more meaningful to live. It seems my fellow humans are making the assumption of which Muir speaks — that the world is all about them, when the facts might speak differently.
“How do you feel about Susan marrying a Jew?” my mother’s friend asked. She was perplexed, as I was marrying a Presbyterian. You see, Steen is not the Jewish spelling of Steine or Stein. My husband and I are not Jewish at all; however, before I met my husband, I dated someone with a similar name. They were Jewish.
Because my parents had never raised me to dislike nor distrust another group of people, I was delighted and embracing all reading on Judaism, Semitism and then anti-Semitism. I was so happy to have someone different in my life from all of the secular and Christian and Catholic people I had known. I remember feeling horrified as I read the book on anti-Semitism. How could so many people hate another group of people?
That was all back in the 80s (I should specify, the 1980s because dates today don’t include the 19s). Today is 2021, and I am having a difficult time watching what is taking place in front of me on social media and in the news.
I’m still married to a Presbyterian, but I have a very large circle of friends who are Jewish because of a project in which I’m involved, and I am grateful. I feel they are not safe. I fear for their safety every day. Some of them live in America, some in The Netherlands, some in Germany, some in Australia and several in Israel. They are good people, some religious, some secular. Being a Jew, after all, has nothing to do with religion in the big picture.
And so, here I am writing an article that was to be about the humble index card (next week), and instead, hoping I can reach anyone about how to love everyone, especially those different from you, and those who believe differently than you.
I still remember dating the Jewish guy and learning how horrible their lives had been in the past (FACT#1: The Holocaust happened). I am writing in hopes of reaching anyone, to be honest. I’m overwhelmed that people continue to live in so much fear.
You see, I grew up in the Lutheran Church (LCA, later ELCA), and I never knew that people worshipped other gods or worshipped the same God differently, or didn’t worship any G(g)_od at all.
Life was so simple, and people were so kind to each other, as far as I could see. I wondered as I read my books, “Do people know anything about the other people?” The truth is, you (and I, sometimes) base our anger and outrage against others on words we’ve heard, but not facts.
One of my friends sent me a slew of “facts” about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and another friend sent me a slew of “facts,” but they weren’t the same facts. Both friends are Jewish. I understood.
Unless my kids were talking about who threw the rock that broke the window, even facts could be subjective unless you see it for yourself. I can’t see the facts upon which the conflict between Gaza and Israel are based, but I can see the beautiful people on both sides who want to live in peace. The truth of almost every conflict is lying within the two parties.
Unlike the conflicts with my children, I do not need to be the judge. Perhaps, I don’t need to be the judge between my children, either. And I’m a Steen, but I love the Steines and Steins. Stand with Palestinians and Jews — they aren’t always representative of their governments.
I am not Jewish.
I am not Black.
I am not Asian.
And yet, I love these people.
I also am not gay, lesbian, or trans. I don’t pretend to understand what it is like to live in someone else’s skin. All I know is the God who I grew up believing loved everyone isn’t the same entity who inspires otherwise nice people to speak out and act out in hateful and hurtful ways. Many (especially) Americans are speaking out, proclaiming their outrage, and they don’t have all the facts.
In the past week or two, I have seen social media posts and heard from friends expressing “Stand with Palestine.” That is great. The Palestinian people deserve to have us pay attention to them and vocalize our support. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that if they Stand for Palestine, they must stand against Jews. And that is not the case.
When you know that Jewish people see the Israel-Gaza story differently from each other, yet still worship and experience similar feelings, you should also know that the rest of us probably do not have all the facts.
I am not using this article to share facts from any side. I am not using this space to tell you how to believe. I am using this moment, and taking this breath, to recognize that this situation is so similar to many others in your life and mine. Who really broke the window? The one who threw the rock, or the one who instigated him?
We presume to have the facts about our religious beliefs, our political beliefs and even our sense of morality. The truth, however, might be that facts are really subjective unless you know the whole story and can feel all the emotions of those on both sides of the conflict. And so, to you who sometimes feel you stand alone, I stand with you. If you are a good person, who believes you made good choices, I stand with you. I might also stand with those who oppose you because they are good people who believe they made good choices, too.
I will continue to be #AgainstAntiSemitism, #AntiAsianHate, standing for #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter, and I will always work for reconciliation and compassion in a world full of self-importance.
Don’t presume. Study the facts, then study them some more, then meet the people. Presumptions are not always supported by the facts.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org).