One life together

As of the writing of this reflection, Witness Against Torture, The New York Catholic Worker, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence, among others, are in the midst of a week-long fast for the victims of the recent airstrikes and ongoing besiegement of Yemen. There we see, once again, one of the poorest countries of the world pummeled by some of the richest; not an unusual circumstance, but it’s ubiquity makes it no less tragic.

I was invited to join the fast but unable as my youngest is still an insistent and aggressive breast feeder and my oldest has simultaneously forgotten his ability to listen and enhanced his capacity to test all boundaries. Circumstances being what they are, a well-balanced and consistent diet seems an indispensable tool in order to be an alert and able-bodied parent. Frankly, I felt relieved to have such an excuse. While my younger self would contrive reasons to fast, exulting in the ascetic undertaking and invigorated by the discipline, that aspect of my nature has diminished over the years to such minute stature that I am hard-pressed to find it in me.

On the other hand, I am disappointed to miss out on the communal response. Joining together in mourning, conceiving acts of creative resistance, fasting and prayer are among the few means of response we can identify in the face of escalating and seemingly endless violence and despair. As it is, I am merely one among many who hear it on the news, quietly lament, and continue with the needs and desires of the day. I am at risk of becoming inured to the pain of others, especially that of those who I don’t see in person and who exist in such overwhelming numbers. More than I can remember or recite. More than I can truly imagine.

Before I have finished writing this there will be more to count. Already, the U.S. has chosen to conduct air strikes in Syria in response to the ghastly chemical attacks there, which are a part of a larger, ongoing massacre happening through various means of human-on-human violence. Violence begetting violence. Those who’ve been following the news will be aware too of the atrocity in Mosul, yet another among the countless acts of destruction and devastation in Iraq.

For those of us who live in relative comfort and security, it is all too easy to stagnate in statistics. I often feel I can’t even write or talk about something that tears at me because then I need to mention every troubling incident. Each crisis gets lost in the many and responding feels impossible. I recently heard a poem that addresses this attitude on NPR’s OnBeing called “The Pedagogy of Conflict” written by Pádraig Ó Tuama; a poet, theologian and leader of the Corrymeela community (a place of refuge and reconciliation in Northern Ireland).

“When I was a child, / I learnt to count to five: / one, two, three, four, five. / But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count / one life / one life / one life / one life / Because each time is the first time that that life has been taken. / Legitimate Target / has sixteen letters / and one / long / abominable / space / between / two / dehumanising / words.”

I believe that throughout Scripture, God has sought to communicate to humanity that we were created with intention, that we are part of a holy human family, that all life is precious and inextricably interwoven. I have found it hard to know how to live out that truth as a citizen of the Western world (the U.S. specifically) where, unlike citizens on the receiving end of our war-making, I live my life removed from the death and disorder in which we are involved. I feel all the more inhibited in my capacity to respond to the needs of others as I endeavor to care for and create a stable, loving, beautiful environment for my own children.

Amy Nee and one of her children.

Yet, even as life as a parent inhibits me from reaching out, from taking risks, it also tends to enhance empathy and conjure the questions—what if it was me in that situation? What if it was my kids?

Ever since reading a book review by Terry Rogers in The New York Catholic Worker’s newspaper I am haunted by the story of a Palestinian father who used to feel great peace watching his children sleep. Now, he gazes on them with anguished anxiety wondering if this will be the night that they wake to a bomb tearing through the ceiling, or if they will even wake at all. He writes of too many friends who have lost their children to bomb attacks and realizes he cannot expect his own family to be spared from the same fate. So to look at his children, vulnerable in sleep—each one a mysterious trove of wonder, laughter, frustration, confusion, tears, expense, effort and attention, both given and received—brings only sadness, fear, anger, despair.

One life … one life … one life … one life.

sleeping-children-courtesy-Any-Nee
Amy’s children, sleeping soundly (photo courtesy of Amy Nee).

Seeing my children sleep, I am most often filled with relief, satisfaction, a wave of affection and admiration for their beauty and gratitude for our shared life. I cannot imagine what I would feel were I to hear them referred to as collateral damage, let alone “legitimate target.” I cannot imagine–having watched with amazement each new developing nuance in language and motion–suddenly seeing them fall limp and mute and forever lifeless. Each blossoming life, so intricate, so very dear, so amazingly new each day. “Each time is the first time that life has been taken.” What a gaping hole there would be in my heart, in our family, even amongst our friends.  Whole communities grieving the loss of what was, of what was becoming.

One life … one life … one life … one life.

I am being interrupted in this writing endeavor. My one-year-old daughter, waking from her brief moment of tranquil sleep, insisting on nursing. I will resist for a moment and then concede. It is a comfort to so easily give comfort. I know it will not always be so easy for me, with nothing more than my own body, to bring calm and contentment to my daughter whom I love profoundly. For one life, that opportunity has been stolen.

One life …  one life … one life … one life.

Come, let us love one another.

 

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Nee-Walker FamilyAmy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, two audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.

Beyond bombing: Better options for transformation

The president’s speech made me feel awful last night.

Of course, all the news about the terror that ISIS is causing in Iraq and surrounding areas is making me feel very awful too.

Still, my gut told me the solutions proposed were not right. Similarly, no justification for the U.S. military’s current air strikes have made sense to me. Responding to violence with more violence is never an effective solution.

Today my heart has felt heavy and my prayers like déjà vu. Even though we’re years beyond the tragedies of September 11, 2001, has humanity gotten any better?

How many more times must I pray for peace?

In addition to offering prayers and love, how else does the Gospel invite us to respond? What are the nonviolent and loving solutions that we can advocate for?

I couldn’t come up with any better ideas. Frankly, I totally felt stumped.

At a loss, I turned to a mentor and friend, Kathy Kelly, at Voices for Creative Non-Violence, for insight about possible non-violent solutions to the problems surrounding ISIS. As a woman who has been in the region and Afghanistan as a nonviolent advocate for peace countless times and who works tirelessly “to prevent the next war by telling the truth about the current one,” I knew Kathy would have some good input for me.

Kathy Kelly (R) and me at an event in La Crosse, WI; Novemeber, 2013.
Kathy Kelly (R) and me at an event in La Crosse, WI; November, 2013.

Me: What is your sense about how much power ISIS really has?

Kathy Kelly: I don’t know how much staying power they have. Would they really want the headaches of trying to govern Baghdad, for instance? In Afghanistan, the Taliban are controlling perhaps 70 percent of the country, but we wonder if they’d prefer not to be stuck with governing Kabul with so many headaches and refugees and water shortages and unemployment.

Me: What sort of responsibility, if any, does the U.S. presently have in Iraq?

Kathy Kelly: The U.S. could campaign to completely relieve Iraq of paying any more debt incurred by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The U.S. could pay reparations for suffering caused by past bombing and invasions. The U.S. could begin now to withdraw people at their embassy and decide not to send any more military contractors. If lives are at risk, they probably shouldn’t be there any longer. If pacifists wish to risk their lives by being there, that’s another story, but no one who needs weapons and weapon carrying people to protect them should. The U.S. should encourage the government of Iraq to be inclusive but should never meddle in Iraqi elections. The U.S. has no right to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other countries, but extending a helping hand and paying reparations through payments made to the UN and other organizations that have some credibility, e.g., the International Commission of the Red Cross, could be acceptable.

Me: What sort of non-violent solutions exist for the ISIS problem?

Kathy Kelly: I think the time of the U.S. being an empire that can impose solutions is over. I don’t think the U.S. even has the ability to control forces at work in Iraq, Syria, and the wider region. Air strikes will never be enough. People who are targeted have mobility, and they have information and they have weapons. I don’t think the U.S. will find earnest allies to join them in this fight. So it makes all the sense in the world to seek nonviolent solutions. Such as, trying to create conditions in areas bordering on ISIS held areas that would inspire some ISIS fighters to defect, to leave ISIS. Many wouldn’t be able to without endangering their families or others, but some might think there’s a better way, other than fighting. This means helping to fund the UN and other organizations that are helping refugees. For starters, take the money it would cost to buy one Hellfire missile, or one tank, or any of the other billions worth of weapons.  Encourage states in the region to pursue nonviolent solutions. STOP ALL WEAPON TRANSFERS AND WEAPON SALES. Ask the media to help U.S. people better understand how the U.S. is perceived in countries where the U.S. has waged aerial bombing, drone bombing, economic sanctions, and tensions that contributed to civil wars. The U.S. is perceived, by many, as a menace. This is part of the reason why fine and good U.S. journalists are at risk in this part of the world.  Ask people who are concerned to read Jim Loney’s memoir Captivity, written after he was held hostage for 118 days, and, tragically, our friend Tom Fox was killed. Ask everyone, every pastor, teacher, cleric, bishop, teacher, civil rights leader, …everyone who can influence others…to take time today or tomorrow to reread Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Kathy’s wisdom and knowledge reminded me I have much to learn. More importantly, I was reminded that there is much I can do to creatively advocate for peace– the type of peace that Jesus gives. The peace I am advocating for is peace that heals, forgives, and imagines another way. It never harms another; it only heals.

Thanks be to God for prophetic voices like Kathy Kelly who help us remember that even when the situations are horrific, complicated or discouraging, love and non-violence are always available to offer another way, a way for peaceful transformation for all humanity.

Pray with me for peace and let us end this war!

 

‘Come and See’: A reflection from Afghanistan

Guest blogger: Jerica Arents

“Tell them to come and see who we are.” Almost every Afghan we met said that. Tell them to come and see.  While my mind flashed to nightly news programs that portray all Afghans as dark, bearded men with big guns, ordinary Afghans told me that they want Americans to see them as just that: ordinary people. In October, I participated in a Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegationto Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, David Smith-Ferri, and I spent almost a month in Afghanistan, joining the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan for a week and spending the rest of the trip in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. The purpose of the delegation was to make human connections with those people who are bearing the brunt of our country’s policies of warmaking. Entering the 10th year of U.S. occupation, and after 30 years of almost constant war, ordinary Afghans want the 43 occupying countries and the greater international community to stop the fighting. Come and see, the Afghans would ask wearily. We are human beings.

Jerica, Kathy Kelly and David Smith-Ferri with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Band-i-Amir, Afghanistan

We were welcomed into the country by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), a group of young men in Bamiyan, an Afghan province directly west of Kabul. Bamiyan is a relatively stable area of the country with a large population of ethnic Hazaras and Tajiks. While we were there, the young men invited us into their daily lives. They work at small shops and in the fields, harvesting potatoes or hauling water by donkey. Their large families welcomed us into their homes with smiles and nods and messages of peace. We shared simple meals over food and with laughter, and seemingly insurmountable differences grew negligible.

A man and his son originally from Helmand Province, now living in an internally displaced persons camp in Kabul.

All of the families in the surrounding villages of Bamiyan share memories of fleeing the Taliban during their reign in the late 1990s — stories of large groups running down mountains in the dark, clutching small children and any possessions they could grab. Many of the very young and very old didn’t survive. Countless women and men in Bamiyan suffer from depression after experiencing the ravaging nature of war. “We age very quickly here,” reflected the mother of one of the AYPVs. Noting her weathered hands and worn eyes, I assumed she was in her late-50s. But the translator, after explaining that most women there suffer from anemia, persistent headaches, and debilitating depression, told us that the mother was only 38 years old. She went on, concluding: “I have experienced 30 years of war in less than 40 years of life.”

As the days passed, we started to weave together each young man’s story — stories experienced in the midst of lifelong war that have forced these teenagers to age quickly, too. Abdulai, a bright-eyed and generous 15-year-old member of the AYPV, lived through the Taliban’s abduction and murder of his father. Others told stories of witnessing their loved ones die, seizing the bullet-ridden bodies of their uncles and brothers. Faiz’s parents both died from illness before he turned 7. “When I remember my childhood,” he said, “tears come to my eyes.” But still, their hope was infectious. During a phone call with a young Gazan, 12-year-old Ghulamai, we heard words of encouragement that bridged the miles between these two occupied lands. “Please remain strong and brave,” pleaded Ghulamai. “We will endure this together, with you. If it’s beyond enduring, please call us. Life will pass, but if it’s beyond enduring, call us.”

The history of Afghanistan, I am learning, is a complicated web of interlocking systems of violence — a murder mystery-like story with warlords, ethnic oppression, drug rings, shadow governments, and corruption. But I am struck with the wisdom that was shared with us over tea in a Kabul café from a Western woman who has lived in the country for the last decade: There is not a military solution to the problems of Afghanistan. Forty billion dollars of U.S. humanitarian aid since the invasion in 2001 has done nothing for the poor. Policies to pump the country with even more weapons will never result in lasting peace. Young men with little education and no opportunity to provide food for their fatherless families will continue to join the Taliban for a meager salary. Come and see, the boys beg us. As they continue to bear the brunt of our military machine, may we hear them.

Jerica and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Original post: http://blog.sojo.net/2011/01/04/come-and-see-a-reflection-from-afghanistan/

This week’s guest blogger, Jerica Arents,  is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.  Jerica lives in the White Rose Catholic Worker in Chicago where Sister Julia loves to hang out to play games, sing songs, pray for peace and justice and eat dumpster-dived food.

All photos are the property of Jerica Arents. For permission to reprint please comment on this blog entry.