Sunday, November 7, 2010

Living in a fallen world.

Self portrait with flowers. This collage piece I made yesterday reflects an hour in which my heart was at peace and I put it here to reassure those of you who worry about me when I'm expressing anger and despair. I have reason to be angry and reason for despair, and I come at times to wonder if suicide is an appropriate response, but I reject suicide. I have children who love me, after all.

And also, whenever I think about suicide, I'm reminded of a scientist friend of the family we met at Star Island. It was 1967, and the Vietnam War was raging overseas while resistance and protest were beginning to shake the nation at home. Dick and his wife had come to the island for respite because Dick suddenly needed to resign from his job. He'd been working on military contracts developing biological and chemical weapons, and was devastated by what he had done. He wept openly about Agent Orange, at that time virtually unknown to the general public, and he gave a sermon in chapel one night, saying that we should develop weapons that would kill only humans and let all other life forms live. He had seen the bland cruelty of war-at-a-distance and he did not think humanity was worthy of the earth.

His sermon was not well received. Humanity was making progress, others said. The optimism manifested in the United Nations was still running high and they insisted that he should have hope, that love would prevail. Science and liberal religion were working hand-in-hand, people encouraged Dick, and this war was just a little skirmish, after all, after the devastating war the folks on the island had fought not so long ago.

The following year, we got news that Dick had killed himself, and we went to visit his wife. I don't remember her name. I remember their bohemian apartment, and her sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette and my mother, for once, not getting on her case about it, while she explained that her husband's loathing for humanity had been more than he could bear. He was at peace now.

The people on the island had not really heard Dick's despair, but I heard it, and in my adolescence was deeply affected both by his message and by the powerful statement of his death. He had been complicit in the unspeakable horrors of war, and he could not assuage his conscience. We, too, are complicit. We accept what we should protest, we turn our anger on one another while the wealthy and powerful bomb and steal and conquer with impunity, just as they've always done.

And yet . . . this gift of my life, my Creator's marvelous work, is also of value. I'm too small to have a real impact on our fallen world, but I'm big enough to give love. In my insignificant way, I'm still of value and nothing the dominators do can take that away. I fight for my grandchildren's right to be born in human flesh. I fight in my own way, with my pictures, or a comment here and there at a dinner party, or a conversation with a child. Dick had an impact, too, after all. He changed me, and helped me see beyond my self-interest to the needs of the larger world. I wish he had chosen to live.

*The b&w image is of Dick (left) and my dad exploring the island.

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