People often tell me that they don’t know “how you do all you do.” (I believe this is a coded reference for the activities that sometimes lead to my getting arrested). I don’t mind that the unspoken part of their comment is “at your age.” People cling to their stereotypes of old folks, and so my age makes my political activities much more notable than if I were a younger person.
Perhaps they’re also wondering if I am in my right mind. Maybe they’re feeling guilty that they are not doing all that they could be doing to stand up for justice, or simple civility.
My answer is pretty much always the same: I listen to my conscience. “But,” the persistent among them continue, “isn’t what you do, um, well, difficult for you physically? Why not let the younger people do the sitting in, or standing with the signs at those weekly vigils, exposed to rain and snow and blazing heat?”
“I believe that it’s the older people who should be risking arrest,” I explain. I feel strongly about this. Younger people have jobs they need to keep, children they are responsible for. And sometimes they are also taking care of their aging parents. It’s much harder on them if they get arrested. I am fortunate enough in old age to be able to follow my conscience. That’s all I’m doing.
But of course there are days when I would rather not get out of bed. I could be quite content reading, getting up occasionally to take nourishment, to feed the cat, bring in the paper. I might even manage to write cards to my grandchildren, or enjoy a visit with an old friend. But in real life, I can’t imagine taking to my bed, (except, of course, in extreme situations like last winter when I came down with pneumonia). There is always so much to do, if you keep the eyes of your conscience wide open.
But I do get tired, and sometimes overwhelmed, and even discouraged.
Recently, I have been feeling deeply troubled. I am troubled by what I read in the news about our country’s killer drones. What a terrible use of post-modern technology! Use these flying robots to track avalanches or find lost hikers. But do not, in my name, assassinate civilians, too many of them innocent children.
To counteract creeping despair, I sometimes go to my WSO file — W(e) S(hall) O(vercome). There are many people I will never meet whose words give me comfort as I trudge along the long trail toward justice. I turn with gratitude to those who have walked this path before me.
This quote from Reinhold Niebuhr helps me keep going in my recent protests against the drones:
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.
Reinhold Niebuhr said that “nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime.” He offers hope as that thing that saves us, that keeps us going. I do believe in hope, so I am in full agreement with him on that point. But when he mentions faith, I’m not so sure.
What does faith mean?
I feel sick when I hear about those unmanned drones killing human beings designated as “terrorists,” even when it includes “collateral damage” (the euphemism for killing innocent friends and family members). Imagine a young American soldier (or CIA operative) at a secret military base, pushing a button to annihilate the tiny images on his screen. His job is to kill the Pakistani terrorist (so-called) who, it turns out, is with his family celebrating a wedding. Or a birthday. Or a funeral. If that drone operator can go home at night with a clear conscience and, with an untroubled appetite, eat dinner with his family, I feel despair for our human race. I’m not sure anymore if I have what you could accurately describe as “faith.”
I do believe in Reinhold Niebuhr’s assurance that because there’s nothing we can do alone, we are saved by love. I am not a sentimental person, but I believe that every good thing we do is generated by love. Can I love the man who is operating the killer drone? He must have to be numb, unable to remember love. Where is love when he pushes a button to destroy cartoon targets with no faces, when he is rendered blind to arms that might rock a baby? Does he simply see little ant-like targets? I imagine that with his remote vision, he sees no tears, no blood. He hears no cries of anguish. He is dehumanized too.
Can I require that my love for him be as deep as my love for those he kills at the family wedding? I try to see the humanity of the man who pushes the button. It is harder still to see the humanity of the man who authorizes the killing. I must believe that love is stronger than the state of denial that makes all of us culpable in these acts of cold-blooded killing .
I wonder if anyone reading this has, like me, a supply of poems, prayers, songs, or random thoughts that get you through these challenging times. I am happy to share mine. I would like to know what helps you do all that you do in the name of love.