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A Reflection on Courage and Compassion–in the Wake of the Portland Stabbing

The three men didn’t know each other, and on the surface, wouldn’t seem to have much in common. Tahesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche was 23 years old, with long blond hair and a beard. He was a recent graduate of Reed College. A professor described him as “thoughtful, humble, smart, inquisitive and compassionate.” He had just started a job with a consulting group.

Ricky John Best, 53 years old, was an Army veteran, a platoon sergeant who retired after 23 years serving our country, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he ran for county commissioner, his candidacy was notable for his refusal to accept any campaign contributions. A newspaper profile during that election reported, “He repeatedly stresses that he stands by his moral convictions, no matter what.” He was married with four children and most recently worked for the city of Portland.

Micah David-Cole Fletcher is the youngest of the three. At 21, he is a student at Portland State University. He works at a pizza shop between classes. He is a poet; in high school he won a poetry slam competition with a poem denouncing drone strikes and prejudice against Muslims. In 2015, in an article in Venture Magazine, affiliated with Mount Hood Community College, Micah wrote openly about the challenges he faces as a person living with autism.

They are three people with different ages, vastly different backgrounds and life experiences. What brought them together in one place was simply a train schedule—all three happened to be on the same commuter train at the same time. What led them to act together was their compassion and courage. They saw a man yelling racial slurs at two young women, one wearing a hijab. They each knew they needed to act. They intervened, and all three were stabbed. Tahesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best were killed. Micah David-Cole Fletcher was seriously injured but has recovered enough to write a poem.

What a horrible tragedy. We want to believe that doing the right thing means good things will happen. This awful act of hate reminds us of what we already know: standing up for what is right is risky—and can be dangerous.

As we acknowledge the horror, as we express our outrage and grieve the loss of two lives, I find myself also drawn to wonder about these three men. What made them who they are? What influences in their lives led them to develop such deep compassion? Where did they find courage to act? The answers, I suspect, are different for each of them, a powerful reminder that there are many ways we can develop our own capacity for compassion and courage.

My questions about their lives lead me to questions about Open Spirit. How can we be a place that cultivates and deepens the qualities of compassion and courage in individuals? How can we create compassionate and courageous community?

May we keep asking those questions. May we be part of the healing of our nation and our world.

(Quotes come from an article by Jessica McBride on, May 28, 2017, and NOS Magazine, by Ari Ne-emen, May 29, 2017.)

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