WE WANT PEACE!

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

I did not vote for our current president, and I take exception to his ideas and his manner in too many ways to count.  But occasionally, out of his barrage of verbiage, the man says something that I find myself sitting up and listening to.  Something that gives me a scrap of exceedingly cautious hope. (The caution earned by the fact that little of what he says ever holds.)

Some of what I pay attention to is this:

President Trump admitted that his initial instinct was to pull our troops out of Afghanistan.  Soon after, however, he announced a troop increase.

He talked about staving off “a major and uncontrollable arms race” and hinted at high-level talks with President Xi of China and President Putin of Russian, though those talks have yet to happen.

He called our defense spending, $716 billion this year, “crazy.”  Then he proposed boosting it to $750 billion.

Now he talks about withdrawing our troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and as of this writing, he hasn’t yet backed down on that one.  But what an uproar pushing him to back down from both sides of the aisle!

Clearly, as we proved in Vietnam, there is no good way to extricate ourselves from these kinds of military excursions.  And it’s also clear that Trump has no plan for performing these withdrawals with a minimum of confusion and harm.

But let’s remember that Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned over Trump’s refusal to take his advice in this matter, had a nickname in the Marines.  It was “Mad Dog.”  Mad Dog once said about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, “It’s fun to shoot some people.  You know, it’s a hell of a hoot.”  This man, who is being referred to as “the only adult in the room,” also said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

It’s just possible that the “adults in the room” have it wrong, entirely wrong.  It’s possible that the entire “war on terror” we have been sold since 9/11 isn’t a war on terror at all, but multiple wars with a very different purpose.

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria, said, “Trump’s critics . . . will have the vapors about ‘losing ground to Russia,’ ‘making Iran’s day,’ and ‘abdicating influence,’ but their criticism is ill-founded.  Contrary to their apparent belief, the U.S. does not have a God-given right to send its forces anywhere on the planet it deems fit.  Withdrawal will see the U.S. in one respect at least follow the international rules-based system we are so fond of enjoining on others, and will therefore be a victory of sorts for upholders of international law.”

Do we know, do we want to know, that we have 170,000 troops stationed outside the U.S. in 150 countries?  That’s more than 800 overseas bases.  Then there are nearly 40,000 assigned to classified missions in undisclosed locations.  And all these men and women are “fighting for our freedom”!  Really?

Not my freedom I want to say, every time that phrase is trotted out.  Is it yours?

It’s hard to find hope in a man like Donald Trump, and I can’t pretend I do.  But few of our elected officials are as vulnerable to public approval as he is.  Just think what could happen if we stood up together, you and I and everyone we know who longs for a different world, and said, loudly and repeatedly, “President Trump, you are right!  Ignore the advisers taking you down a road we’ve been traveling far too long.  Listen to your own first instincts.  Listen to your country.  WE WANT PEACE!”

Because we do, don’t we?

Finding What I Need to Say

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’m happy to be working on something that feels personally important. I think that’s really the best there is in writing, yes? Finding what I need to say, and then the way to say it. It’s so much easier than I imagined all those years ago when I started writing. And it is so much harder. Surprisingly so. I’m feeling like I’ve found a new vantage point for being a career author after this second sale–and now I can see just how long this road is. The truth is exciting and daunting. Tiring and somehow thrilling. I’ll hold on.

Cori McCarthy

A Dream, a Hope, a Demand for the New Year

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It isn’t so much my dream for the New Year, or even my hope.  It’s more a demand.  But sometimes it feels as though I might as well demand that the Earth stop its spin.

I want peace.  Meaningful peace.  Peace in which the richest and most powerful nation in the world stops—actually stops—spreading armaments and troops and plots and assassinations and political turmoil and economic hardship across the planet.

I’ve been dreaming that dream since I was a young adult and first began to understand the insidious role my country—my country!—plays on the world stage.  I dream and I despair.

Surely it is naïve, as a citizen of that marauding country, to ask for world peace.   At the very least, it is a woman’s dream.  Even worse, perhaps, it’s the dream of a woman who writes children’s books.  Who could be less in touch with the real world?

Certainly, it’s a dream dashed every election cycle when peace is never a choice, because every contender vying on the ballot will take us down the same terrible path.

I realize, of course, that I’m not alone.  Most of us love peace, want peace.  But do we demand it?

Decade after decade, election cycle after election cycle, in this beloved and privileged country, we vote for and then passively follow leaders who promulgate war, destabilize struggling countries, bully their way across the international stage.  If we don’t exactly agree with what they are doing, we look the other way, because . . . well, where else is there to look?

In 1953 President Eisenhower, a military man as well as President, gave a speech entitled, “A Chance for Peace.”  That’s when he coined the now ubiquitous term, “the military-industrial complex.”  His words have been revered for more than half a century.

Here is the way that speech concluded:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Who in our government is holding up such figures today?  Who is asking the questions those figures demand?  Who even recognizes the reality of that cross?

At the beginning of this New Year, many of us here in the United States—and not only women and children’s writers—dream and hope for peace in this beleaguered world.  Isn’t it time that we, all of us who regret the way our nation plays out its wealth and power across the planet, do more than dream and hope?

Eisenhower’s words have been revered for decades.  Every one of us who wants peace must demand that our government, finally, oh-so-belatedly, listen to those words . . . and to us.

Love

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling, not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being “drawn toward.” Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one’s friends and enemies. Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth… For this reason, loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We’re not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called “love.” Love is a choice — not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity — a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives.

 

Isabel Carter Heyward

The Longest Night, the Sweetest Sound!

I couldn’t have imagined a sweeter or more fulfilling way to draw my extended 80th birthday celebration to a close.

I began celebrating in October by taking my daughter and daughter-in-law to Vermont to revisit my old teaching home at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

In November, my actual birth month, my daughter gave me a party, and various friends invited me to smaller celebrations.  My daughter hosted a family party, too.  (She was busy those days.)  My birthday gift was the surprise of finding my grandson Barrett home from Tampa, Florida, for the occasion.  Then on the actual date my partner, Barb, and I had a delightful just-us evening at a restaurant we hadn’t explored before.

Longest Night

But the climax came on December 9th.  Barb and I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island, for a musical performance of my picture book The Longest Night, created and performed by Community MusicWorks.  The program, Songs of Darkness and Light, included a folktale from Brazil, “How We Got the Night,” along with my winter solstice picture book.

Community MusicWorks is a community-based organization that uses music education and performance to build lasting and meaningful relationships between children, families and professional musicians.  Thirteen resident musicians perform concerts throughout Providence and surrounding communities and offer a free after-school music education program.  This is the third year they have performed The Longest Night.  It was my first time to be able to attend.

I was utterly charmed!  Storyteller Valerie Tutson read, no, she performed my text.  Ted Lewin’s stunning watercolors filled a screen.  And various musicians, some wearing half masks of the animals in the story—crow, moose, fox, chickadee—played Schoenberg and Bach and Haydn, carrying the story forward on wings of song.

Ted and I were asked to join the musicians on the stage at the end of the performance to talk about our work on the book, so I had a chance to explain my inspiration for this small story.

The Longest Night, I told them, began with a question: Why, I asked myself, does the longest night fall at the beginning of winter, not in the middle?  Wouldn’t the middle make more sense?

The answer when I went searching for it turned out to be simple.  As the days grow shorter and colder, the ground freezes and snow falls and stays.  Once the ground is covered with snow, the sun’s rays reflect and bounce back into space, leaving behind little warmth for our air.  And so the longest night becomes the beginning of winter because the climb out is harder and slower than the drop in.

I was delighted to know that, because it tells me more than why winter stays.  It tells me also that with every day growing longer, the beginning of winter is also our first step toward spring!

What a heartening thought, especially for us winter-locked Minnesotans.

And what a life-enhancing experience to hear a piece of mine that I particularly love come to life through another artistic medium

I’ll confess that when I rose at the end of the program to step up onto that stage, Valerie, the storyteller, had to reach down to give this old lady a helping hand.  I’m 80 now and 80 showed.  But oh . . . I am 80 and so blessed!