Living Up to my Beliefs — For my Children and the Children of Afghanistan
Elizabeth Sawin October 15 , 2001
Here in Vermont it is daytime.
Here my baby mashes banana in her hair and talks about the moon. Moonnna. Mooonnnnaah.
Here my daughter, just home from preschool, holding a purple painting of a tree, pirouettes around the living room in a sunbeam.
Here my husband serves lunch — warm potatoes with butter, parsley and basil. And the clear sky is blue, the maples are fire red.
On the other side of the earth (remember that single watery jewel against the backdrop of blackness?) it is night, and people are dropping bombs in the name of safety and freedom. In my name, and in yours.
I have been thinking about the mothers in Kabul (or Kandar or Jalalabad) whose babies were born on the same day in July as mine. Are they wiping tears in the dark and patting small, warm backs? Are they humming quietly to distract from the shaking of the ground?
I have been imagining the fathers, who must be trying to fit suitcases, and water jugs, and blankets into cars, or wheelbarrows, or onto the backs of donkeys.
And, I have been thinking about all the four-year-old girls with long, wavy, sleep-tangled hair, like my daughter’s, who are awake in the night. I can almost see their eyes — too wide and not blinking.
I do not believe that the bombs (five-hundred pound gravity bombs, computer guided bombs, tomahawk missiles, and cruise missiles) can avoid hitting all of them — all the mothers, all the fathers, all the babies, and all the long-haired girls. I believe that some of them will loose their homes, some will be injured, and some will be killed. Still feeling stunned by the erasing of six thousand American lives on September 11th, it feels so wrong to me that more innocent lives will be added to the count.
But, beyond sensing the injustice, how can I respond?
This is the question that leaves me feeling trapped. What choices do I have? Stop paying taxes — risk losing my house? Ignore my commitments at work, forget that I am the parent aid at the nursery school next week, leave behind my nursing baby and march to Washington? I don’t know if it is cowardice or pragmatism, or some combination of the two, but these options seem about as feasible at this stage of my life as flying to Afghanistan and pulling people to safety with my bare hands.
Of course I could write letters to newspapers, call my senators, or join a local rally. These things are important — crucial even–but it feels as though there is more.
After weeks of feeling helpless, it has been a relief to realize that, while I can’t stop the bombing or end the conditions that create terrorism, there are some things entirely within my control — especially my own beliefs, and the degree to which I live by them. Saddened, grieving, feeling guilty and enraged, I can still respond by trying to live my own life in a way that is more true to my deepest beliefs.
I believe that the world could be beautiful even though parts of it are now horrible. More than before I am going to try to give life to that beautiful world. I am going to try to envision it, and write about it, and participate in it. Maybe this means planting an apple tree with my daughters, maybe it means collecting supplies for Afghan refugees, and maybe it means speaking with pride about the ideals of pluralism and democracy, and insisting that our nation support these ideals abroad as much as we do at home.
I believe that people are good, although we don’t always live in social and economic worlds that make it easy for us to act out of that goodness. More than before, I am going to try to expect goodness in myself and in others. I’m going ask myself why does that senator (or neighbor, or acquaintance) feel that war is the only option? And I’m going to support the work of people, from Quakers to civil rights veterans, who know from experience that there is always an alternative to violence.
I know what is important to me, and I believe that something very similar is important to almost everyone, everywhere. Hard to put into words, it has everything to do with messy babies, dancing four-year-olds, and new potatoes, lovingly served. More than before, I plan to find ways to cultivate what is really important to me — raising my children, tending my marriage, growing my own food, building my local community.
I know from experience that whenever I invest in these things I also shed some of my dependence on our consumption-based economic system. Focusing on the things that matter most to me will also reduce my contribution to the apparatus of growth, consumption, and exploitation that creates “haves” and “have-nots”, oppressors and oppressed, and, eventually, terrorism and war.
Although it feels bitter to admit it, I know that nothing on this list of mine will save lives in Afghanistan. But if I can change just one life — my own — into a form more consistent with the world in which I want to live, then some small thing of beauty will have come of the loss and waste. And if hundreds of us, or thousands, shift our lives to reflect more of our vision for the world then we will together create hope and possibility out of grief and despair.