Note: I wrote this essay in the weeks after the mass shooting at the Highland Park, Illinois 4th of July parade that I survived last year. I’m sharing it now for the first time, following the one-year anniversary of the attack. May the memories of the 7 who lost their lives be a blessing. May we all continue to heal from this trauma.
On a day that celebrates the formation of the most powerful nation on earth, founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I experienced the greatest display of pure evil and death I could have ever imagined.
Except I not only have imagined it before; I have seen images, videos and read stories online about mass shootings and terror attacks. I have become desensitized to acts of violence. Except this time, I felt it.
The freedom to live was forever stolen from seven innocent souls, physical injuries harmed dozens, and emotional and spiritual trauma was wrought to thousands.
Growing up we were taught the villains were “they”- “foreign terrorists” like those who brought down the twin towers on 9/11 when I was 9.
Then the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 when I was 19.
And now the attack in my beloved hometown of Highland Park at 29.
When Sandy Hook happened, I realized that terror could come from within a community. I was playing a beer game called caps during the day after finishing my last final exam for the quarter. The aunt of my fraternity brother who I was playing with was a teacher in the school.
Thousands more mass shootings have occurred over the last decade in the United States. The Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in 2018 stands out in my memory, as I am a Jew. Constant rocket attacks on Israel have always wrenched at my heart.
At this point I am not shocked. I am not surprised.
But I am devastated and heartbroken by the tragic loss of human life.
The parents of a now orphaned two-year-old. A Mexican visitor to town. A Jewish teacher and community organizer.
I heard the shots. I saw people running. I felt the chaos. Yet in the moment, I was calm and focused. I recently completed a three-week yoga teacher training and one week Himalayan kriya yoga course. The ancient and eastern practices of yoga are another guide. I found this wisdom to be very similar to what I’ve studied in the Torah.
Our breath is sacred. While always going automatically in the background, our breath regulates our nervous system and emotions. As an individual I learned how to consciously use my breath.`
The mind is comprised of only 7% conscious, with 90% subconscious material and 3% deep brain stem. Our modern lifestyle has individuals living in constant fear and anxiety for the future, using only 7% of the mind and giving in to the never-ending analytical thoughts. When a threat arises, our biology has trained us with the flight or fright mechanism. Everything becomes clear. In time of serious threat like a mass shooting or being pursued in the jungle by a lion - those responses are critical. But we cannot live like this day to day. The extreme trauma, stress, and anxiety this causes has led us down a path of widespread destruction and constant drain of energy, our prana, our life force.
I believe my yoga training and studying of bitcoin enabled me to have a calm, stoic response to the violence.
I rode my bike to the parade with my wife and in-laws. We parked our bikes on Second street and I chatted with an old friend and her mom. We walked north up to the corner of Central and Second street and I took this image at 10:07am.
Unbeknownst to us, the devil was perched on this roof across the street. We found my parents and Papa sitting at the corner of First and Central, one block east. I took a video of the HP marching band at 10:10.
At 10:14, loud bangs rang out and chaos ensued. I made eye contact with my Papa and I held him securely under his arm and we moved as fast as he could south on First street. My mom ran ahead. My dad was moving with us. We made it halfway down and hid behind bricks so my 87-year-old Papa could catch his breath. He survived a rare blood cancer in the mid-90s. He survived open heart surgery 5 years ago. He survived a slip and fall on ice this past winter. He is a legend of the community, leading the community orchestra Highland Park Strings for over 4 decades.
My body and mind were solely focused on ensuring he was breathing steady and ok. As I ran with him, I saw my wife and father-in-law run back the other way trying to find my mother-in-law, who had ducked into a building to hide.
We continued towards his condo and my Mama had been walking to the parade, late coming from water aerobics. By 10:19 we were inside their condo safely, but my wife and her parents were hiding in a pilates studio with a few others. They remained there for nearly three agonizing hours until they were escorted to the street, and I watched them hustle towards me. We were safe. I was incredibly relieved and am extremely grateful that we were so lucky to still be alive.
But so many were not. The ultimate destruction of death was brought to our community not from outside, but from within. A local kid that had become so detached from his humanity, so nihilistic that he decided to shoot up our hometown 4th of July parade.
We need to wake the FUCK up.
There is not one incremental policy or law that is going to change our society. Society is a construct in our minds, an idea, a story. Society is comprised of individuals. The change we so desperately want to see must be brought by individual decisions that each of us makes. It is not anyone else’s responsibility. It is each one of our responsibilities to bring change to our way of life that does not enable nor hold space for evil to rise up in our midst.
I desire to live in love and harmony with my neighbors, raise a family with my wife and live a meaningful life. To reconnect with inner child joy that I felt in the final picture shown, at the HP 4th of July parade 20 years earlier, in the year 2002.
I believe no one is born evil. Individuals are shaped by their genetic code, epigenetic instructions, environment, and individual decisions driven by incentives and motivated by self-interest. This is a good thing- it generally enables us to survive.
The weapons of mass destruction are not somewhere else held by a foreign power. The weapons are in our own minds that decide to embody evil only when we lose our connection to humanity. To be tricked by our ego to give up hope in a bright future.
At my core is my soul. My soul remembers. I am not my body nor my thoughts. The physical body is a vessel for life and the thoughts we have and constructs we build are just stories we tell ourselves. My identity, my ego tells me my name is Jonathan Gordon. That I am Jewish, that I am from Highland Park, that I’m American. None of that exists.
Yet our bonds are tight to our family and community for a reason. In the past we needed to band together for survival. We evolved, value exchange and the division of labor enabled our survival from small groups of 150 hunter-gatherers in the wild, to agricultural cultivators and modern industrialists and technologists.
But in modern times, we’ve been told we’re on our own and promoted materialistic individualism. In this we have given up the strength of local communities and forfeited power to centralized institutions. Lemmings, sheep to be controlled and do what we are told and refuse to think for ourselves. The pervasive material culture and identity group politics enable psychological tricks of in and out group thinking, severing ties within families and communities.
Highland Park felt different. Everyone seemed to know each other. It was stable and safe. In high school I took a course called Immigrant Voices where we celebrated openness.
There has to be another way to live. We cannot live in fear of our fellow neighbor. We need to choose love over fear.
Over the past two years I have traveled the world and read dozens of books. Erin and I have experienced holidays in the past 6 months, from Nyepi in Bali to Purim in Jerusalem, Semana Santa parades in Malaga, and Israel’s Independence Day in Tel Aviv. Yet ironically, it was the celebration in our hometown in America that we experienced this horrific attack on life itself.
The bubble in Highland Park popped. I am incredibly privileged to have grown up in Highland Park. I lived in the same home until I was 18. I could not have imagined a better place to grow up as a Jew. Multiple bar and bat mitzvahs every weekend at 13. Taking Hebrew language class at the public high school. I left Highland Park each summer for two months to go to a Jewish sleepaway camp in the north woods of Wisconsin.
Being instilled values of home, community, and the Torah, I learned about our traumatic history as a people, being freed from slavery in Egypt, the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem - the crusades, the inquisition, the Holocaust. In Hebrew there is a phrase, sinat chinam, or senseless hatred. Every year on Tisha b’av we mourn these tragedies.
Growing up these tragedies always felt distant, in the past. I’ve seen the concentration camps in Poland. I studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where my Hillel director’s girlfriend was murdered in the Sinatra Cafe suicide bombing in 2001.
In Highland Park we always felt safe. Yet last week I said the birkat hagomel, a prayer one says when you’ve survived a near death experience.
I am very close with friends I met as a kid - we call ourselves the RC, the Ravinia Crew. We would walk home from middle school and sit at “the spot” across from White Hen/7 Eleven. We would come home from college and eat sandwiches at Bob’s. The same Bob who is the murderer’s father and signed off on his firearm ID card in December 2019, despite his son’s threats to commit suicide, kill his family, and having knives confiscated by the police. This is an abdication of responsibility on a deeply profound level, and there is blood on his hands.
For an individual to pull the trigger they have to make one decision. Yet there are millions of individual decisions that had to be made that lead to the decision to pull the trigger.
Life oscillates between order and chaos. Good and evil. Yin and yang. There is underlying risk and uncertainty, at the deepest quantum level. The biblical tradition understood and taught morals to live by and wrote the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not murder.
Ultimately, I believe all of these mass shootings are a systemic failure and indictment of our entire way of life. As kids there is no education on what and who you are as a human; how to breathe, what to eat, how to be healthy, what is money?
We perceive time to be linear. But really the only time that exists is the eternal now. The past experiences and future are a function of the human mind and temporal understanding.
A better way to understand time is cyclical, the human life as a sacred saeculum. Earlier civilizations understood this deeply.
In the 1997 book The Fourth Turning, the authors describe recent history in periods of ~80 years, a human life span, the saeculum. Right now, it is clear we are in a crisis period.
As millennials we align as the hero generation to bring us out of the crisis period.
The transition periods are the following, as you may have heard this old adage: Hard times create strong men (crisis), strong men create good times (high), good times create weak men (awakening), weak men create hard times (unraveling).
Ultimately, I believe we have property rights over our body, our soul. We have free will, choice in our speech and actions to decide and interact, exchange value and create complex markets. However, these rights are violated all the time in our modern day.
Our base money is corrupt. Inflation is theft. Inflation funds war. The fiat dollar has caused inequality and steals people’s time, leading to the unrest and chaos that we see all around us. Individuals pushed towards high time preference decisions without regard for the future. Piling up massive debt that weighs heavily on future generations. Consuming more than we produce. This has happened before.
The Roman Empire was once the strongest nation in the world, with powerful stories and incredible human ingenuity. Yet, they devalued the silver content of their money, the denarius, by 98% over 3 centuries to fund war, conquests, and government debt.
Humans converged on gold as money over 5000 years. It served as the best match to the properties of money - scarcity, durability, fungibility, acceptability, divisibility, and immutability. Yet today we are ruled by fiat, by decree, with money completely untethered to reality.
Except we finally have the power as individuals to store value without permission. To hold our value with 12 words in our head that no one can take from you. The Jews fleeing Nazi Germans whose gold was confiscated would have loved it.
Bitcoin. A sly roundabout way of separating money from state (Hayek). A new way of organizing ourselves and being. Rules without rulers. A money that incentivizes collaboration and cooperation instead of violence and coercion.
The rise of a digital currency was predicted in another 1997 book that has had a profound impact on me, called The Sovereign Individual. They foresaw our time of increasing decentralization following the mass centralization of power of nation states and devastation it brought in the 20th century. The freedom that the internet would provide to individuals who decide to take the mantle of freedom for themselves. When you study history, you see the patterns in human behavior. Despite our incredible technological advances, we are still the same humans biologically as a few hundred or thousand years ago.
The book Hunter Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century provides a great starting point for how we can adapt to the times while keeping in mind our biology. What we eat, how we breathe, how we move throughout our day needs to change. We need to take responsibility for our own health and well-being.
But at the end of the day, it starts with you. You have to decide. To no longer tolerate violations of your property rights, of your sacred breath. To take responsibility for your own life. To provide support and check in with friends and family. It takes work to find equilibrium balance in your energy, balancing right and left, ida and pingala, giving and receiving.
I believe we can create a world where our kids aren’t terrified of going to school or a holiday parade. It is up to us as millennials to be the hero generation. I’m here to talk to anyone that needs support after this tragic act of the devil.
I’d love to share Himalayan kriya yoga practices with you if you need to release the trauma from last week, or other negative emotion that is held deep inside your being.
I want to work to create a world that we want to live in and raise the next generation in. I believe in the power of love. I choose love over fear. Do you?