Monday, November 23, 2009

Normally I love cemeteries. When we travel I go out of my way to visit them and photograph the tombstones, the flowers, the landscape. I look at the dates and wonder if the long life was well lived or short life much grieved. I like being reminded that I’ll be along at some point, so I mustn’t waste a moment. I come away from cemeteries inspired.

The exception is war cemeteries. Once there I immediately feel depressed and hopeless. My throat gets tight and suddenly there is a hockey puck sitting in my stomach. I can’t take a deep breath.

We were in Washington D.C. over the weekend. Wes wanted to see all the war memorials and Arlington cemetery. I said okay, but no to the Vietnam Memorial because I’d been there before and couldn’t stop crying. And I insisted that we walk all the way from Dupont Circle (about 4 miles) because I knew that would be the only redeeming thing for me. I was right.

I cried the whole time: at the World War I memorial, the World War II memorial, the Korean War memorial, the Lincoln memorial, the rippling pond at Bobby Kennedy’s grave, the eternal flame at the Kennedy grave and especially at all the military graves in Arlington.

I kept thinking, “What a waste.” I know many would say, “But we are free because of these dead!” And first I thought no, there has to be a better way. You want X, I want X. If you are dead, then I can have X. That’s basically it, right? Isn’t there some way to deal with that?

I said to Wes, “The bottom line is that war is about young people dying because of arrogant, power hungry men.”

Sexism alert: if women ruled the world would it be different? What mother would want her precious children trained to take human life, to regard others as “the enemy” so as to make killing possible? What mother could send her children off with the potential not only for death, but to return broken or permanently damaged—not just their bodies, but their spirits?

But what about fighting against oppression? Are you supposed to let evil dictators rule? Should we still have slavery? Genocide? Hunger?

On the stone wall at Bobby Kennedy’s grave is a quote from him where he was quoting Aeshylus and it was something about “look within and tame our own savage beast.”

So perhaps I was wrong. Maybe the bottom line is that war is about dealing with the dark, selfish, I-perceive-myself-separate side of humanity. The side that says, “I am better than you. I should get what I want. I will kill you to get what I want.”

This is the side that is within each one of us. And if you don’t think you have a dark side, I invite to remember how you felt the last time someone cut in front of you in line or you didn’t get the vacation you requested or a teacher yelled at your kid and made her cry. Or they took away your aisle seat and put you in the middle—between two really large people.

I walked around Arlington thinking about the savage beast, the dark side within. I also thought about the Light within. I looked at those thousands of grave stones and wondered if these men and women had lived, what cure, what music, what art, what poetry, what invention, what idea did the world miss because they were killed before they could offer it?

I overheard a tour guide talking about “all the heroes buried here.” I know there are people buried in Arlington who went “above and beyond the call of duty.”

But I’ll tell you who my real hero is. My hero is the one who one who can see a better way. My hero is the one who prevents the war before it can begin. My hero is the one who can tame the savage beast within.


Sharon said...

I remember so clearly my most powerful Mother's Day. I was the mother of two very young daughters; and I had been glad to have daughters, believing perhaps they would not grow up to go to war.

On that particular Mother's Day, after the flowers had been handed out in church to all the mothers, another woman, (the mother of eventually 4 sons), stood and read, for the first time that I'd ever heard it, the Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe, written as a pacifist reaction in part to the carnage of the Civil

I'm well aware of my own savage beast, sometimes successfully tamed by the One who sees the beast in us all. My own beast wanted to kill after one of my daughters was a victim of domestic violence.

I have attached below, copied from Wikipedia, the text of Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation:

Mother's Day Proclamation

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Debra Jarvis said...

Thanks so much for sharing that. It's wonderful.