There is the most ancient of sorrows in the world again, dead civilians and such young soldiers. None of us knows quite what to make of things, or what to do. In our minds now it feels like midnight on the Serengeti, dangers everywhere, some you can see, but most hidden. At the peace march this weekend, we carried signs that said, "Shock and Awe, and Shame." We pray for innocent lives and young Americans. Some of us pray for impeachment, and for a real leader to emerge, and not to lose our minds in the meantime. But when we pay attention, we can see just as much messy mercy and hilarious grace as ever: Yesterday at Sam's tiny school, the kindergarteners and first graders were out on the field when military planes flew overhead. They were so afraid, but when Peggy, their teacher, told them they were safe, that the planes were headed for the Middle East, the children relaxed. They watched. Then one smart child began to wonder if there might be children in the Middle East, too, and that these pilots just didn't know that. The children began to fret and Peggy could not lie and tell them there weren't children in the country where the army planes were headed. So they found a giant sheet of paper, and colored it with a peace dove bigger than any of them, and they got the older kids to come help, and they all signed their names, so Army planes flying overhead could see it: The kids kept telling Peggy that the pilots just must not have known. And now they would not go to the country where they might accidentally bomb children. So even amid the smashing and crashing and terrible silences, the trees are all in blossom, and it's soft and warm and bright. Spring is pushing through.
What are you supposed to do, when what is happening can't be? When it's all too scary and weirdly fascinating and grim, and the old rules no longer apply? I remember this feeling when my mother was in the last stages of Alzheimer's, when my brothers and I needed so much more to go on than we had -- explanations, plans, a tour guide, and hope that it really wasn't going to be all that bad. But then it was all that bad, and then some, and all we could do was talk, pray and stick together. We somehow managed to laugh a lot, the great miracle, and we sought wise counsel -- medical, financial, spiritual. A nurse from the Alzheimer's Association finally entered into the mess with us. We said, "We don't know what we're doing; we don't know if we should put her in a home; we don't even know what's true anymore," and the nurse said gently, "How could you know?"
And so we kept hobbling forward, and all we could do was the next right thing. I kept remembering an old Xeroxed photo of Koko the signing gorilla, with a caption beneath it that read, "The law of the American jungle: Remain calm, share your bananas." That's what we did -- cried, tried to make each other laugh and stay calm, shared our bananas. And when the time came to know what to do, we did. I took the cat out of her arms; we put her in a home. It was a nightmare. It killed something in us, and we came through.
I asked a hopeless friend today, "What story would help you most? A story about God? A nice story about quirky miracles?"
"No, thank you," she said. "I'd like to hear the story about how we don't know what's going to happen, and how it all sucks, and that we are scared to death, and we don't know how we're going to get through it."
Like her, I am depressed and furious and grief-stricken. I often feel like someone from the Book of Lamentations, or a tense, abandoned puppy to whom someone has given LSD. You're not allowed to say what an entirely awful administration this is, or you're accused of cosigning Saddam's brutality. Peace marches really help. So do walks on the mountain. So do the pets, my furry little psyche nurses. I try to remember things that ring true, like Gandhi saying we must be the change we want to see in the world. Or Barbara Johnson saying that we're Easter people, living in a Good Friday world. The problem is, I'm not really one of those Christians who has the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion part. The resurrection for Easter isn't for two more days, and of course you have to go on faith that it will take place at all. Your mind tells you that it could all be a trick -- crucifixion Friday, descent into hell Saturday, root canal Sunday. I don't even actually have the right personality for the human condition. But I do believe in the resurrection: The trees, so sticklike and gray last month, suddenly went up, as in flame, but in blossoms and leaves -- poof! Like someone suddenly opening an umbrella.
Maybe I'll just tell you what I am going to do today.
I am going to pray that our soldiers come home soon. I am going to pray for the children of American and Iraqi soldiers, for the innocent Iraqi people, for the POWs, for humanitarian aid, and for our leaders. I am going to pray for the children in America's inner cities. And I am going to pray to forgive one person today, a little -- just to give up a soupçon of hostility. Maybe a couple of tablespoons' worth. I am going to pray for the willingness to forgive someone today -- Bush, or my mom, or me -- even though I do not expect it to go well. It hardly ever does. It is not my strong suit.
Miracles take money, so I am going to send $100 to people I trust -- Doctors Without Borders, Clowns Without Borders, and Rep. Barbara Lee, who speaks for me. I am going to ask her to send it to someone who is nurturing children in the inner city because this country's poor kids will be the hardest hit by wartime cutbacks. I am going to send money to Howard Dean. I am going to buy myself some beautiful socks, and buy my son some new felt pens.
I am going to walk to the library. It's so beautiful out. The hills of my town are lush and green and dotted with wildflowers. The poppies have bloomed, and 5 o'clock is no longer the end of the world. I am going to check out books by P.G. Wodehouse, some Goon Show scripts and a collection of Mary Oliver poems. Libraries actually make me think lovingly of my mother. I am not sure if this will lead me directly to the two tablespoons of forgiveness, but you never know. You take the action, and then the insight follows. It was my mother who taught me how to wander through the racks, and wander through a book, letting them take me where they would. She and my father took me to the library every week when I was little. One of her best friends was the librarian. They both taught me that if you insist on having a destination when you come into a library, you're shortchanging yourself. They read to live, the way they also went to the beach, or ate delicious food. Reading was like breathing fresh ocean air, or eating tomatoes from old man Grbac's garden. My parents, and librarians along the way, taught me about the space between words; about the margins, where so many juicy moments of life and spirit and friendship could be found. In a library, you could find miracles and truth and you might find something that would make you laugh so hard that you get shushed, in the friendliest way. There was sanctuary in a library, there is sanctuary now, from the war, from the storms of our family and our own anxious minds. Libraries are like the mountain, or the meadows behind the goat lady's house: sacred space. So this afternoon, I'll walk to the library. And I'm going to give them 50 bucks, too, in the name of peace, because their budget will be severely cut back in the name of war.
I am going to pray for George Bush's heart to change, so that he begins to want to be a part of the human family. He really doesn't want to gather at the table with God's other children, because he might have to sit with someone he hates. Iraqi soldiers, or someone like me. I really, really know this feeling. It is something he and I have in common. But I don't think Bush believes that all people deserve to be fed, and I do. Pretty much. He believes in serving the poor, if they are the deserving poor. But I am going to pray for him to be OK today, to feel loved, and to be fed, because I think that if you want to change the way you feel about someone, you have to change the way you treat them. I'm going to try to treat him better. Maybe I will send him a little something; socks perhaps, or felt pens. Or balloons. He's family. I hate this, because he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman. To me, his policies deal death and destruction, and maybe I can't exactly forgive him right now, in the classical sense, of canceling my resentment and judgment. But I can at least acknowledge that he gets to eat, too. I would not let him starve, and I will sit next to him, although it will be a little like that old Woody Allen line that someday, the lion shall lie down with the lamb, although the lamb is not going to get any sleep. That's the best I can do right now. Maybe at some point, later, briefly, I will feel a flicker of something more. Let me get back to you on this.
I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen. Last Sunday during the children's sermon, my pastor asked the kids to close their eyes for a moment -- to give themselves a timeout -- and after a while, asked them what they heard. They heard birds, and radios, dogs barking, cars, and then one small boy said, "I hear the water at the edge of things." I am going to listen for the water at the edge of things.
So I am going to tell my hopeless friend these stories. This is the only sanctuary I can think to offer right now. I feel like those islanders in the South Pacific where the United States Air Force landed during World War II, to use as a base of operations. The islanders loved the Air Force being there, all that loud and blinding light from above, landing in a path of klieg lights on their land. They believed it was divine because there was no other way to understand all this energy. And after the Air Force left, they created a fake runway with candles and torches and pyres, and awaited its return. But I am going to pray for the opposite of loud crashing lights. I am going to notice the lights of the earth, the sun and the moon and the stars, the lights of our candles as we march, the lights with which spring teases us, the light that is already present. If the present is really all we have, then the present lasts forever. That will be the benediction.