2012-03-26

Tragedy. Spring. Fractals.

Trayvon Martin died on Sunday Feburary 26, four weeks ago yesterday. He had just turned 17 years-old. Trayvon’s parents divorced when he was four. Known as “Tray” or “Slimm” (he was 6-foot-3 and about 140 pounds), he lived with his mother and older brother in Miami. He was a junior in high school, where his English teacher said he was “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” He wanted to be an aviation mechanic.

Four weeks ago, he was visiting his father and his father’s girlfriend in a gated community in Sanford, Florida: southeast of Gainesville, about 100 miles, as the crow flies. Tray was watching basketball on TV. During a break, he went out to walk to a nearby convenience store for a snack. He was talking on his cell phone headset to his girlfriend. He was returning to the house, when he was seen by George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman called 911 and said, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good.” The dispatcher recommended that Zimmerman not take any action, and informed him that police were on the way. Zimmerman reported that Martin was headed toward the back entrance. He said, "They always get away," and then muttered what sounds like a vicious racist slur. It’s under his breath, so it’s not perfectly clear, but I’ve listened to the recordings, and that's what it sounds like to me.

Dispatcher: “Are you following him?”
Zimmerman: “Yeah.”
Dispatcher: “OK, we don’t need you to do that.”

The dispatcher reiterated that police were on the way.

While Zimmerman was on his cell phone, Trayvon was on his, talking with his girlfriend, and expressing concern about a "strange man" following him. She advised him to run. She has reported that she heard Martin say "What are you following me for?" followed by a man's voice responding "What are you doing here?" She heard the sound of pushing; Martin's headset suddenly went silent. She immediately tried to call him back, but was unable to reach him. Shortly afterward, a number of other 911 calls were reporting a shooting, and Trayvon Martin was dead.

It’s taken a few weeks for the case to grow in public awareness because it took awhile for the 911 recordings to be released, and as day after day passed with George Zimmerman not being arrested, public outcry began to grow.

The Lake Chalice topic this week week is "Evil." And as our hearts reflect on the tragedy that killed Trayvon Martin, it’s an easy thing to invoke a concept of evil. It’s easy to see George Zimmerman as evil, to see the Sanford Police Department as evil. Too easy.

At the same time, spring has officially come. I mention this because there's a lesson for us in the beauty of the spring flowers. Springtime illustrates that goodness and beauty are manifest where no color is left out, no part of the raucous parliament of sensations is excluded. Evil is the suppression of voices -- the suppression of color -- and beauty is inclusion of all colors, all voices.

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin may bring us to anger. It may bring us indignation and a yearning for justice. Well and good. I just want to ask us to notice one thing: that whatever is out there that we don’t like is also in here -- in our hearts.

There’s a metaphor here from the field of mathematics: fractals. Fractal patterns were big a few years ago. As you zoom in, or zoom out, on a fractal pattern, you find that smaller scales or larger scales recapitulate the original pattern. Just as society is made up of many different people, every person is made up of many different inner personae.

Sometimes the families in a tribe don’t relate to each other harmoniously.

Sometimes the members of a family don’t relate to each other harmoniously.

Sometimes the inner personae within an individual don’t relate to each other harmoniously.

Like fractals: the pattern at one level of magnification is found again at the other levels. In society, in our families, in our hearts: the tensions and dynamics we find in any of these are recapitulated in the other two.

I've mentioned a terrible tragedy, the arrival of spring, and fractals. Which feels like the right sort of beginning. To understand evil we must sometimes be head-on, and sometimes look far afield for our clues.

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Part 1 of "Evil."
Next: Part 2: "Know Thyself. Know Thyselves."