Saturday, October 14, 2006
The spirit, and death
I've mentioned in these pages that I'm Wiccan; there's a reason for that. On pagan paths, there's an understanding, and acceptance of the shaman. What is a shaman? Well, a shaman is a person who walks between the worlds. We all live in two worlds, the real world and the spirit world. The shaman walks between them, shifts between them more easily and more frequently than is normal.
Are you a religious skeptic? Then say that I'm hypersensitive to my own emotions, and highly empathic, and just a bit goofy, and able to use this weirdness in an effective manner.
But from my religion's point of view, I see the spirit world, a bit sharper than a non-shaman; I see things differently than most folks... not better, not worse, but definitely differently. This different perspective is often useful.
A while back, I was meditating on the spirit, trying to come to terms with some difficult thoughts.
You see, this was in October of 2004, and I was coming to terms with a few things.
First, I had just come to an understanding of the deep tragedy of deaths in the Iraqi military during the invasion. I knew that no one would care much about them; "soldiers die in a war; it's them or us". But I also had just recognized how terrible this attitude was. You see, if there is one duty that a warrior has, it is to protect one's home and people from invaders. It doesn't matter that they were fighting on the orders of Saddam Hussein; they were fighting to protect their homes, and there is no nobler duty.
But I was also watching the Iraq Body Count, which measured specifically civilian deaths, the innocent people who weren't soldiers, who weren't targets, but who were nevertheless dying. I don't recall what the counter stood at then, just that there were many thousands of innocent people who had died, and no one seemed to notice, or care.
"No one" is, of course, an exaggeration. People did notice, and care, but the matter certainly hadn't entered the national awareness. The talking heads and pundits did not seem to be asking "was this invasion worth these thousands of deaths?"
And it struck me how easy it all was. The war was so far away, the reports dribbled in, and the plain numbers obscured the truth. Thousands of civilians had died... but that was just a number and a word; thousands, and civilians.
We did not hear the wailing of parents whose children had died, or the grief-stricken relatives trying to explain to children why mommy, or daddy, or both, wouldn't be coming home again. We didn't hear the stories of friends or families talking about the hopes and dreams of their friends or relatives who died. We didn't see the grief, or the anguish, or the anger, or the hatred, or the despair, as it touched on the lives of so many. We didn't see the bodies piled up neatly, so our minds could try to take in how terrible it was.
And I asked myself, how could this be possible? How could so much tragedy strike, without it being obvious? Why didn't the spirit of all humanity scream out in some way, so that we could all feel the terrible things that were happening, and ask ourselves if it truly was worth it.
The human spirit does scream... but it takes a certain type of ear to hear it. I realized on that day that those of us who could hear that scream had a duty to help others to hear it, but it seems few are interested in listening, these days. Many have decided that if the human spirit might be screaming, it would be bad for the Republican Party, so it's better not to listen.
Does that last part sound bitter, or angry? If so, it's because I've seen people denouncing sound science - the recent research by Johns Hopkins, in Lancet - with sophistries that show that they are trying to prove it wrong. Note: I see them trying to prove it wrong, not trying to discover the truth, and that is what fills me with anger. Is this report beyond challenge? No; there are reasons to be suspicious of the results and to try to find better, more accurate results... but the search must be for the truth, for the real casualty rates in Iraq.
If they are willing to dodge even the numbers, how could they be willing to look at the deeper truth behind those numbers? How could they be willing to look at the rips in the fabrics of so many lives, at the pain of so many deaths?
I've said this before, that those who hear the screams of the spirit must try to make those screams audible, but there's something I haven't said. Not only did I try to hear the spirit of humanity, I also tried to hear the spirit of the people who had died.
I heard nothing, which troubled me. I decided I was not able to touch on them, but as time passed, I realized with a sick certainty that I had actually touched upon a greater truth.
There was nothing. They were gone. There were thousands of people who were ripped from this life, and now were gone without a trace. They could die, unnoticed, and unmourned by the nation who caused the circumstances that led to their deaths, because while the spirit of all of humanity can howl in pain, the spirit of a single human can only slip away, without a ripple.
Though their deaths might affect many people in Iraq, here in America, their deaths can simply go completely unnoticed. We can't know their thoughts, their dreams, their loves, their hopes, the things that made them happy, or the things that grieved them deeply.
They are gone, and so are the tasks they might have performed. Perhaps one would have sown the seeds of friendship between Christians and Muslims and Jews, and ended much of the conflict in this world. Perhaps one would have been a great author, or scientist, or humanitarian. Perhaps one would have done nothing much of importance, but might work hard, and build a nice life, get married and raise a family, and be remembered for nothing so much as pleasant companionship... just another one of the billions of people who make the world such a wonderful place to be.
We can't know, we will never know, and they are beyond caring whether we know or not; they are gone. The time to care was before the war was launched, and at that time, the potential for such disaster was downplayed... those who protested the war were, in some cases, called traitors, because they understood this simple truth, that the time to love is before death renders that love meaningless.
These people are beyond our help, but we can learn from the tragedy; though we can not change the past, we can fight to make sure this does not happen in the future.
But we can't do that without understanding the truth, without a willingness to face it. We can't change the future until we come to terms with the past, and our responsibility for it.
The largest part of that responsibility lies with those who see war as a "foreign policy tool", and not "a last resort, to defend one's self or another from an imminent threat"... but they are not alone. Many have stood by quietly, and let those people implement those plans, never speaking up for the thousands of people whose spirits would be silenced, forever, by this invasion.
It is time to end the silence, for there are more deaths coming, and it is rare to be given so loud, and strong, a wakeup call as this study has provided.