Pacifism and pain

I am, at my core, a pacifist. As a Quaker and a human connected to other humans, I do not believe that violence can solve a problem, whether violent words or full-scale war. Like others, I have been watching in horror at the invasion of Ukraine -the heartbreaking stories told by those who’ve fled, the images of families in shelters and buildings in rubble. It’s difficult to know how to respond and I’ve marveled at the creative ways people are getting money and medical supplies to those in need. I believe that the holy is found in those moments of generosity and inventive ways of addressing conflict and need. That God calls us to engage creatively in the world to heal each other’s wounds. I endeavor to do this in my work and my life. 

I took a cab the other day and my cab driver was from Mali and listening to the news in French. When I commented, he unleashed a torrent of words and pain as he drove. He is outraged at the Americans and all the talk about the war and refugees. I assumed he meant because the media is paying more attention to these white, urban refugees wearing jeans and T-shirts than it does to brown and black refugees, something others have commented on as well. But no, he went on to share that for all the years the French colonized his country, the U.S did nothing. He described being forced to learn and speak French; what it feels like to have one’s country robbed of its gold and other precious metals, the pain of being ruled by another country that is so different from one’s own. He went on to say that the only people that helped were the Russians. And that is why he is in such conflict now. He cannot condemn the Russian invasion because they were the only country to come to the aid of his home country. The phrase, “only the Russians helped us” was repeated in English and in French. 

It was humbling to hear his story and while I would have argued with most anyone else about the Russians being “good guys” in this war, I didn’t feel I could contradict, or even, suggest an alternative viewpoint to this man. Certainly not when he was so visibly upset. I do not know what it is to live under colonial rule. I do not know what it is to feel subjected to the will of another people, nor the sense of gratitude to a country willing to give you weapons to free your country. I do know I have a visceral reaction to the idea that the people who give you weapons are your allies.
I also acknowledge that I live in a culture that venerates power more than peace. And so I sit with this knowledge -this deep knowing and the not-knowing. I don’t feel creative. I am at a loss as to how to engage in this trauma, this pain, in any meaningful way. I have to trust that prayer makes a difference; that way will open when I listen for how I am led to respond. I need to not become complacent just because the situation is complicated and overwhelming and far away. But I also cannot respond from a reactionary place because that’s not helpful either, and might shut down another’s story that needs to be voiced. So I live in the messy middle of demonstrating and voicing concerns and sending money, and knowing that I may be asked to do more at some point. I just don’t know what that will look like. But I trust that prayer will help guide me. And so I turn to the poetry of John O’Donohue,
In these times when anger
Is turned to anxiety 
And someone has stolen
the horizons and mountains…
May we have the courage 
To turn aside from it all
And come to kneel down before the poor,
To discover what we must do,
How to turn anxiety 
Back into anger,
How to find our way home. 

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