She wanted counsel and council on 11-11 at 11 am. I was ill but kept the appointment because we had set that time deliberately, though not revealing why. Reflecting on her life and the effects of war, she still suffered, she said, because her heart had been thrown on the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces by a man who couldn’t love her and couldn’t let her go.
I had just read a commentary on Veteran’s Day from the poet, Raphael Jesus Gonzalez: While WWI was officially over on June 28, 1919, it had ended in reality on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.
Veteran’s Day is Remembrance Day in Canada. Her lover had been in Vietnam and had been so wounded in the war he couldn’t function in relationship. “It was war, not the man, who wounded you,” I said.
Our conversation allowed for the understanding that she is a victim of war. Accordingly, she recognized, she was being called to heal what had injured her so. She was to pick up the broken pieces and reconfigure them. Healing is like a kaleidoscope, I said, the fragments reconfigure and then, viewed in the light, reveal a new beauty in relationship to each other.
The anguished and lonely women keep saying, “The men are so wounded.” It sounds like compassion, but it is also often complaint, sometimes condemnation. We cannot continue to make the other gender the enemy or censure the person for what he (or she) has suffered. If we do, we are committed to having an enemy, and that is the foundation of war.
In my play, Milk Fever, the handyman confronts the landowner: “Who do you get to do your killing for you, Lady?”
The issue of war and healing has been with me for years. Tree, the journal I kept when I had breast cancer, was published in 1978 with The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them.”
In Tree, I wrote: “To return to health, I had to scrutinize my life, root out the destructive elements, be surgeon and seer to my own psyche, make the necessary changes which the life demanded. I had to see the disease as metaphor, interpret it and act accordingly.”
The disease is the disease and is a metaphor. The war is war and is an on-going disease.
“Collateral damage” from every war is universal. The phrase “collateral damage” is an abomination. It is another horrific act of war against each person’s identity and humanity.
If the woman seeking counsel is still carrying the wound, thirty-five years later, imagine the man who went to war, did what no human should be asked to witness or enact. Or imagine the fate of his victims who may not have been lucky enough to die after what they experienced or saw. Just the thought of the weaponry we have created, not what is unleashed through their use, but just the idea, their intent, is enough to destroy a mind and leave it unfit for life in community.
At the beginning of WWII we were horrified by Guernica, aerial bombing, attacks on civilian populations by the end we were asked to accommodate to the Camps and the Bomb. During the Vietnam war we accommodated further to Agent Orange and other atrocities. In the last years, we accommodate to genocide, DU, water boarding, torture, the violation of the Geneva Convention and drones. This is not normal behavior – if one can say – even for war. We are maddened creatures.
Roberto Bolaño’s brilliant novel, 2666, details the cause and continuity of the great world trauma that began in 1914. Every weapon we have invented is a betrayal of our souls. The ratios of those who have been damaged by war, directly or indirectly, are out of proportion to the healthy and vital minds that remain, if any, unscathed.
Add to this the pre-natal and post-natal damage we inflict that comes not from weaponry but also perhaps from the electromagnetic and chemically toxic fields we invent and inhabit, that increasingly emerges in so many tragic ways including autism, “impaired social interaction and communication,” or as one site describes it, these children “lack empathy.”
A dramatic rise in autism occurring at a time when our culture becomes increasingly impaired in social interactions and increasingly lacks empathy and compassion
There is more to our suffering and our children’s suffering. Every child that watches murder on television, or plays violent video games, becomes a victim of PTSD. Every such child is recruited, while watching, into being a child soldier. As adults, we are increasingly entertained by murder.
Elephants, like dolphins, among the kindest, most cooperative, compassionate of living beings, but who have been the victims of culls, who have witnessed their people killed, who have been chased by helicopters, as wolves and people are now being chased so, turn rogue, go against their innately kind nature, their profound instinctual and thoughtful concern for the social fabric of life; they become aggressive, commit acts of rape and violence against each other and other species.
So now, there are also the animals, the vast cauldron of pain they suffer, the distortion of their nature by our activities. Every animal on this planet is a victim of our madness.
Afterwards, becoming wounded, one can be completely unable to function on behalf of a sane and caring society but without knowing the harm that has been done to oneself, and without realizing one has become a perpetrator.
As we try to identify causes and lay blame, let us imagine that every criticism reveals an area or person that needs healing. Like or dislike, there is a great wound, as great as the wound to the EarthSeaMother in the Gulf. We each carry it. It has gone viral, and the wound wounds everyone. Shall we not, each of us, take on the task of healing?
There is no one to blame. We are not born with thoughts of inventing ways to destroy people, animals, the earth. All Our Relations is an indigenous understanding that is innate to every newborn and then, as the indigenous people suffer everywhere, it has been and is being conquered.
If we could only listen to the children before they can speak, we would know what a pure soul is and live accordingly
If WWI is one of the great unhealed planetary wounds, and before it, five hundred years of Conquest and Inquisition and, before that, Rome – and then if we consider the explosive consequences of everything after WWI – we have a great deal of healing to do and extend to each other and our ancestors, in a very short time, or the entire planet will perish very soon.
My husband and I marvel at the differences between us, our different values and assumptions, that arise because I was born into a worldview of hope as I was born in the U.S, before WWII and the Camps and he was born in the U.S. after the Bomb. My family found safety and sanity, they thought, in the U.S. After WWII, they thought insanity was mostly elsewhere. My husband grew up in New Mexico knowing there isn’t any safety or sanity here. Still, he writes about compassion and tries to teach it to those who are concerned as we are. Michael Ortiz Hill’s latest book is Conspiracy of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill.
Sometimes I think PTSD results not only from being forced to commit the unthinkable, but from burying fleeting moments of insight and compassion that precede their acts of horror. Healing, then, would also consist of re-viewing one’s instinctual recoil from inflicting pain and cruelty, from bearing one’s innate kindness.
I didn’t expect to write this, but the other night, I saw Tsotsi, written by Athol Fugard. The young man’s nickname or war name,” Thug”, came from his desperation, and that desperation, from his father’s desperation. Cruelty is not an innate condition. It is a curse upon the person who suffers it, the perpetrator and then the victim. It is contagious and is passed down. A terrible legacy. If too few remember, experience and adamantly hold kind and compassionate ways of being, if too few face their own complicity and heal themselves, cruelty will overwhelm us.
“Decency? Do you know what decency means?” one of the gang members asks after an entirely heartless murder was committed.
Yesterday, I read two sentences in Peter Matthiessen’s, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, (page 6) that will haunt me forever, even though I spent years studying the Holocaust day and night, and went on a pilgrimage to the Death Camps of Europe, then wrote The Other Hand:
“Spotted Tail, chief of the Brule band, … had led a great raid in 1864 on Julesburg, Colorado; this raid reflected the widespread outrage among Plains Indians caused by the slaughter at Sand Creek of an unsuspecting Cheyenne camp by an armed mob of Colorado irregulars with subsequent gross sexual mutilation of men, women and children. (“Cowards and dogs!” declared Kit Carson, whose own regular soldiers known to the “Navajo as “Long Knives” had sometimes played catch with the severed breasts of young Navajo women.)
This IS the history of the Americas and the Conquest.
Maybe people have always fought, but not this way. It is not that they didn’t have such weapons, it is that they wouldn’t invent them. It is not how people are because it is not how animals are.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is said: Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.”
We are wounded. Our wounds wound. How shall we heal in order to protect others?
A general, who had committed the unspeakable, came to the Topanga Daré to be initiated as a peacebuilder. For years, we have been training as a community to receive those who want to heal from war. A basic premise is that we must know such transformation from within ourselves: We must recognize our own war wounds, how they were afflicted, and what we have done, are doing, to heal our warlike ways. We could receive the general with integrity because we acknowledged our commonality of pain and betrayal.
A veteran who had served in the first Gulf war, surrendered his own sword in the traditional way. Another woman symbolically surrendered her sword and for weeks later said she didn’t know who she is or how to respond without having a sword – “just in case.” Last week, another woman surrendered her sword, also in the traditional way, and now there are two swords on my altar.
In Liberia, the women fed up with war, sat and danced in protest in the streets, in grueling sun and pouring rain, and also took the weapons from their sons, brothers, uncles, fathers. And so the civil war ended.
A woman who came to Topanga last night, for a Music Daré, our “indigenous” healing form, had fled the war in Somalia as a child. She also set this date, 11/11 for her healing. Recently, she gathered and the money and resources to return to her country on her own. She put on a burqa and traveled alone for 4 months and 4 days. Often she couldn’t speak, afraid that an English word would escape her mouth and reveal her identity. If so, she might be raped, kidnapped and held for ransom. “So many women are willing to marry and have children at eleven or twelve to escape being raped. Still life goes on. Life goes on.”
She stayed for a while in the village of the tribe that had killed her father and was treated with kindness. What healing we were able to offer her was through our recognition that she is, herself, a profound healer of war.
I am writing this at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Who will you devote yourself to healing today? As we say in Daré, “Wash your dish and someone else’s.”
Heal yourself and give equal time to offering healing to others. If everyone on the planet would take responsibility for healing oneself and one other person of war ….