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Imagine

My vet husband, Jim, and daughter, Chloe, on a  long ago arms are for hugging peace march in Central Park. photo ©copyright Carol Bergman

 

IMAGINE


Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…

 

-John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released 10/11/71         
                                                   

***
Dear Professor Freud,

 

Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?

 

It is common knowledge that, with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for civilization as we know it; nevertheless, for all the zeal displayed, every attempt at its solution has ended in a lamentable breakdown…

 
-Albert Einstein in a letter to Sigmund Freud, 30 July 1932
 

 

When the war in Ukraine began, I imagined myself on the frontlines, my family on the train to Poland. I imagined myself fighting, my family fleeing. Often, as a child, I asked my mother why she had fled the war zone, that soon became a genocide, and left her parents—my grandparents—behind, a child-centered question. The complexities of invasion from an imperialist power cannot be answered by one, afflicted refugee escaping bombardment and atrocity. I had no humility and said, bluntly, "I would have stayed and fought in the underground."


Many imaginings will surface in this blog post. I can't imagine, for example how my questioning made my mother feel, how it might have intensified her survivor's guilt and grief. I can't imagine how Peter Zalmayev, Director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, based in Kyiv, will feel when I talk to him on Thursday and ask the questions: Do you see an end to this war? Is there any way to make peace and stop the slaughter? Who is profiting—governments, arms dealers, both—from the arms pouring into Ukraine?


Is it fair to ask these questions of someone only recently surfaced from a bunker?


It isn't only the deflection of resources in a world still in the midst and/or recovering from a pandemic, it's the realization that the NATO alliance is on a war footing and has revved up its war economies; it's the sadness of the frailty of peace, the seeming impossibility of a peaceful world, the continuing futility of diplomacy. Consider Israel and Palestine, for starters. Consider the pushback of migrants, their flights from despotic, impoverished regimes while the rest of us worry about the price of gas and food and whether or not we'll be able to go on vacation this year.  


I am old enough now to remember peace marches, peace signs and John and Yoko's iconic song. It's a utopian lullaby, an incantation, embedded in my psyche. I hope it helps.

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Defying Stereotypes

The closer we live to the center attached only to what is familiar--family, neighborhood, religion, nation-- the more narrow our lives. The "other" becomes a threat.
"What is familiar tends to become a value."

-- Gordon W. Allport in “The Nature of Prejudice”


Professor Allport’s theory of concentric circles captivated me during my first year of college. It was more than a shallow impression; it became deep and lasting. Puddles rippling outward amplify tolerance. The smaller the circle, the closer to the center we live, the more prejudiced we act and feel.

I have carried Allport’s theory of prejudice with me all my adult life and thought of it often in various circumstances. It is probably one of the reasons I became an ever-curious reporter. I made a decision to broaden my experiences beyond my narrow upbringing, to live abroad, and to remain compassionate and open to everyone’s stories.

Reading Allport’s now-classic study, I was, at first, searching for an understanding of the genocide that killed my family. I never fully turned his theory on myself and my own prejudices and values.

But sometimes I am tested at unexpected moments, which is what happened last week when I went to get a new watch strap for my NYU 20-year watch. I’m living in a university town in upstate NY, a blue “liberal” enclave in the midst of a red county. My circle of reference has shifted; I can no longer assume cosmopolitan ideas, values and politics close to my own. In search of a watch strap, I found the rest of America.

A friendly woman at the family-owned drug store referred me to a jewelry shop down the road. I was greeted by a sweet spaniel puppy and a smooth-skinned man with a limp. We chatted, I said I’d just moved to town, he said he’d recently moved out of town because he didn’t like what was happening here. I didn’t press him further about what exactly was happening because his bitterness was obvious and I am excited about our recent move out of the city.

He didn’t have the strap, it wasn’t in stock, so I placed an order and left.

The return visit took longer, a woman was in front of me, so I had to wait. I began to look around. Rifleman magazines were on the table and there were several newspaper clippings on the wall, some framed under glass, some pinned. Crimes and executions. I remembered that the smooth-skinned man with a limp had moved “deep into the woods,” and my imagination clicked over: he’s militia, or worse. He doesn’t like New York intellectuals or government officials, maybe he doesn’t like Jews, either, certainly he doesn’t like anyone of color, or Native Americans. If he’d lived in the post-Civil War South, he might have been involved in lynchings. I took these truths I had created to be self-evident.

I tried to slow down and figure out what was scaring me apart from the very thought of guns. Surely there was one behind the counter. This was a jewelry shop! But scariest of all was the vision of myself—the liberal, progressive cosmopolitan me dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase—through this man’s eyes. What was he seeing? What were his thoughts? I had to ask.

“Were you in the armed forces?”

“No, sadly. I tried to sign up during Vietnam, went up to Albany with a buddy, but I have high-frequency hearing loss. My buddy got in and came home in a box. I became a cop.”

“That’s a sad story about your friend, but you served in your own way. My husband was in the Seventh Fleet. He didn’t see any action.”

Pause. A smile surfacing, mine and his.

Whereupon we sequed into complaints about the Veteran’s Administration, Agent Orange, injured veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what we owe the men and women who serve.

Oh frabjous day, we were in complete agreement, we’d found another touching point. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. NRA member, he must be a completely bad man, right? Wrong.

When I got home, I googled my friendly neighborhood jeweler and found out that he’d recently engraved ID bands for local Alzheimer’s patients and been honored by the community for his donation and service.  Read More 
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