A Pacifist’s Daughter and Veterans Day

vietnam-memorial-1436628_640

Sitting rather uncomfortably on a cold metal chair, on a stage in front of about 30 veterans, family members, the local police chief and a few others from the community, it must have been patently obvious to everyone that I was a fraud.  Clearly I was stuck in a grown-up version of that Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the other…..”

Almost all of the participants on the stage other than me were veterans, dressed in crisp uniforms with razor-sharp creases that would have been a source of envy for my grandmother who ironed her bed sheets with a flatiron heated on the wood stove.

I tried to convince myself that after all I was there legitimately, president of the board of the local synagogue and invited to participate as a substitute for our usual representative who was away on an overseas trip this year.  I clutched the paper on which a lovely prayer for Veterans Day, written by a Jewish poet, was typed neatly and which I would soon be called upon to read as the opening prayer.

In the days leading up to this event, I had been overwhelmed with thoughts of my father, who had been a conscientious objector during World War II.  I also felt the moral weight of my upbringing in the Society of Friends (Quakers), where opposition to war was a given.  And then there were the “60’s,” the decade during which I grew from adolescent to adult, surrounded by the turmoil of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.   Sitting on that stage I wondered what my father would have to say about this day and my participation in it.

VW BusAlthough I never participated directly in any of the shameful treatment of soldiers returning from that war, neither did I speak out against it, or even recognize it as violence against those who had already experienced violence beyond anything I could imagine.  Violence that I might have survived physically, but not emotionally intact.  In the naive certainty of youth, I knew that being against war was obvious and anyone who willingly went to war deserved what they got.  Because I was a mild mannered and well brought-up child, I would never call anyone a “baby killer,” but surely some deserved that name and maybe if they were shouted at and vilified, they might decide to become peacemakers instead of soldiers.

The guest speaker at this Veterans Day event works with disabled veterans, helping them receive the benefits to which they are entitled.  In one of those ironic twists that often occur in life, he had served in the Vietnam War.  I expected a speech glorifying the experience of  serving in the military and extolling the bravery and commitment of those who serve.  Had I been sitting in the audience instead of in full sight of everyone, I might have been prepared to engage in a bit of eye-rolling, or at minimum some silent scoffing.

Instead I listened to a man talk of coming home from that war “broken,” admitting that he had considered killing himself several times.  Choking on tears, he described the price his wife and children paid in trying to support and comfort him in those years before he understood that he was suffering from PTSD and sought professional help.  He said he did not need to describe the treatment that soldiers returning from that war received from protesters since everyone there was already familiar with it.

The speaker and I are of a similar age, and if I were able to have a conversation with him I would want to share what I have learned since those heady days when my moral certainty had not yet been tempered by an understanding of life from the perspectives of those who lived with different economic and social realities.  I would admit I now understand that protesting war as a policy and holding elected officials responsible for those policies is not the same as demonizing the foot soldiers who pay the price.  I would tell him that I understand now that there are numerous reasons why someone would enlist in military service, other than my misconception that they must like to play with guns and kill people who don’t look like them.

Yes, I am still anti-war and I still believe that war does not usually solve the problems for which it is initiated.  I suspect, however, that it is the very people who have actually gone to war who know that truth better than any of us.  The greatest honor that we could bestow upon our veterans would be to create a world in which their children and grandchildren would never have to go to war.

Sadly the human race has not yet gotten to that point.  We cling to our fears and prejudices, we demonize those who are different, and we ask others to pay the heavy price required to maintain our perceived superior position.

So what would my father think about me sitting on that stage?

I think he would be proud.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/11/18

 

 

I’ve been reading about the U.S. immigrant situation and the separation of children from their parents for the last two weeks. My response, from the safety of my own study, has been to sign petitions, send money to the ACLU, write testy letters to my own representatives which, in a purplish-blue state, involves preaching to […]

via The Borders of Decency — The Green Study

The Straw

children separated from parents

 

According to folk wisdom, it only takes one straw to break a camel’s back.  While I am not the most prolific of bloggers by any means, over the past year I have managed a few posts commenting on the state of this nation and the insanity that continues to build in the hollowed (formerly hallowed) halls of government in Washington.

But then the straw fell that almost broke my voice.  My country, the land of the free and home of the brave, where Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome the tired, the poor, the homeless and tempest-tossed, apparently now considers that God is okay with tearing children from their mother’s or father’s arms and tossing them into jail.

It is still a great struggle for me to write anything in response to this outrageous policy, so I am going to re-blog in a separate post The Borders of Decency that appeared today on The Green Study.  Michelle is an excellent writer, and she provides pertinent suggestions on ways to keep up the good fight.

Like the young people of Chicago and Parkland, and countless others who are determined to turn their personal tragedies into a dynamic force for decency and change, we must continue to speak truth to power.

 

 

Picture from article by Jessica McBride on Heavy.com, 6/18/18

© Martha Hurwitz, 6/18/18

 

 

What is Truth?

nut-2638493_640.jpg

The endless arguments between people who believe ABC and those who believe XYZ  can get a bit confusing.  To be helpful I decided to list some of the most common foundations for these arguments.  The first part of this post is unprofessional and occasionally snarky, my take on the types of people who might rely on that particular foundation. It’s just to provide a few chuckles about a situation we’ve all been in–trapped by someone who is RIGHT, by-god, and don’t you forget it!

I heard it on the news, so it must be true!  These are the folks you see buying the Enquirer at the local grocery store.  Sometimes they don’t actually buy it, but you can be sure they are memorizing the headlines after they have unloaded their groceries on the conveyor belt.  Those of us who consider ourselves above such written garbage are confidently sneering internally and thanking god (the REAL one) that we know better than to believe such nonsense.  (But, seriously, wouldn’t it be a hoot if aliens had really taken over the US Government?)

Everybody knows that.  Some people know “Everybody,” who is a close relative of “Somebody,” only with multiple personality disorder. They are tuned into some vague matrix of information that provides them with infallible truth about “Everything,” which is a close cousin of “Nothing.”  When relying on this argument, they indicate that you are either pretty stupid, way out of the loop, not too popular, or a combination of all three.  None of us want to be unpopular, so the temptation to buy into those things that “everybody knows” is hard to resist.

My best friend told me.  She wouldn’t lie to me. This is a variant of “everybody knows that,” except it has much more clout, because this is first-hand information provided by someone who places truth at the top of the list.  Certainly that was also true of the friend’s best friend, who learned it from her aunt, who heard it from her best friend, who read it in the Enquirer.  Unfortunately by the time it filters down to you, it’s gone through the modern version of “Telephone,” which is called “Twitter.”  (Wouldn’t it be a hoot if the US Government used Twitter to keep us all updated on “Alternative Facts,” which is closely related to “Alternative Truth?”)

I know nothing about this subject, but can spit out insults that will curl your hair.  This person could rightfully be called a gladiator for the truth.  He lives in a very comfortable echo chamber and is not at all interested in moving.  Besides U-Haul doesn’t rent a moving van big enough to haul the mountains of theories (mostly listed under “conspiracy”) that this person holds dear, and will fight to the death to defend.  The Roman Emperors may have been extremely proud of the Colosseum, but they would die of envy over Facebook and Twitter.  The gladiator for the truth believes that any polite and rational discussion on any subject is a death ray pointed directly at him and everything he holds dear.  When facing a death ray, it is really hard to think clearly because the adrenaline is taking over your brain, so resorting to playground insults–upgraded to “X”–is the only option.  (Wouldn’t it be a hoot if there really was a death ray that the US Government could use to protect us from all our enemies?  A special type of death ray that would only obliterate our enemies, but not leave a scratch on us?) elegant-1769669_640God said…..  Now, I am going to rein in my snarky attitude and irreverence.  I try very hard not to be disrespectful of religious beliefs, unless they are clearly harmful.  The human tendency to be especially passionate about religion is not restricted to any one culture, and there are fanatics and rigid thinkers in all of them.  The most common argument seems to be between those who “believe” in science, and those who “believe” in literal interpretations of whatever scripture they think contains the truth.  Because this is an area that many of us struggle with, I want to share something I once read in a novel that made a lot of sense to me.

I do not remember the name of the book or the author, so I cannot give credit where it is due.  But this is the back story:  A young man is studying to be a rabbi, but he is experiencing a great deal of uncertainty and doubt.  He is particularly confused by the story of Creation, which he cannot reconcile with modern scientific “theory.”  He seeks the counsel of a learned Rabbi and this is (as best I remember it) what the Rabbi said:  “Torah is not meant to teach us what we can learn through our own God-given intelligence.  It is meant to teach us what our spiritual responsibilities are to that which is sacred–ourselves, each other, our world and God.”

I do not think there is ultimately any conflict between science and religion.  They are simply different languages by which we understand and communicate our experience of this world.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 12/12/17
Inspired by daily prompt:  theory

How Are the Children?

rainbow-84829_640

This sermon was given by Rev. Patrick O’Neil, at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York, on January 21, 2015.  Sadly it is even more relevant today than ever.  I share it in honor and memory of all those lost lives in Newtown, in Las Vegas, in Orlando, in Texas and so many other places.  Whatever the actual age of the victims, they were somebody’s children.

Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai.  It is perhaps surprising then to learn that the traditional greeting between the Masai Warriors – Kasserian Ingera – means “And how are the Children?”

It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well being.  Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional response – “All the Children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that priorities of protecting the young and powerless are in place, that Masai society has not forgotten its reason for being, its proper function and responsibilities.  “All the Children are well” means that life is good.  It means that the daily struggles of existence, even among a poor people, do not preclude proper caring for its young people.

I wonder how it might affect our consciousness of our own children’s welfare if in our culture we took to greeting each other with this same daily question:  “And how are the Children?” I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day, if it would begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of or cared for in this country.

I wonder if every adult among us, parent and non-parent alike, felt an equal weight for the daily care and protection of all the children in our town, in our state, in our country, could we truly say without any hesitation, “The children are well, yes, all the children are well.”  

What would it be like if the President began every press conference or every public appearance by answering the question:  “And how are the children, Mr. President?”  If every Governor of every state had to answer the same question at every press conference:  “And how are the children, Governor?  “Are they well?”  Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their answers? What would it be like? I wonder…

What would be your answer?

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/6/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt: panacea

Please Take My Place!

 

election-978904_640

I do my civic duty by voting faithfully in all elections, even those small town ones where there is only one candidate for dogcatcher or cemetery commissioner.  I vote for that one person because, seriously, I admire anyone who is willing to stand up and make our town a better place by making sure dogs don’t mosey around and use my lawn to do their business, or more important make sure the dead stay buried.  (Anyone who lives in a small town knows that keeping control of the skeletons is a very important job.)

But, please don’t start talking to me about formal procedures.  Just hearing the phrase  “Robert’s Rules of Order,” makes me break out in hives and my heart rate accelerate to a dangerous level.  This caused a problem when I agreed to be president of my religious organization because now I have to run the board meetings.  I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to ask for a motion, a second and a vote on all the important issues, but I’m still pretty sure that Robert is turning in his grave.  (I’ll call the cemetery commissioner in the morning!)

Honest disclosure:  I do not often attend town meetings, committee hearings, local political conventions, and so on.  I admire people who do and feel appropriately guilty because I do not do so.  It’s on my list of things I should change about myself, but that list is so long that attending these meetings didn’t even make it to the top ten.

Back when my children were still in school, I did go to a very important town meeting about building a new middle school building and the taxes that would be necessary to fund it.  I probably would have weaseled out of that meeting too, but my 80+ year old mother said that by-god she was going because it involved her grandchildren’s future.  If I hadn’t driven her there, she probably would have walked the mile to the town hall and how would that have looked to all my nosy neighbors?

The best meeting that I attended, though, was way back when I first moved to town and was full of excitement about making myself an important resident, committed to the town’s well-being and willing to sacrifice my time and energy to help out.  I don’t remember the subject being discussed that night, but clearly it was of critical importance because it was well-attended and had to be held in a different building to accommodate the crowd.

The meeting was long and contentious, and people were starting to get cranky.  In the tradition of legalese and governmental obfuscation, the item being voted on was phrased in such a way that it was difficult to know which  way to vote.  Finally, one very exasperated old-timer stood up and yelled out:

“You mean if I’m for it, I vote agin it; and if I’m agin it, I vote for it?”

That about sums it up for me.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/4/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt: proxy

Is There a Limit to Compassion?

pendulum-1934311_640

A recent post by Rabbi John Rosove encourages compassion as a response to the heartless statements and decisions being made by President Trump. I ache to agree completely and without hesitation.  Instead I find myself struggling with the very question that the Rabbi answered by recommending compassion–a struggle that has consumed me since last November.

One of the first public conversations I had following the election of Donald Trump was in a setting where I expected compassion.  If not compassion, at least a verbal exchange that did not mimic the vicious campaign that had just ended. Instead, I heard this:

“He’s a piece of s***!”

In no way am I advising or trying to influence anyone who has been or may be directly hurt or abused by the blatantly racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic negative rhetoric or actions that have occurred and are occurring still.  I am not completely immune or safe from some of the rhetoric and actions.  But I am lucky enough to benefit from insulating factors that at least to date have kept me an arms length from harm.  I do not assume that I have any moral high ground.

Abuse can occur through public actions, statements and decisions, or privately at the hands of someone who is supposed to love you.  People who are forced to struggle through the after-effects of abuse, whether it was public or private, must have to wrestle with the question of compassion; struggle with what their emotional response is going to be. Compassion is not a concept limited to a small group of people.

Christians speak of turning the other cheek.

The Dalai Lama said:  “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

The Prophet Micah told the Jewish people they must do justice and be merciful.

I recall a Torah study session in which I participated some years ago, when the portion of the week contained the story of the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34).  A woman who was a therapist working with sex offenders made this statement:  “I doubt that anyone wakes up one morning when he is 5 years old and says, ‘I think I’d like to be a sex offender when I grow up.'”  I doubt Donald Trump woke up one morning when he was 5 years old and decided he wanted to be what he has become, either.

Still …..  What does it mean to be compassionate–in general and in this specific instance? Why should I struggle to be compassionate toward someone who demonstrates so little compassion for anyone else?

A common argument is that compassion, like forgiveness, may be less for the benefit of the offender than the one who was offended. Perhaps, to paraphrase A.J. Muste,

“There is no way to compassion, compassion is the way.”

Perhaps …  But I’m still struggling.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/7/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt: finite