Saturday, April 21, 2012

Peace Lost and Peace Found
How I Spent My Spring Vacation

            This past week I have been on vacation from my part-time job as a custodian in the congenial neighborhood United Methodist Church which has hosted my basic survival in Hampton Roads for the past 17 years—the longest steady job I’ve ever held. Go figure.
            Anyway, with three pets at home in need of fairly constant attention and supervision, it’s impractical for Jala and me to go away for more than half a day. So we have been relaxing at home. It was easier to do over last weekend when the weather was like summer. I went swimming in the bay two days in a row, though I wore the wetsuit a friend recently gave me. (Had to try it out. The water still numbs bare skin, in case you’re wondering.)
            Seems I was smart to put in my garden back at the Equinox, earlier than some old timers said I should. My babies have all taken hold and look great by now, getting the jump on the voracious caterpillars and squash worms due soon to hatch out.
            However, when the weather changed back to normal—"You know how it is with an April day"—I found myself staying inside and tuning into more news than I had over the long, summery weekend. As a result, I regret to report, my general outlook turned grave, melancholic, and hypochondriacal.
            There are so many problems in the world, it can get a body down.
            And if, as the gurus and masters of consciousness tell us, those problems are really projections of our own dysfunctional beings, I think we come to the real ground zero, not in New York City but in our own complicated and mysterious natures.
            Take the latest unwholesome tidbit from Afghanistan—grinning American soldiers posing for photos with the dead, mutilated bodies of alleged Afghan insurgents. Following the revelation of this atrocity, with the photos replicated over and over around the world, military and civilian leaders, including President Obama, Leon Panetta, and Hillary Clinton, stand up before the microphones to call out those few rogue soldiers who crossed the line, disgracing the honor of their uniforms and violating the high American standards of warfare.
            Who are they kidding? To pretend that an army can go into a country of which it has little understanding and kill its people with impunity while somehow maintaining "high standards of behavior" is sheer propaganda. It’s delusional. Those photos, which the military exerted great pressure upon media to suppress, are the embodiment of the energy of war. The real infraction, it seems, was to create a public relations catastrophe by showing the world what our soldiers are really doing over there in a land where Americans, at best, ought to be treading pretty lightly as guests, not invaders (let alone immature occupiers).
            Equally ludicrous is the expectation that a team of armed body guards—trained to make split-second, lethally violent decisions—will behave like celibate ninjas when sent on business into a politically corrupt, vice-ridden country like Columbia. Who do our politicians think they’re fooling when they repudiate the behavior of the very culture they authorize billions of dollars to promote?
            Then there’s the Presidential campaign, that rogues gallery of dissemblers desperately competing to craft just the right balance of lies to seduce the most voters their way, with the unenviable position of most powerful man on Earth as the prize. At this point, I’m feeling that a vote for any one of them, including our sitting President, is a compromise of my citizen’s integrity.
            Meanwhile, politicians in dozens of state houses across the country, including here in Virginia, are passing corporate-written legislation that hands over both our liberties and our livelihoods to a business culture that rules top-down, conscripting the many into profitable service for the few.
            And let’s not forget Trevor Martin, victim of a gun culture which won’t be satisfied until every man, woman, and child over twelve in America is armed and loaded to protect themselves from each other.
            All this and more—old news, I’m sure, to most of my readers, including the spies at total information retrieval—racks my mental and physical health.
            But let me get back to the gurus I mentioned earlier.
            If I can identify these and many other absurd, even surrealistic, news items in the world outside me, what do I see when I look inside? Is it anything like what I hear and read in the daily bad news?
            Even as I luxuriate in the best of our temperate Virginia weather and coo like a love bird over the waxing strength of my home and garden projects?
            What kind of a world do I live in, where peace and war, beauty and horror, truth and lies cohabit with such impunity, such incoherence?
            In truth, my anger is as human as any solder’s, my lust as keen as any Secret Service agent’s, my public relations front as vulnerable to penetration as any politician’s. And, yes, I, too, am capable of feeling a start of fear at the sight of a hooded stranger walking through my neighborhood in the night.
            Is the world I see the one I have created out of my expectations and beliefs? This is a major question.
            And if I conclude that the world outside is a reflection of the world inside, I don’t have to go very far from home to know where to start fixing it.
            Gandhi said that only in nonviolence can we be free. I believe Jesus said that, too, as did my own personal favorite, Yogananda. But among the female gurus I hear another level, almost a whisper. They say that none can be free until all are free.
            Now everyone who thinks about these things is beginning to say it, too—clergy, scientists, artists, teachers, and many others in different places, male and female. We are interdependent, all vitally connected. The fate of one is the fate of all.
            You can’t kill another human being. You can only kill yourself.
            Those kids in the photos were experiencing a moment of triumph of nationalistic militarism, which they were trained to seek, and will probably suffer for it the rest of their lives. The Afghans they seemed so proud to kill may be the luckier ones.
            Those kids killed themselves. They also killed you and me and put an American face on murder of third-world people. How many of us, openly or secretly, tend to make excuses for them? Even take a little pride in them?
            How many agree with Leon Panetta that war is ugly and sometimes gets out of hand, but it’s still necessary to keep evil away from our shores?
            How many believe America should lead the effort to end world war?
            It seems clear to me that nonviolence is the vast, unexplored territory before us at this time on Earth. If I had a son or daughter about to go out into the world, I would say to them, "Don’t be fooled. Fighting is always the problem, never the solution."
            I’d say, "Your peace within is worth more than all the diamonds in Africa. Dedicate yourself to finding that, and war will be no more."
            But since I have no children, I must expect it of myself.
            If there is everything else within me, there must be peace as well.

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