I spent last week visiting my children down south. We stayed in my daughter’s apartment, a cute little space edged along a busy highway. After awhile, you could close your eyes and imagine the ocean in the constant hum of tires on asphalt, a trick I remembered from our years in the city. My daughter has created her own space, but I got to see the outlines of twenty years of my mothering traced into her rhythms: the tea cupboard with its tins and boxes, books in the kitchen, flowers on the table, the little note cards that said: Monday – meal planning and laundry; Tuesday - kitchen. We got up every day and walked to the little coffee shop downtown, staked a claim on a corner table, ordered vegan lunches and hemp lattes. There were newspapers on all the tables: the governor has disgraced himself, the dry winter means less bird habitat, hate is waging war under the cloak of religion. I had been reading a book on the Korean War; the politicians and generals had hidden agendas bolstered by extraordinary ego and the young men had orders, but no winter uniforms and no idea what was waiting for them. How many more times, I wondered, will the egos and agendas be able to use that move? A thousand, thousand more times, the newspaper said flatly.
I remembered a poet who said when the Pentagon talked of war, he crossed his fork and spoon and bowed his head across his plate – “to ward off complicity.” Somewhere across the world, he imagined, there were other citizens bowing, all of them making vows “never to kill and call it fate.”
Who teaches people to do this, I wondered. Certainly not the church I knew. My church had always called that cowardice, foolishness. I cannot think of this without an ache in my chest.
One of my sons had told me suddenly a few days before that he wants to be a Quaker. “Because they practice peace,” he said quietly when I asked him why. Another son, one whom I raised but barely understand, said if he had a gun he’d go over there and kill them all, those sons of b*****s. I sat at the table for a long time after that, heavy with the knowledge of which one of them will find approval.
Those days, when we walked home from the coffee shop, the sky was bright blue. Every so often, a military jet would bust through the clouds above us. You felt it in your chest first, then you looked up and saw the dark triangle moving away from you fast, so fast. I followed their trails through the sky and wondered if they knew where they were headed, wondered what hidden agenda we were all playing along to this time, wondered if anyone else recognized the sound of the same old rhythms the world’s been practicing since the beginning. I thought again of the poet, dead now, his words speaking to me across the years, warning me of complicity, his message so much slower than the potential that just streaked across the sky. I crossed my chest with my arms, felt my own vow steady and alive within me. Back at the apartment we pushed open the windows to let in air. Outside the constant hum of traffic rose and fell like ocean waves.