A story from Native American sources: A boy was talking with his grandfather. “What do you think about the state of the world today?’’
The grandfather replied, “I feel like two wolves are fighting in my heart. One is full of anger and hatred. The other is full of love, forgiveness and peace.”
“Which one will win?” asked the boy.
To which the grandfather replied, “The one I feed.”
It just feels to me like the next few weeks are going to be a time when each of us is going to have to decide which wolf within our hearts we are going to feed. It promises to be a tumultuous and trying — perhaps even terrifying — time. So many strong opinions and emotions, so much bitterness and anger, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, which could get worse before it gets better. Which path will we choose: toward anger and hatred and fear; or toward love, forgiveness and peace? Again, which wolf to feed?
As I was rather darkly reflecting on that first presidential “debate,” I stumbled upon a bit of dialog from Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” between Liza Khokhlakov, a troubled young woman, and the saintly Alyosha Karamazov, to whom she was once engaged. Feeling herself trapped in a loveless world, she seems possessed by a spirit of annihilation. “I don’t love anyone,” she insists to Alyosha, “I don’t want to do good, I want to do evil.”
Alyosha asks, “Why do evil?”
She answers, “So that there will be nothing left anywhere. Ah, how good it would be if there were nothing left … I sometimes think about doing an awful lot of evil, all sorts of nasty things, and I’d be doing them on the sly for a long time, and suddenly everyone would find out. They would all surround me and point their fingers at me, and I would look at them all. That would be very pleasant. Why would it be so pleasant, Alyosha?”
He refuses to take the bait, but instead simply responds without judgment, “Who knows? The need to smash something good, or, as you said, to set fire to something.”
I don’t know about you, but I see this annihilating spirit, this nihilistic spirit of negation, at loose throughout our country today, and, in spite of our best efforts, I fear that none of us is left uncontaminated. It is so easy to get drawn into its perversity and darkness, to begin to feel that there are people and parts of our world that are irredeemable.
But then I think of something said by Nelson Mandela, who in his own life was confronted with unspeakable negation and evil. He said that people must be taught to hate but that “if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” I want to believe that. I want to believe that we still have a lot of loving to teach and learn, and perhaps we have some hate to unlearn as well. I suppose that words such as love, acceptance and reconciliation can sound weak in an age of anger, divisiveness and confrontation. However, if these are the words — and resulting behaviors — that we choose feed our hearts, they just might set us free from toxic narratives of hate, fear, domination and greed, and give us a different story to tell, a story in which everything is a gift and everyone is a neighbor.
Thea Racelis, a pastor and author, has written that this is no time to be cautious with our love. We must choose love as our risky path of resistance. In her words, “I wouldn’t be a person of faith if I wanted to stay safe. I will love as much and as hard as I can, for as long as I can.” Sounds like a diet worthy trying!