Some reminders that I needed today as I watched bombs fall on human homes and tanks roll down human streets
Shared in case they're useful for you as well
This will be short, and I’m deliberately not writing it as an essay; I make no claims at having any expertise or unique insight to offer in moments like this. I know next-to-nothing about Eastern European geopolitics. I still dont know how to properly pronounce the name of the particular capital city on which my attention is currently fixated. But, like all of us, I have a heart and access to various news sources and, as such, I’ve been distracted today, which seems appropriate when multiple screens are reminding me that people are being bombed and killed. In that distraction, I’ve found myself repeating a few reminders over and over. They’re a prayer, of sorts, or perhaps a meditation, but in either case I don’t feel any need to force that language upon you.
War is always a tragedy. The robbery of life— by an individual or by a state— represents the deepest and most fundamental failure to be human to one another imaginable.
War is a tragedy when we notice it, war is a tragedy when we don’t notice it. There are far more wars that I don’t notice than there are ones that I do notice.
Most of the wars I don’t notice are those that are either fought in my name or as the result of a long cascade of dominos first set off in a Washington board room at some point in my or my parent’s lifetime. Those wars aren’t any more or less tragic than the ones precipitated by authoritarians half a world away. One mother’s tears are no less an assault on the fabric of humanity than another mother’s tears.
For a whole score of reasons, people in the United States and Western Europe will pay more attention to this war than we do to most wars. This reads for all the world like an easy morality play—a single bad actor, a megalomaniacal authoritarian, driven by presumably crypto-nationalistic impulses, waging unprovoked violence.
Easy morality plays are seldom as comforting as we assume them to be. Identifying a clear villain may offer righteousness, but also helplessness. Who are we to change the world if oil-rich petty tyrants will always be around doing whatever they please?
It is notable that there is so much commentary about Europe as a place where wars don’t happen. I imagine those words are deeply painful both to Europeans who have suffered through 20th and 21st Century Wars as well as to residents of parts of the world where, implicitly or explicitly, we expect (and therefore accept) war to happen.
It isn’t surprising that the most life-affirming and hope-giving images from today come from pro-democracy, anti-war protests in Russia. As much as I love Fred Rogers, “looking for the helpers” is reactive. “Look for the organizers” is proactive. “Be an organizer” is even more so. The best way to support those who reach out to their neighbors and plead for justice in another part of the world is to build those bonds now with your own neighbors. Each of our time will come in the streets, just as each of our time will come to support others in the streets.
Remember the words of Maria da Conceição Tavares, the legendary Brazilian Professor who mentored most of that country’s 20th Century Leftist leaders: “Maybe when you are 20 years old you can believe in revolution, socialism and even the resurrection of the flesh. But have no illusions; the struggle is permanent. I have fought for fifty years and I will continue fighting until I die. That is all I know how to do. And I hope you will join me.”
We live in a world both full of inhumane structural knots that drive countries to war as well as power-hungry individuals for whom that drive to war is personally advantageous. I wish so much for a world for my children and grandchildren where neither is true, where they never feel distracted or helpless or perhaps even under attack themselves.
I don’t know if wishing for that world is fool-hardy or quixotic. Probably, but that’s what wishing is for. What I do know, is that there is work on the days the bombs drop and there is work on the days the bombs don’t and that work is always to draw deeper and closer to others who dream of a world where nobody is expendable and nobody is under attack. If there are bombs dropping somewhere any day of my life, let that be the work I do.