Our ability to connect with others is innate, wired into our nervous systems, and we need connection as much as we need physical nourishment.
― Sharon Salzberg, "Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection"
The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.
-From "Absolution" by Siegfried Sassoon, 1917
I thought I was taking a break from the horrifying spectacle of our living room wars in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Nagorno-Karabakh. I immersed myself in a Miranda Seymour biography of Lady Ottoline Morrell, a pacifist during World War I, doyen of the Bloomsbury community. She was an inspiring activist, and I required inspiration last week. Biographies of artists and writers are my favorite genre when I am trying to recover and rest. And there are so many inspiring, emancipated, brave people. Some are living, some are dead, some are famous, some infamous, some ordinary in the sense that I meet them in my daily life and am astounded by their good sense and goodness, fortitude, courage, and wisdom. They may be subjects of an interview for the local paper I write for occasionally, or they may be someone I meet in the locker room at the pool, or at one of the cafés I frequent, or standing in a long line at the supermarket, or they may be one of my students.
Everyone is struggling in one way or another, it seems to me, we have all been through so much these past few years, and it is best to be kind to everyone, kind and patient, interested and non-judgmental. How difficult it is to remain kind in these polarized angry times, so much of the world at war, and warring among ourselves. So, I am taking a deep breath this week and reminding myself to talk less and listen more. With years of interviewing experience, I sense when a stranger has a story, or is bursting with story. They may begin by commenting on the weather, or what they have chosen to eat or—as happened this morning—the shade of lipstick I am wearing. I had mixed two shades, in fact, I explained to a 50-something woman I met in the laundromat. Her name was unusual—I won't divulge it here without her permission—and she was soft-spoken, and hurting. She'd recently lost a son to Fentanyl, had just recovered from a ten-day bout with Covid, and she'd lost her job. Her plight, her desire and need to connect through her story, was as worthy of my attention as the soldiers in the trenches. And so I paid attention:
She has always wanted to write; she has always kept journals. Her husband is disapproving, even a bit denigrating of her ambition. "If you are keeping journals, you are writing," I said, "You are a writer." Then I gave her my card and asked her to stay in touch.
I came home to the news that an artist from Gaza is safe in London and posting on FB from there, but that she can't get in touch with her family. I came home to the news that an Atlantic reporter I admire has interviewed a water engineer in Gaza and that we can hear his voice on a podcast and that he is sick and exhausted. I came home to the news that an Israeli friend in England has been to a vigil for the hostages, and that another has been to a vigil for all the children in Israel and Gaza. And I came home to a warm apartment with running water and food in the fridge as the wars rage on. I came home to write this post.
Dedicated to the writers and artists at risk in all the war zones on earth, and to all the children in war zones.