For two days, I tried to duck the news pouring out of Virginia. Resolutely, obstinately covering my eyes, my ears, and making noise–lalalalala–so the news did not get in. As if that would make it disappear. As if, in my good
fortune, it would not be. Sometimes, it seems we are all so very afraid. Afraid of all kinds of things. Of everything. All of us. What terrible
things are lurking…there, up ahead?
One of my little habits in airports is to pray for the soldiers I see. It’s nothing elaborate, just a simple "take care of that one," and "that one," and upon seeing the rosy cheeks of a girl, "oh, especially her." I hate the war and it overwhelms me and I don’t know what to do about it, and finally, I settled on this little ritual.
Sometimes, on a long layover, I’ll go out looking for uniforms. On this trip, two soldiers sat next to me on the plane. One was headed to Iraq in two months, and the other, older and more experienced-and Marine-had already been and spent the flight giving him advice. The one next to me made me think of my youngest, with his pale brown skin and big eyes. He was sturdy and muscular and Hispanic, with a jailhouse style tattoo of a dagger emblazoned over the tender inner flesh of his left forearm, which he leaned on to listen to the Marine across the aisle. He drank an impressive number of beers, while the Marine drank a similarly impressive amount of Bacardi, both of them in one flat hour. I had a good long time to ask for special providence for him. I wondered if his mother was in LA, or if he’d been to see a sister. He was polite to me, apologized at the end of the flight for
his rowdiness. I saw him afterward at the airport, smoking with hard eyes.
But I am a human being living in this country. I am a mother of children this age. I am a writer who has been actively working toward peace for as long as I have been able to express myself. I am a citizen of the world that produced this troubled soul. In the end, there is no ducking it. I am responsible, too. If that is so, I must pay attention. Last night, I could not sleep, disturbed by all the sorrow in the air, by the loss and the great rip in the fabric that is ourselves. I let the news in.
Of course, the terrible thing hanging in the air arrived at Virginia Tech, where that boy-they are calling him a man, but he wasn’t-killed so many people. So many. The weight of it now, after so much, staggers us. We don’t know what to do with it, how to even start talking about it. Now, after so much. I thought of the soldiers on the plane, who have to inure themselves to ordinary life in order to survive war time. I thought of the war and the cell-phone videos of Saddam Hussein being hanged.
A violent society produces violent people. Have there ever been peaceful societies where these things don’t happen? I don’t know. From here, it doesn’t seem like it. And yet, we continue to wish for it, don’t we? We want a society where our children are safe and broken humans find assistance instead of buying weapons and spraying bullets into a crowded room.
It’s so easy to get lost in a world with so many people. 300 million of us in this country alone. 300 million individual human beings, each one with longings and hopes and dreams and broken places. How can some of them not slip through the cracks?
In the darkness, there comes the challenge–not how do we change this, but what can I do? How do I serve now, and how do I prepare myself to be an elder, a wise one, when the time comes? Each of us has seasons to serve in particular capacities, and if we are willing, we can work toward that better vision. What if each individual human has enough to eat and a clean warm bed, and access to medical care? What if our highest goal was not to die the richest of them all but to serve the highest good, that of realizing the society we have it in us to create?
Because we do have it in us. I have it in me. You have it in you. The world resides within each of us.
I suppose my place in this picture is always the same. I am earnest. I am nurturing. I use my words to attempt to heal broken hearts and humans in my small ways, through novels about people who have survived and triumphed; though classes for wounded or searching artists; through this blog, which is meant to be a peaceful pool and an exploration of the writer’s craft. It seems very small in a world that’s so full of trauma, but in the end, we can only do what we do.
I have been blessed to know some powerful elders in my life. One thing they have in common is their faith. My grandmother, who prayed without ceasing her entire life. My late mother-in-law, who could fill a room with light when she lifted her voice in prayer. My friend Kathryn, a Native American teacher, who led me to healing myself. The mother of my friend Lynn was a devout Christian, the wife of a preacher, who put a great deal of stock in prayer. She prayed for those she knew and those she did not, and when she
died, another woman in her church asked Lynn to take up the mantle. "You have no idea how many people she was holding up by the power of her prayers." She, was a light in the darkness of disease and alcoholism and lost women and broken children. She served with her hands and her money and her heart, but she served most fiercely with prayer.