The leather strap first caught my attention. I next noticed the intricate flower design cut into the side of the handbag. We had been walking down Las Ramblas, the tree-lined 1.2 kilometer pedestrian street in Central Barcelona for only a few minutes but I had promised my wife that I would bring her back something special from the trip. Spain is famous for its homemade leather products, including wallets, belts and shoes so the handbag jumped out at me right away.
When I attempted to ask the the woman manning the kiosk about the price of the handbag with the little bit of Spanish I still remembered from high school and college, she gently rolled her eyes, gave me a mischievous smile and told me in the in the best Queen’s English that the handbag would be priceless to the right person.
She went on to compliment me on my exquisite taste and extolled the craftsmanship of the handbag maker. We went back and forth for a minute or two, but I inevitably ended up passing on the bag. I was looking for a different style of bag and her asking price, as I suspected, was too high. However, the woman and I continued to talk for another five minutes with a familiarity that surprised me. She joked with me that I looked like a shorter Harry Connick Jr. — she obviously needed glasses, my wife will get a good laugh at that one — and in a motherly tone, warned me to watch out for the hordes of people and the occasional pickpocket in the street. While relatively safe, Las Ramblas still has its share of pickpockets who feast on the tourists wandering aimlessly up-and-down the street.
The look of love
After our quick conversation, I walked briskly to catch-up with the rest of my large travel group. Many had stopped to watch a street performer who was showing off his juggling skills, while also casually flirting with several young women who circled his spot on the street. He was quick too to point out his tip jar in the middle of the street.
While everyone watched the entertainer, I was struck by an elderly man and woman sitting off by themselves on a nearby bench. They looked peaceful, taking in the spectacle while still enjoying themselves. They seemed to be locals because several passersby waved to them and one vendor even offered them a frothy cool drink from his stand.
The wrinkle lines on their faces made them look to be in their 70s, but their smiles and loving glances made them look much younger. “Oh young love,” I heard the vendor say out loud.
At one point they saw me staring and even waved to me. I couldn’t help but wave back.
Fast-forward to the present
Barcelona and the vendors on Las Ramblas sees hordes of tourists each day and millions each year. It’s been eight years since I’ve stepped foot in the street, but I immediately thought last week about everyone I saw that day: the woman, the loving couple, the street performers.
They raced into my memory on Thursday when I first started hearing news reports that a Fiat van veered off the road and rammed into a crowded street in the heart of Barcelona killing 13 people and injuring more than 130 others. The Islamic State soon claimed responsibility for the attack.
I thought about the woman manning the kiosk. A mixed mirage of images came to mind: her smile, her laugh, the picture of her young daughter that she had placed over her cash register. I remembered telling her that, like her, I kept a picture of my daughter and two sons over my computer at work. She joked that with our kids watching over us, we had “better be nice” to our coworkers.
I thought too about the old man and woman. They seemed so happy, content with life. I know that images, especially in Las Ramblas, can be deceiving, but I couldn’t imagine that they would hurt a flea, let alone randomly kill like the van driver. What would they think about a day like Thursday?
Horror of all horrors
Finally, I spent the rest of the night thinking about the van and the driver. I get that you’re not going to like everyone. I get too that you’re going to have opposing viewpoints, politics, religions and philosophies. We all want something different out of life.
But, the end of the day, I struggle to understand how anyone can think killing an innocent person is the solution. I struggle to understand how killing randomly, without thought, without a purpose helps push an agenda.
When I got home from work later that evening, I watched the horrible images on television and tried to find a purpose or a meaning to the deaths, but none came to mind.
“Who acts from love is greater than who acts from fear.” —Talmud
“You will not enter paradise until you have faith and you will not have faith until you love one another.” —Prophet Mohammad
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” —Jesus Christ.
In the days since, I struggle with the loss, with the waste. I get angry and even a little frustrated with what’s happening to this crazy world. My mind swirls with anger and rage. I want to lock up my windows and doors and never leave.
But then calmness returns and I’m reminded once again that the courageous choice is to love and keep on fighting for what is right in the world.
A wise teacher once told me: Anger and rage can win the moment and, maybe even a particular battle, but love and peace will always win the war.
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