In the United States (and in most places), we live in a paradox. Here, I cherish freedom of speech, religion, press, and individuality. However, to achieve these inalienable rights, our ancestors not only fought a revolutionary war against the British but also fought a Civil War against itself. For freedom to exist, death and war trampled itself upon our shores.
The paradox is me. I will not take up arms against anybody. If a person attempts to kill my children, I will take a bat to their legs and do the best to break them, but I firmly believe in the creed: do not kill. I take that idea one step further and do not kill animals. In fact, I would not allow my wife to put our dog, Chloe, to sleep. She died peacefully at our home instead.
How do I reconcile this message of pure compassion with the sheer brutality of the U.S.’s past and its current present. We have bombed other nations; we have sold arms to units within countries wishing to overthrow the current government. I pay taxes to support these wars and atrocities, even though I disagree with war and violence entirely.
At this point, I don’t view myself as having any kind of authority to intervene at a nationally political level to stop war and violence. However, I can create momentum at the individual level. As a teacher in the Humanities, I speak highly of words like acceptance and tolerance. I prefer the word acceptance! In religion class, we learn about great leaders of nonviolence, including Jesus, the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa, and others.
Some students in my class have seen war, have shot and killed humans, and suffer psychologically. I sometimes feel helpless. They write about these horrible experiences. They are little children bearing arms for a cause they may not understand or want to understand. Many students join the military to pay for college or to get away from their parents or a situation. Rarely do I hear a student say, “I joined the military because I desired to serve my country,” but they will tell you later that they gladly served their country. That idea may be the only pride balancing them!
Meanwhile, they visit the military hospitals for therapy, for PTSD, for anxiety, for horrible flashbacks, for medication, for community, for answers.
In many ways, these children in the military attempt to return to ordinary life. Religion may save their lives, but the medication seems more helpful as a numbing element to the dark pain surrounding them.
“Why did you drop that class? I thought it was for you to have fun.” I said to a student.
“I started having flashbacks.”
“Oh, I am so sorry.”
What else could I say? A simple class. A class of drawing. A great teacher. Yet, a simple class pushes our military students to these dark, complicated holes. How can I say to them, “Meditate,” when meditation means sitting in one place too long, which causes them the greatest fear.
“You want me to close my eyes and breathe?”
Meanwhile, with eyes closed, a nightmare memory of a bomb explodes their best friend into scattered flesh and bone!