It was the laughter of the woman in the dark of the "Control Room" theater--she
in the front row, us in the last--that made me think of tribes again.
Donald Rumsfeld was on the screen, his damp lips curled mockingly around
the word "lies" as he talked of news reported by Al-Jazeera but not by
the U.S. media. If you tell lies often enough, he was saying, you get
found out. The woman laughed, and I knew why, and who she was. She was
one of the tribe. I went home and dug up my film studies essays for the
sentence I remembered--by Geoffrey Hill, in his analysis of films as modern
myths: "an initiation pit . . . where tribal strangers of like mind meet
to explore the inner reaches of the soul."
Tribal strangers. I felt it again, as I had at the first march I attended
against the Iraq war two years ago. Riding up the escalator from the D.C.
subway, I'd heard a strange sound from the platform above, a rippling,
musical, birdlike call from a young woman, and to my amazement found myself
responding with an identical sound, and laughing. It's called a ululation,
a friend told me later. It's a tribal call.
I'd been drawn to that march while the country still held its breath
under a veil of suffocating silence, led by email exchanges with people
I'd never met. The first one, flying through the dark from a stranger
at the other end of the country, had said: "I feel so alone. I am frightened--does
anybody else know what I know?"
Out of that silence, defiant voices were raised. The voice at the other
end of that email, Paul Krugman, William Pitt, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins,
Granny D., Dennis Kucinich, Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly; in marches--men
on crutches, old women in wheelchairs, parents with children, artists,
drummers, dancers; on the indispensable websites--BuzzFlash, Common Dreams,
TruthOut, and hundreds more.
What is it that connects us? Fears for our individual safety and happiness,
surely, but also for Iraqis and detainees and the children and our soldiers
and our earth and our collective future; for those being maimed and killed;
because if it is done to one it is done to me. This is the connection
of the tribe, this knowledge at that still point of word and silence that
Joseph Campbell said is in each of us. Limited by enforced silence, lies,
propaganda, our skins, by distance, language, time, but joining at the
same point everywhere at once.
There is cause for despair and terror, and not only because of terrorists.
At Abu Graib, doctors ignore the evidence of torture and a psychiatrist
helps devise it. If doctors and intelligence officers and presidents and
Congress can take us to the point of harming imprisoned patients, of looking
away from torture, if they can take us to the eleventh hour, all that
may save us is this most ancient connection.
That is why I am convinced this something ancient is not only in us,
it is moving through us, rising from the collective conscious and unconscious,
from the earth, from our ancestors, from the creative force itself.
Together with millions in other countries, we are driving change in the
direction of the world. We brought Kerry here, by uniting like T-cells
fighting a virus in the body. Not all the machinations of the political
machine could have done it otherwise. What could be done by a similar
uniting with others beyond our borders--what must be done? All of this
senseless horrific tragic destruction of lives for the sake of ideology
and power and money, the destruction of the planet, the choice against
the connection at that still point: this is the real battle, and it goes
beyond the election. That is why the recognition in the tribal call, in
the laughter in the midst of darkness, is so important.
And here also, on election day and beyond. We know the possibilities.
There is a reasonable likelihood that we will find ourselves, for a short
or a long period of time, in silence and darkness again. I've often thought,
in the last three years, of the progression of power in Beethoven's Ninth
Symphony. The way the melody is first heard as a tentative, lonely piping.
The way it is joined by other individual instruments, male and female,
sympathetic or aggressive, horns and strings. The way it marches forward,
gaining strength and numbers and depth and joy, continually building,
until finally, when it is nearly at crescendo, there is abruptly a breathlessly
long moment of utter silence, and it seems that all is over.
You know what happens next. Don't forget. Remember the melody through
the silence, should it come. And if it doesn't come, remember it even
more. Remember when everything else was silence except for our voices.
Calling out, laughing, in the dark.
Linda O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Takoma Park, Maryland
and welcome comments at email@example.com.