Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuning out the war

I realized not long ago that I often turn off the radio when news from Iraq comes on. (I listen to the radio in two places, the kitchen and the car, and usually to the local NPR station.) This is not good. Iraqis can't turn off the violence. U.S. soldiers can't turn it off. Their families back home can't turn it off. I'm appalled at myself and at the luxury I have to tune out when I feel like it. I'm not talking about a need to wallow in news of the war or guilt-trip myself. Living fully is a duty. And even in war zones life goes on, somehow. But I'm still appalled at myself, at the tune-out reflex. Numbness? Compassion fatigue? Compassion avoidance?

I am newly aware of this because I just found out that two old friends of mine are about to be posted at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Suddenly I can't turn anything off. I listen more. But who was I to flip that power button when the daughters and sons of mothers all around me (and I do mean all around me -- we have a lot of military people in North Carolina) -- are suffering and dying every day? Their mothers watch and weep, their fathers watch and weep, their children watch and weep.

To be fair: I turn off far less when there is someone speaking directly from Iraq --or recently returned, or a relative of someone who is there-- and much more when the speakers are politicians and policy makers who discuss what to do. But again: as a citizen, who am I to tune out? This is my country, my government at work. What right do I have to turn away? Not only is there blood on my hands; there is policy responsibility in my hands too. And the great enemy is the demonic despair.

Throwing up our hands. Abandoning ourselves to helplessness, instead of daring the hard work of hope. There is a form of sin.

Some of this turn-off reflex, I rationalize, is because I have to tune out a lot of things this summer if I'm to get any writing done. It's my first such available time in some years and it is fast disappearing. And it's legit. We all have to filter out stimuli. Those of us who are in caregiving professions -- professional ministry, teaching, medicine, therapies of various kinds, nursing -- generally err on the side of "letting it in" and have to keep reminding ourselves that it really is all right, not selfish, to rest, to create art, to empty the mind, to take time off. Also: in order to create it is necessary to isolate oneself, even to cut off conversation. This is something people who don't write or compose or paint don't understand. (And people experience this in different ways; for instance, I find telephone conversations, or any talk for that matter, much more disruptive and intrusive than e-mail or writing or reading. I have friends who are exactly the opposite. It's a matter of brain wiring.)

Still, it's a fine line, and there is a war on.

Get this widget Share Track details


johnieb said...

After *Paula*, Isabel Allende published *Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses*.

It is still difficult for me to accept goodness and blessing, but I believe God wants me to have it in the midst of this.

Take care of yourself, too.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Jane, of course, we can't take it all in. Of course, we have to tune some of it out. I cannot read stories about child abuse, because I form images in my mind that seem to linger forever. I well know that child abuse happens, but, to stay sane, I cannot read the stories.

I do try to hear the stories about the people in Iraq and their suffering. We caused the disaster in that country, and I feel I must listen.

One thing, among many, that drives me crazy about the Iraq war is that no one but the troops and their families and friends are called upon to make sacrifices. THAT'S NOT RIGHT!

Ed said...

I struggle with this kind of thing a lot. The war, AIDS, the homeless, the mentally ill, GLBT issues; it's just too much sometimes. Thank you for putting it out there so clearly and well.

johnieb said...

Exactly, all y'all; it sometimes is necessary to shut it out to survive. It will take you down if you don't.

Jane R said...

Thanks, all, for your wisdom and perspective. I really appreciate your comments -- and you!