Friday, November 4, 2011

Homage to One, and to Seven Billion

Outside the garage, the morning after.


Around 1:00 a.m. on October 9, in the peaceful college town of Goshen, Indiana, Linda Miller was painting in her garage. Her 58-year-old husband Jim, a biology professor at Goshen College, was in the house. The couple's two school-age children were out of town at a marching band competition. It was just another ordinary night in the ordinary life of an ordinary family in an ordinary town.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, Linda was attacked by a young, well-dressed white man whom the police would later describe as a "would-be robber",  a "home invader." Linda's cries of distress roused Jim out of the house. He managed to divert the assailant's attention, and Linda, though severely wounded, managed to get to a phone inside the house and dial 9-1-1.

When the police arrived, two minutes later, Jim lay dead of stabbing wounds in the yard. Linda, however, was still alive.

Today, after a period of hospitalization, Linda continues her recovery at home. The couple's attacker has not been found.

Jim Miller
Goshen College is my alma mater. Jim starting teaching there the same year I enrolled out of high school, more than 30 years ago. Like nearly every other professor on that Mennonite college campus, he was a man whose faith was synonymous with a commitment to a life of service and an ethic of nonviolence.

Since learning about Jim's murder, I've often wondered what the final moments of his life were like. But imagination fails me. It simply won't take me where real life took him. This is all I know for certain: Unarmed, he put his own body between his wife and her attacker; between her flesh and her attacker's knife. He sacrificed himself for the woman he loved. I suspect, though, and with good reason, that he would have done the same for a complete stranger. To say this is not to diminish his love for Linda. It is to acknowledge his love for humanity, despite the horrors we human beings are so capable of inflicting upon one another.

"It is in the shelter of each another that people live." So goes the Irish proverb. Jim Miller embodied this proverb, by the way he taught and the way he died, and whether we knew him or not, his life can inspire the rest of us. And "the rest of us" are many. In the very month that Jim died defending his wife, our world's population reached seven billion. Seven billion lives. Seven billion people needing to be sheltered by one another.

Not many of us will be asked to sacrifice our lives to shelter even one of those seven billion. But I do think our commitment to nonviolence asks us to sacrifice something. What are we willing to do? What are we willing to give? These are not questions to be answered once and for all. They are questions to be lived, and answered, daily.

As you reflect on these questions, I invite you to watch the video below. It's presented by Playing For Change, which has partnered with the United Nations to create an original anthem for a world now seven billion strong. The song, called "United," is performed by musicians and singers from around the globe. "We have to bring the world together, we have to live as one," they tell us. "We have to bring the world together, we shall overcome."

It's a song Jim Miller would have loved.


(Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer below, click here to watch the video. Also, translations of those verses that are sung in languages other than English are included beneath the viewer.)


Verse (in Lingala):
This is the answer for the people
Who lost their loved ones from war
This is the answer for the people
Who lost their loved ones from hunger

Verse (in Spanish):
The moment is what counts
Live smiling until the end
But happy days will come
That nobody can believe (Chorus)

Verse (in Hebrew):
It´s time to say
We are all one heart
This song is of all of us
So let´s sing it together in one big voice.  (Chorus)

Verse (in Arabic):
Lord of peace
Gift us with peace (Chorus)

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