Fixing the Entire World

helping hand

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

Clarissa Pinkola

No Answer at All

war

Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

The last time I wrote here was New Years’ Eve, and I found myself musing on war, on the privilege of having lived a life essentially untouched by war.  There have been so many other privileges, too, privileges I have too often taken for granted.  But that one, the one in which I have never had to take shelter from bombs and marauding armies, in which I have never had to give someone I loved to the slaughter, is one I have always held close.

I can remember the moment when it occurred to me that World War II, the war being waged when I came into consciousness, the one I used to play out in games with my brother, was actually taking place in other children’s back yards.  The thought filled me with amazement . . . and horror.

How did those children survive? I wondered.  Not just physically, but in their hearts.  Even when the bombing ended, even when the invading armies were called home, how did those unfortunate children move forward into a world in which they had endured such brutality?

I thought myself blessed then because I was an American.  Because my country was set apart from those wars by oceans and by a mix of strength and some kind of essential “goodness.”  We might go off to help others with their wars, because we were the kind of people who did such things, but who would ever dare attack us?  And certainly we would never start a war ourselves!

Oh, how the decades that have followed have disproven my naïve belief!  Especially my conviction that there is some kind of implicit American morality.

According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the military spending of the United States in 2018 alone totaled $649 billion.  In fact, we spent 2.6 times as much as second-place China.

My country stands only slightly lower than the next nine countries in that hierarchy of military spending combined.  And most of those nine are on our side of the fence, the fence between ally and enemy that is being drawn at the moment!

What on Earth—and I do mean what on Earth—are we buying with all those hard-earned taxes?

For one thing, we are buying nearly 800 military bases that we maintain in foreign countries.  (And that is after closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.)  That’s more bases outside our own borders than any other nation has maintained in all of history!

What are they for except to dominate, to control?

The recognition of my own country’s domineering ways have come to be an ache I carry in my heart every single day.  An ache I can find no way to dispel.

I attend meetings where we gather in support of peace, and I appreciate the gatherings and the passionate people who work so hard to inform us.  Occasionally I even pick up a placard and march with a few other old ladies.  But both activities tend to leave me feeling enervated, hopeless.

Those who are willing to speak for peace are so few.  So few and so powerless.

I have long understood that given the way our system works it is not possible to elect a leader who genuinely stands for peace.  Neither political party has any interest in or loyalty to concept.

I am a children’s writer, and what does a children’s writer do?  Tell children that war is evil?  Tell them that it contaminates everyone it touches, victor and vanquished alike?  Tell them what has already been said many times, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?

Yes, of course, I’ll say it, but I’ll say it knowing that my saying and their hearing will change nothing, not for them, not for those other children around the world whose homes and lives are being torn apart, too often with my government’s complicity.

We move into a new year, a new decade in a new year, and my questions move with me.

Again and again I’ll ask myself, “How do I write against militarism, against war?  How do I write for peace without repeating enervated truisms?  How do I take on these most important of all topics, knowing my words will change nothing?”

I have no answer, no answer at all, except to know that I—that we all—must try.

Goodwill, Peace on Earth

Photo by Melchior Damu on Unsplash

Praise god or the gods, the unknown,

that which imagined us, which stays

our hand, our murderous hand,

and gives us still,

in the shadow of death,

our daily life,

and the dream still

of goodwill, of peace on earth.

 

Denise Levertov

A New Decade

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Here we stand, waiting for the old year to dissolve beneath our feet and for the new one to arrive with all its breathless uncertainty.

2020!  It’s hard to imagine a number like that.

I remember sitting in an elementary school classroom where the teacher was, for some reason I can no longer recall, talking about the distant day when we would make the turn into the 21st century.  I don’t remember why she was talking about it, but I do recall what I thought in response.

“The 21st century!  I’ll never live that long!”

I don’t suppose I did the math to support my musing.  I was, after all, only sixty-one when the 21st century descended upon us, an age that seems young now, though it wouldn’t have seemed young when I was sitting in that classroom.  I just know that the idea of moving into a new century seemed extremely unlikely.

And so today we stand on the doorstep of the second decade in the 21st century, and I find myself thinking that entering the decade that will follow—2030—seems about as unlikely as the 21st century did when I was a child.

It’s not that I’m planning not to be here.  This past year when I was offered a mortgage with a ten-year balloon I said, emphatically, “There’s no way I’m going to sign something that tells me I have to die by the time I’m 90!”

Rather I’m acutely aware these days of the fragility of my existence, of all existence really, but especially that of a woman who has a firm hold on her eighties.

I’m also aware, and more so every day, of the deep, deep privilege in which I have lived my life.  The privilege of my white skin.  The privilege of growing up in a home in which the importance of learning was so taken for granted that I absorbed learning with the milk I drank and the air I breathed.  The privilege, the amazing privilege considering the wars my country has been involved in all my life, of living a life virtually untouched by war.

Concerning that last, I have come to understand that my life has been played out in a golden bubble.  I . . . have . . . been . . . untouched . . . by . . . war!

My father received his notice to report for military service in World War II on the day after the birthday that made him too old for the draft.  My former husband was in Korea, but only after the “conflict” was no longer being played out with bombs and guns.  My son was a toddler when the draft closed on the Vietnam War.

And, most miraculous of all—read Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine:  Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner to see just how miraculous—we haven’t yet been decimated by one of the nuclear bombs we ourselves brought into the world!

A golden bubble and an unlikely one!

Every time I look back and muse on the privilege of my life, I can’t help but also look forward to the lives my grandchildren have yet to live.  How can I not feel responsible for the world that is waiting for them?  Yet, like most of the adults of my generation, I have cared, I have always, always cared, and I have never stopped trying to make a difference.  And my caring and my trying have never been enough.

So here I stand at the doorway of 2020, acutely aware both of my lifetime of privilege and of a world crumbling in too many ways to count.  I despise those messages too often handed down to the young.  “Well, guys, seems like we messed up.  Now it’s up to you to fix it!”

It was up to me to fix it, too, and I could not, no matter how hard I tried.

My grandchildren are such valiant souls.  Every one of them.  But I don’t expect them to be able to “fix it,” either.

So what is the message for a new decade in a century I never thought to see?  A message mostly for myself, because my grandchildren, I know, are too busy with their lives to be listening.

Maybe just this.  This day, this very day, is sacred.  Live into it.  Live into the day and the day after that and the next decade, too.  And, if it is granted, the decade after that.

Because the deepest privilege of all is life itself, a privilege even when we are not able to live up to it.

A blessed New Year to every one of us!

Every Now and Then

beach

Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.

Leonardo Da Vinci