On a tenth grade history exam, I was asked to list four factors that led to the start of World War I. I remember writing, “The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand,” on the first blank line. It was one of the correct answers even though I didn’t understand why. How could the killing of one man cause a world war? Now, twenty years later, I finally understand.
The news of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani rocked me.
To be transparent: I catch only glimpses of the news– at the gym, from co-workers, and on yahoo’s homepage when checking my email. I’m not an expert on politics and, oftentimes, I don’t know anything about the latest buzzworthy story. Despite my touch-and-go news viewing, sometimes a story will land that is important enough to send me circulating through trustworthy websites trying to find a balanced view and forming an opinion so that I can take action if necessary. The assassination of Soleimani and its subsequent after effects was one such event.
I read through article after article from US news groups and those abroad. They all seemed to agree on one thing: the assassination, intended to “stop a war,” was likely to provoke one.
The news of escalating threats from both sides– Iran and America– filled me with terror. I fear for my life, for the lives of those I care about, and for all life. It’s not just the human toll of war, though that is horrific enough, but its effect on the environment, on cities and countries and the animals and plants that inhabit them. Buildings are reduced to rubble, art is destroyed, farmland is wiped out, so many are killed and those who survive must carry on the legacy of loss.
War does not end after the peace treaties have been signed. It’s not here or there or never again. It’s within each of us.
After reading the recent news stories, I wondered what I could do. I found my answer in a newsletter from a teacher who I admire.
Amma, mother, is often known as the “hugging saint” because she travels around the world and offers hugs to people who line up to see her by the thousands. She’s also a humanitarian whose work is actively making this world a better place for millions of people. These words from her New Year message (you can view the video excerpt here) stayed with me:
If we have a heart that doesn’t lose hope and a mind that is always cheerful, we will be able to see newness and find happiness in everything… May all of you, Amma’s children, become messengers of love and peace in this world.Amma, 2020 New Year Message
While my mind is not always cheerful (I try, but life can be difficult), I do know that I have a heart that doesn’t lose hope. Amma’s child, child of God, human on this earth, I vow to be a messenger of love and peace in this world. I vow to show others there is reason to hope.
I looked away from my laptop and around the room at the bookcases filled with books, the makeshift altar displaying statues and photographs, the cat stretched out beside me in blissful sleep. I felt a stab of guilt– how dare I enjoy such comforts when so much of the world is already at war. I had plans to attend a poetry reading later this afternoon, to get together with my improv friends for laughter and fun, to dance, to sing, to write, to craft, to do the things that make me feel alive and happy and grateful. What right do I have to be happy when the world is on the brink of widespread destruction and the country in which I live will be held responsible for starting the war?
It occurred to me that remaining in my home, seated in front of my laptop, scrolling through endless news stories, my body frozen in a state of terror, was not going to help either.
I went to the poetry reading. The readers moved me to tears, inspired me to write this post, gave me hope in humanity and the power of words and art and community.
Last February when it was cold and gray and the rain had stretched on for what felt like months, I walked down a road I didn’t normally take and I passed a bush, several feet taller than me and just as wide. It was covered in the most beautiful blooms I have ever seen. The flowers, blooming in winter, thriving in the worst of weathers, gave me hope. I picked a fallen flower from the sidewalk and held it in my outstretched hand as I walked home. A young man, in his twenties perhaps, who looked like he might be homeless, was standing on a street corner. “I love your flower,” he said as I passed. I stopped, turned, placed the bloom into his hands and said, “Now it’s your flower.” He was shocked. He resisted and tried to give it back. I kept walking and turned around in time to see as he lifted the petals to his face and inhaled deeply. He smiled, a wide, life-affirming smile, and jumped clear off the ground in a shriek of glee and laughter. A single flower changed two lives, imagine what you are capable of.
On my way home from the poetry reading today, I walked past the bush. It was early still, but a few flowers had already bloomed and fallen. I picked one up, cradled it in my hand as I walked. Someone remarked to me, “I like the way you’re holding that flower, it’s like you are blessing everyone you meet.” I thought this, being peace, offering blessings to everyone I meet, is something I can do.
What can we do? We can keep creating peace and spreading love in whatever ways we are able. For me that means writing and crafting, movement and laughter, staying informed, aware, and involved. This is what I have to offer, my simple path, but I’d love to do more and I’d love to hear your suggestions, actions, and ideas.
I’m not naïve enough to think I will stop a war with a single blog post, but I have hope that my words might help unlock the fear in someone else, might inspire them to use their own gifts, talents, and knowledge to do what they can.
The solution begins within. If we can come to a place of peace and act from a place of love, we can find hope again in the world, in the future, and in ourselves.