This week war, unfortunately, broke out in Ukraine with Russia attacking them and it prompted me to think about my own values on war and peace. Certainly, we can hope that this is resolved quickly and that the world will stand together against the Russian bully. We are in pivotal days for democracies, including our own, and in our collective ability to avoid conflicts and stand together for peace. The planets are aligned like they were 248 years ago when the Revolutionary War took place, so we can expect changes, but the question remains will they be for good or not?
Every time a war has broken out in my lifetime, I’ve cried! My tears flow from sadness, fear and frustration with those who choose to start them. Like centuries ago, those who begin wars, should be the ones fighting them! And it seems like we’ve been at war with some country for most of my life. I wasn’t born long after World War 2 ended and had relatives who fought in it. The Korean war only ended the year before I was born, and my dad, in the Air Force, went to England to help with the cleanup shortly after my birth. Then Viet Nam started the year after I was born and lasted until after I was out of high school! I knew one person killed in that war and some who fought. When visiting D.C., I found his name on the remembrance wall. I remember the protests and was part of the ribbon-tying’s to influence an end to that silly war. Then there was Afghanistan and Iraq, both rather foolish with Afghanistan lasting way too long! My first in-person protest was against Bush going into Iraq. I went with a friend during our lunch hour to the hotel where Bush was staying in downtown Denver and our small group shouted as his motorcade went by. Unfortunately, it didn’t even make the news. Later on I learned that many of the protests were kept from the media’s reporting on the news.
Why cry? First, because I dislike war and the weapons used for killing. I see war as senseless, destructive, and a testosterone-induced financial game mostly waged by oligarchs. We could use our resources, talents, and ingenuity to better the lives of people instead of making it worse! I believe I have fought in wars in past lives and learned from the stupidity of those fights. When we read A Separate Peace by John Knowles in high school, it was like déjà vu for me, in the trenches, not wanting to kill others. As I’ve grown in my spiritual practices, and stated before, I believe in past lives. One regression showed that I wanted to go into the military very badly as a young man. So, I did, and then I hated it. Since there have been many wars and battles over the ages, my chances of having been in many battles are great, and perhaps that is why I am so opposed to them now. Been there, done that, don’t want to repeat it.
Secondly, I am very empathic and feel people’s emotions and pain. I empathize with people having to flee their homelands, their personal homes, their families, and leaving behind people, jobs and things that they love. And I feel how frightened they are. In America, we haven’t fought wars on our land since the Civil War, so we don’t truly understand the destruction and the severe loss of lives and property. Most of the people who fought in the last world war have now passed on and people have forgotten the miseries of war and the massive loss of life and rebuilding afterwards. As Pete Seeger sings, “Where have all the flowers gone” and, ‘when will we ever learn?’
Lastly, I cry because many people and natural resources will be lost, including animals (pets, zoos, and wildlife). And it’s very costly to fight, to provide the manpower and the machinery to fight wars. That money could instead go to many life-improving policies instead. As nuclear power increases, and cyber security is available, wars are fought on new levels that can be totally devastating to the planet. It could wipe us out! We need to be putting that effort into reducing our climate crisis. By now, it seems to me we should have learned how to use diplomacy and tactfulness to resolve our differences, but power and money corrupts and leaders are out for personal gain. Democracies are falling all over the world, and ours is at grave risk. We must stand with those who are also trying to preserve their democracies.
Growing up, my mother influenced me as she really didn’t approve of having guns in our household for play or for real. My dad had a rifle when we lived in Michigan and I went to shoot cans with him once as a child. I doubt the gun made it to Colorado, as I don’t remember seeing it again. We five sisters weren’t really into guns either; girls didn’t play with guns and trucks much in our day. But my brother always loved playing soldiers. I found out only recently that he really loves guns and has several of them (as does his wife). I would not own one! I don’t want to be around killing machines! I was always angered by boys who would shoot at birds, squirrels and cats in delight, sometimes harming or killing them for sport. I recall the scene in the movie Christmas Story, when he wants a Beebe gun so badly, and then breaks his glasses trying to shoot it. I just don’t get it! It’s not fun, to me, it’s shows an irreverence to life.
On a rare occasion like one Halloween, I allowed my son to have a toy gun for his holster as a cowboy that year. Otherwise, I didn’t allow guns in our home. I never saw him play with that gun much and he doesn’t seem interested in having one as an adult. A couple years ago, my brother took my son and grandson to a shooting range to try shooting in Texas, and my son didn’t care for it. Perhaps I made an impact on him with my house rules? However, my grandson had quite a collection of nerf and water shooters, but they were not given to him by me! This grandma, and he knows, says no to guns! Says no to war. Says no to senseless destruction.
The senseless mass shootings that occur to frequently in America (infrequent in other countries) sadden and anger me and cause me to insist upon stronger legislation. The massacre at Columbine High School happened when my son was in high school (he graduated in 2000). I remember that particular day well, and partially because my son was in high school at the time. I was attending a business meeting with the City of Aurora, and we watched the breaking news on the television in the lobby. I freaked out, and immediately called my son to make sure he was fine, even though he didn’t attend that school. He was surprised, saying basically the same thing, that he wasn’t at that school. Yet, the next day he was afraid to go to school, and he told me later, that he would plan escape routes for safety as he walked from class to class in case a shooting should occur.
Our children should not have to face those scary thoughts and be at risk in a learning facility, or anywhere for that matter! Nor should we be afraid to go to a movie or the grocery store. Because of so many mass shootings, I propose we have stronger gun legislation. Having a gun should be treated much like driving an automobile: you must get a background check, have training with certification, have insurance, and make sure they are stored safely as so many children get access with dire consequences. Sad to say, I’ve known at least two people killed from guns in their homes; one in a family dispute and one was used for suicide by the sweetest young man who stayed with me from Up with People. If he hadn’t owned a gun, he might still be with us.
Apparently, along the way during my Christian years, I fully embraced the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill.’ I’m not proud to admit that I have killed ants, spiders, and mice throughout my life. Now, if I find a spider that I can access, I try to take it outside. Most of them are useful and play a role in getting rid of other bugs like flies. Since my grandson was raised in Arizona until high school, he was familiar with many of their creepy crawly bugs; once my son saw a tarantula on the sidewalk near our rental car. Once on vacation when he was only about 2 years old, I saw my grandson pick up a shoe and kill a spider in the bathroom. He learned to kill them early on! Killing extends from insects to humans. We should not be killing one another. That said, if for self- protection, it may be necessary, but if more of us practice peace, hopefully that situation will never occur. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
One of my first brushes with ‘oneness’, believing we are all part of one source, began with a lesson from ants at roughly twelve years old. I was hanging out on the south side of our home, when I encountered a large ant mound. I began stomping on it and destroying the sand mound and many ants in the process. All of the sudden, it dawned on me that I was killing these innocent ants who were just busy building a home and were not any risk to me. I was ashamed. Instead, I began watching them there and in other places (even bought my son one of those plastic ant houses later on). I was amazed to watch them carrying tiny grains of sand, and helping one another. Ants are so industrious and so small that they have to work very hard as a team to build and to find food. Why should I destroy them and their homes? It made no sense and it was an ‘awakening’ moment. To this day, I try to step over mounds that are built in the cracks of sidewalks.
Much later, in 1998, shortly after I began attending Mile Hi Church, they began a yearly tradition of observing 64 days in what they named “A Season of Non-Violence.” This yearly practice begins January 15 (MLK’s birthday) and runs until April 4 (his assassination). In the early years of this tradition, one of the speakers included Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, and his wife. They exuded peace as I met them, and I felt the same another time when meeting President Jimmy Carter at a book signing. Mr. Gandhi told stories of his childhood and the lessons he learned from his grandfather. I remember one of the well where he had not shown up at an appointed time because he went the movies instead, and his grandfather made him walk home next to the car he drove himself very slowly, so that he would think about what he had done the entire way many miles). That’s a sure way of learning the lesson!
The church also created a poster with pictures of MLK and Gandhi on it with the dates. I had mine framed and it hangs on my wall during the season every year. In addition, they provided sheets with 64 tips on how to be less violent which provided great ideas. For example, refrain from using the word kill or other violent words in your day-to-day conversations and thoughts, even like “I’d kill for a piece of that pie.” Choose your words, thoughts and deeds carefully to be less violent, and more peaceful. It can be as simple as allowing a car in your lane.
My maternal grandmother had nine children; my mother was number 8. The first four were boys and the last five were girls, with one set of twins. All four of those uncles served in World War 2. I cannot imagine how painful it was for my grandmother to send all four of her sons off to war, wondering if they would return. Luckily, they all did! No injuries, but one had polio; they have all passed on now, but a few aunts are living. My uncles brought back some cups and saucers from Europe which my mother inherited after my grandmother passed away. I now have a couple of those that did not get broken over the years. I wonder who they belonged to back then and what they could tell me if they could speak of those war days? Until recently, I had few relatives serving in the military, especially in wars. Now my nephew is in the Army. My father’s time in the Air Force was short and he did not see combat. I hope that my nephew will be so lucky.
I’ll close with a quote from John Donne that we wrote a composition on in high school, one which I remember after 50 years and seems fitting: “No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”