Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2004

Embracing light and dark an enlightening experience

May 13, 2004

I love May. The iris are blooming in a variety of colors, and the trees have blossomed. Traveling down Church Street, one is covered by a lovely green canopy of trees that meet overhead to provide shade for several blocks. The school kids are happy, if a little crazy, because school is almost out, and the seniors have reached just the right level of arrogance that makes exiting the nest a little easier for everyone.
We gather at church to sing, "On This Day, Oh Beautiful Mother" because this glorious month is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Growing up in Catholic school, we always had a May crowning with the most deserving girl -- chosen by the nuns of course -- crowning the statue of the Blessed Mother with a garland of flowers after a procession through the church with an entourage of girls who didn't make the cut.
I remember singing this song and various others, such as "Bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest, from garden and woodland, and hillside and dale," etc.
What a thrilling month. Even on a rainy Monday such as this, I am happy thinking the grass seed Jim Hopson swears is just waiting for the rain so it can sprout and displace all the dandelions and chickweed that have appeared.
To top off the euphoria, it was Mother's Day yesterday, and an array of cards and phone messages arrived to tell me my efforts as a mother, a "kind of mother" and a "substitute mother" have been appreciated. All of which makes up for the days and nights of doubts that creep in occasionally, asking, "What kind of a mother were you really?"
At the end of a lovely day Sunday my daughters took me to a movie and to dinner -- just the three of us. That doesn't happen very often. The dinner was great, catching up on events and people. The movie was funny -- "13 going on 30" -- chosen deliberately because it was a "chick flick." Jennifer Garner, who played the 13-year-old yearning to be "30, flirty and thriving" was transported to the future where she was indeed 30 and where she understood that the years between had not made her a good person.
It was cute, relatively wholesome, with some ventures into morals and values and just the right brain candy for a Mother's Day. It won't win any prizes, but Jennifer Garner was convincing despite the fact that her upper lip looked as though a bumblebee had stung it. What's up with that full-lipped pout? I thought that went out with Bridget Bardot.
On the other side of the world such sweetness and light does not prevail. Instead, the dark side seems to be gaining ground. I am speaking now of the photos emerging from the prison in Baghdad, where prisoners and detainees of the Iraqi war are being held and being subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment -- with the worst photos and videos yet to come. I won't go into the particulars. I am sure if you have watched television or picked up a paper in the last week you are familiar with what I am talking about.
Various articles Monday morning in the paper make mention of the fact that the perpetrators of such humiliating treatment are probably not the evil people they seem to be in these photos. They speak of the harshness of war and the training our troops endure in order to be soldiers whose job it is to kill.
They also speak of group dynamics, which make people engage in acts that would ordinarily be unthinkable, much like college hazing. Several sources also make mention of the fact that perhaps they are only doing the bidding of their superiors, whose sole aim is to get information and confessions from the prisoners -- the perpetrators being the dupes in such a system.
Still, questions remain in spite of all the explanations. Why and how can this happen? What makes ordinary people engage in such behavior in a country we have supposedly liberated from a cruel dictator who behaved in much the same manner?
Recently while leafing through some of my yellow sticky notes, I found a short piece I wrote a few weeks ago even before my brush with the Fred Phelps crew at St. John's church in Lawrence. Maybe it fits the situation we find ourselves in today.
I wrote, "The illusion is that we can control evil by avoiding it or demonizing it, thus it is something outside of ourselves instead of being at the depth of our existence where good also lies. We then exempt ourselves from struggling with the issue of good and evil and make 'others' our scapegoats. The old adage applies, 'I have met the enemy and it is us.'"
There is no safety in illusion no matter how we surround ourselves with it -- we "circle the wagons and hold hands." The fact is, the smaller our world becomes the more urgent the need to make someone else the enemy. As long as we refuse to look at our own dark side, the more the need to find it in others until we either destroy the others or we find ourselves alone in a loveless world we have created.
"Only in acknowledging our own evil do we reach freedom. Only when we can love the whole of ourselves -- both sides light and dark -- can we extend that love, that unconditional love that we Christians believe can set the captive free, both others and ourselves."
In the meantime, we may never be sure what happened to those soldiers who became complicit in such a dreadful event in the Baghdad prison. But before we condemn, let us continue to believe in a system of justice that will hopefully find the truth and get to the source of how and why such disgraceful and tragic events have been allowed to occur.

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