Seeing What’s There
A few weeks after my daughter Hana was born, I looked down at her as she slept. I remember her breath precariously, irregularly moving in and out of her body; her chest arhythmically moving up and down, and at that moment I was struck by how fragile life is. Whereas I feel I have control over the minutiae of my life, I had absolutely no control over whether that breath went in or came out again.
As I looked down at my precious daughter, I noticed another, darker impulse within me. Seeing how utterly helpless she was, I felt an overwhelming sense of wanting to protect her. Moreover, I imagined myself defending her from some nameless, faceless attacker and inflicting damage on him however I could manage. What struck me about these contrasting feelings was that they came from the same place: my love for my child and recognition of her fragility carried with it my feeling of, almost desire for, violence. I know myself well enough to know that I’d be the last person to intentionally hurt someone, but as I felt the visceral pull to do harm, I recognized that within my desire to protect lay the potential for violence.
I’ve practiced Aikido, a Japanese martial art, for over 12 years. In an average week, I’ll spend six or seven hours attacking and being attacked on the mat. One of the ideals of our practice as Aikidoists is to protect ourselves from physical violence without doing harm to our attacker. As I don’t think of myself as a violent person, at times I’ve wondered why I’m so drawn to this martial practice, but when I think back to looking down at my daughter’s little body seemingly teeter on the edge of life and death with every breath, I know that I practice to reconcile my reciprocal impulses to protect and harm.
When I hold my daughter against my chest and feel the warmth of her tiny breath against my neck, I am overwhelmed with joy, but when I look at the state of the world now, filled with anger, intolerance and war, I am sure that we all have the corollary potential for violence. I believe we are equally capable of love as we are of violence, and that it’s possible to channel our impulse to protect life for the benefit of the world. I believe that to create a more peaceful, caring world we must acknowledge our potential to do harm. I believe this world can be a better place.
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