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Lions Roar : May 2018
he says. “I tried to convince myself I was at peace with that, but obviously no one can ever be at peace not loving themselves and holding that kind of a grudge against themselves. “I don’t know that I’ll ever reach a point in my life where I’m like, ‘I’m forgiven, all’s cool,’” he says. “Even now, when some- thing goes wrong, that part of me still says, ‘You deserve this.’ ” But through Buddhism, Michaelis could now meet this part of himself with compassion, sitting with it and even offering it words of love. “It’s easier for me to say those words now than it was even a year ago,” he says. Self-forgiveness is a process, but one Michaelis says is part of the joy he feels in redefining his purpose in life. “I now know what the real definition of a warrior is,” he says. “A warrior is someone who is not subject to fear or aggression. That’s the kind of story I want for my life now.” ON AUGUST 5, 2012, a white supremacist named Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and turned a gun on the congregation. He killed six people and wounded four, then killed himself. Michaelis was now a Buddhist leading a clean, steady life- style. He’d self-published an autobiography and was speaking at schools and colleges. But his past had just come back to deliver another blow. Wade Michael Page had been a member of the white power gang that Michaelis had started. He listened to Michaelis’ music. The son of one of the murdered men wanted Michaelis to help him understand why someone would do this. So Pardeep Kaleka asked him, and Michaelis answered, “Prac- tice. When you practice hate and violence, it makes your life so miserable that nothing but homicide followed by suicide seems to make sense. Things like love and compassion and forgiveness and kindness and all the most beautiful aspects of our human experience not only become unfamiliar but repulsive to you.” Kaleka and Michaelis talked about their lives and their fam- ilies, and as they got to know each other, they realized how much their different stories had in common, and how they both wanted to bring a message of shared humanity to the world. Kaleka invited Michaelis to be part of Serve 2 Unite. Serve 2 Unite is a service organization that connects com- munities and young people with global mentors Michaelis describes as “superheroes of peace”—former violent extremists or survivors of violent extremism working to connect disparate groups. Serve 2 Unite’s students and educators have created community art projects, block parties, book drives for incarcer- ated people, and peace-themed PSAs on themes such as human trafficking, homelessness, veterans’ issues, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, religious intolerance, environmental issues, and the rift between community and police. “The idea is never giving up on the basic goodness of people, especially in challenging times,” says Michaelis. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it had I not taken on meditation practice. In Serve 2 Unite, interdependence and impermanence are central themes in everything we do. In Sikhism, the sense of inter- dependence is ik onkar, which means ‘God is one,’ and we’re all part of the same organism. I interpret that as the understanding The McDonald’s cashier looked at the tattoo-covered neo-Nazi in front of her. “I know you’re a better person than that. That’s not who you are.” When Michaelis became a father, he began to see the world he was creating for his daughter through his actions—one based in hate, instead of love—and his views started to change. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2018 40