I remember leaving school at the end of a long, hard day in second grade. I dragged my backpack along behind me, scowling, marching towards the parking lot. My mom and I locked eyes. She smiled. I made my way to the passenger side, aggressively opened the door, and angrily plopped myself down on the seat beside her.
"What's wrong, Scoob?" she asked.
"My teacher got mad at me because I accidently broke one of the clocks. She embarrassed me in front of everyone. I hate her!"
"You don't hate, Lauren," she said calmly. "Hate is a strong word. You may dislike, or disagree. But you do not hate."
It was the first time that I remember trying to understand why I felt the way I did. Trying to understand another person's point of view. Was the teacher frustrated? Did she feel overwhelmed? Did she mean to make me feel this way?
"You never know what people are going through," she said. "We're all trying our best with what we've been given."
The moment came and went, but those words sunk in.
Later that year, we began learning about different religions at school. My friend told me that she was a Christian. I felt shocked, dismayed. I knew I wasn't one, but I also knew she was my friend.
I knew there was value in a religious identity. The members of each group seemed to have something in common. I wanted to fit into a group, the way my friends did.
"Mom, what are we?" I asked later that day.
"What do you mean?" she said, folding laundry.
"Well, what do we believe in? Are we Christians? Are we Jewish? Are we Muslims? "
I didn't know, but I wanted to. Everyone I talked to at school seemed to have a good reason for believing what they did.
We visited many places of worship. We went to a mosque, a temple, a synagogue, and a church.
Again, I looked to my mother for guidance. I was confused. All of these people, in all of these places, firmly believed in their religions. If everyone was so sure, how could any one of them be correct?
Confused and disheartened, I fell in to my mother's arms in tears.
"I don't know what to pick. Who is right? I'm scared to be wrong."
She held me tightly. I could feel her heart beating against my damp cheek.
"All you can do is try to understand. Everyone is just trying to do their best with what they've been given."
Months later, I remember lying in bed with my dad. He was working in Toronto three weeks of every month. I couldn't wait for him to get home, to tell me a story as I fell asleep each night.
Earlier that day, one of my friends told me that her parents were getting a divorce. The thought of my own family falling apart terrified me.
"Are you and mom ever going to get a divorce?" I asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"No, sweetie," he said.
I sat up and looked at him.
"Do you promise?"
"I promise." He looked me in the eye when he said it.
It wasn't a promise that he could keep.
I remember my mom telling me, fighting to be strong through her tears. I felt my heart sink. I couldn't speak. I understood: They weren't happy anymore. I knew it was the right decision, but he had promised me. I felt betrayed.
"I hate him!" I yelled, and broke down.
I knew that, in that moment, she felt the same way. But in her most devastated, vulnerable state, she said to me: "I know. But he is your father, and you can dislike him right now, you can dislike what has happened, and you can disagree, but nothing good will come from hate."
It took years for me to understand, but I finally did. My whole life, even in the most difficult situations, she gave me the ability to choose. So I did. I chose to love.
Most of what we know is learned. I was taught to love, not to hate. The importance, though, lays in the power of our own agency. We often forget the magnitude of our ability to choose.
In a time when hatred appears to be everywhere -- on Facebook and Twitter, in the suicide bombs of terrorists and the ugly politics of the United States -- I find solace in knowing we have the power to change. We have the power to erase hate, and instill understanding and acceptance, in the same way my mother did.
It's easy to divide; to separate ourselves by investing in identity politics, to put others down to lift ourselves up. What shows a greater strength of character, though, is to find common ground where there seems to be none.
No matter who you are, where you're from, or what you believe, we are all just trying our best with what we've been given, just like my mom says.
We were not born hating a race. We were not born hating a religion. We were not born hating a gender. We were not born hating a sexual orientation. We were not born hating a social class.
We were born loving. Loving our parents. Loving laughter. Loving others. Loving interaction. Loving anyone who made us smile, regardless of who they were or what they believed. We were happiest as children, when all we knew was how to love.
The choice is available. We can choose love or we can choose hate, and we will get much further trying to gain understanding than we will trying to gain control.
I have seen the result of a hate-driven world. It's full of war, suffering, and bigotry. I chose love, and even in a world filled with hate, it has allowed me to see the brilliance that I am surrounded by.
Every day we have a choice. To criticize or to understand. To love or to hate. We can stay inside and stay dry, or run out the door and dance in the rain. The choice is ours.
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