The details of the terror attack were chilling. Shot and stabbed on a Jerusalem bus, the 76-year-old grandfather fought for his life for two weeks before succumbing to his injuries. To many of us, such news of an horrific event half a world away would have little meaning, other than to prick our consciences in an effort to remind us that the world is still an uncivilized, cruel place. We watch the nightmare that is Syria drive people of faith from their homes, desperate people in search of sanctuary. But in Israel, a hot bed of unrest and unending civil war? Why should we care about what an angry Arab terrorist did to Richard Lakin?
I’ll tell you why we should care. Richard Lakin was a teacher in my school when I was growing up. He was someone we respected because he “played fair”. He wasn’t a boisterous, loud, charismatic leader. I remember him as dignified, dedicated, determined. He expected us to behave and in return for our cooperation, he opened doors for us — to a world we had yet to explore. He was a man who brought a sense of community to our school, who asked us to treat our fellow students with the same kindness we sought for ourselves. He encouraged us to be the best human beings we could be and instilled in us the conscious realization that we were all in this together.
Years later, when I was a student teacher, I had the pleasure of working in his school when he was principal. He hadn’t changed his philosophy. Every student mattered, even the difficult ones, even those who didn’t quite “get it”. He was the epitome of the quintessential educator.
And yet, somehow, through circumstances that are beyond our comprehension, this kind, compassionate man, who spent a lifetime shaping the lives of his students and guiding minds to develop their social consciences so that they might reach out to make the world a better place, lost his life on a bus in Jerusalem.
Mr. Lakin was a true man of faith. He believed in God, and because he believed in God, he believed in humanity. We who had the opportunity to meet him on the road of life were affected by his actions in ways that encouraged us to choose to make a difference. And yet, Mr. Lakin died at the hands of an angry, disaffected Arab terrorist, the very sort of person he would have wanted to help before the hate claimed his heart. The very sort of child Mr. Lakin would have taken under his wing and nurtured, opening doors to a world beyond the violence that is epidemic in the Middle East.
I never expected to hear that Mr. Lakin was that victim on a bus that was halted on a Jerusalem street, stabbed and shot in some random act of violence that purported somehow equal the score between Arabs and Jews. No, Mr. Lakin was a peacemaker, a healer, a respecter of people. Did the terrorist who took his knife and thrust it into this kind, decent man realize the wrongness of his actions? Did the terrorist who then shot this man of peace realize just what he took from all of us? Above all, did he understand that in committing these horrible acts, he harmed himself, his people, his cause?
Mr. Lakin believed in children. That’s what made him a great teacher. He believed we could all co-exist in this world. That’s what made him a great man. His death is but another reminder that the world is becoming a less civilized place. As we let go of that tether that kindles our awareness that we live on the same planet, when we isolate ourselves in anger and bitterness, the world becomes a darker place, a more dangerous place. Mr. Lakin asked us to think of others, to respect their needs with as much intensity as we do our own. He chose to do that himself. Surely that is the very principle behind the belief that the struggles of our fellow human beings could be our own. Wouldn’t we want to feel connected in our hour of need, to know that people care? “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”
Richard Lakin may have perished at the hands of a terrorist, but that poignant loss reminds those of us who were lucky enough to meet him on the path of life that we all bear a responsibility to encourage, nurture, and seek goodness in our fellow human beings. We must not be silent in doing so, not if we are people of faith. When you think of Richard Lakin, when his name is spoken on the news or written about in the media, don’t think of him as a statistic. Don’t see him as a victim of a senseless terror attack on a Jerusalem street. Think of him as a man who genuinely sought to make the world a better place for all. Let him inspire you to undertake that little act of kindness that your conscience calls for you to make. Remember that the people you meet on the road of life are counting on you to try a little harder, to do a little more. Be a candle in the dark night. Shine.