The Dump, a Soldier Called Name, and Butterfly Wings: Changing the Course

I had a dream last night. I was walking along in the countryside and suddenly came upon a disheveled and obviously distraught man making his way towards a nearby dump.

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the dump with my father. I've always been intrigued, even as a young girl, with what humans would throw away. What they deemed no longer usable. It's interesting how we've changed the terminology of the place; what we used to call the dump is now often referred to as the landfill. Like there is a hole in the land that needs filling or something, and we're doing our duty by putting stuff in it.

After observing briefly, I realized that the dump the man in my dream was walking toward was not your ordinary dump. It was a place where soldiers from war went. Soldiers from the Iraq war, to be more specific. And they weren't going there to dump stuff they no longer needed. To my horror, I realized that it was quite the reverse, this was a dumping ground for those who had died in service to the United States.

The distraught man in my dream, an Iraq War Veteran, was about 24 years of age and was solemnly making his way to the dump with only one intention, to dispose of himself there. He was going to take his own life, and the place he wanted to be when his life ended was with his fellow soldiers with whom he'd served and whose lives had ended so unnecessarily.

I'm not sure how I knew, dreams are weird that way, but somehow I was privy to his thoughts. And his thoughts were torturous. He couldn't handle being back home, back in the United States, in a place where so many people were just going about their lives like usual. Like nothing awful was going on in their name--and because of their inattention--thousands of miles away in another land. He couldn't handle being with people, even people he loved, who had no clue what war was like. People who had no clue about how their actions, or inactions, allowed this war. People who had no clue about all the death and destruction. And horror. And fear. And people who didn't know, like he did, what it was like to be a community of brave soldiers living through it all together.

He was tortured by the fact that the topic of the day around the water cooler, in his country he so gallantly fought for, was about last night's American Idol, or what Jennifer Lopez wore to the Golden Globes, or who won what game in the NFL playoffs. He was tortured by the fact that all it seemed we were interested in doing was finding ways to ensure that our comfortable lives went on being comfortable. And that we were willing to send him, and many others like him, off to make sure of it. Of course, we're now saying in more and more numbers that we aren't willing to do so, and that's a good thing. But he couldn't see that we were doing much differently in our lives to prove that we meant it. And so the only way he could imagine feeling comfortable was if he ended his life.

At this dump there was a chute. It looked sort of like one of those long curving slides you might see at a water park, but it wasn't there for giggles and slippery fun. It was where dead bodies were fed down into the pit. Maybe it was more like how cattle are led to the slaughter.

This sad man walked heavily but calmly over to the chute, climbed up into it, and laid down and started sliding down. He was soon out of my sight, but not before I observed that he was completely wrapped in an American flag.

In one instant, I went from silent bystander to panic-stricken action. I had to try and help him. Maybe I could catch him before he died. Before he landed in the pit of death. Next thing I know, I'm in the chute. It was much steeper than I'd imagined, and everything was moving along very quickly, but somehow I was able to control my decent. I went along for a while, afraid at each turn, wondering what I'd see, and where I might end up. There was nothing for a time, aside from the fact that it seemed to grow dirtier and smellier the deeper I went.

After several turns on this chute of death, I ran into mangled debris. A shoe here. Another shoe there. Pants. Dog tags. I was afraid. I've never really seen many dead bodies. My great-grandmother with her pink painted cheeks in the mortuary comes to mind. But not a pit full of dead, mutilated bodies. And I was afraid.

Fortunately--because I wonder where the dream would have taken me if he didn't--the distraught man appeared. His decent down the chute had come to an unexpected and complete stop. He was lying there, still and silent, in the middle of the chute. I went over to him and ascertained that he was still alive. However, in his desire to die, he pretended to be dead for a short time--like he was hoping I wouldn't notice that he was alive and maybe I'd go away. But I began talking to him gently, saying whatever hopeful, yet mostly inane things I could think of. How do you try to keep someone from wanting to be dead anyway? Eventually though, he untangled himself from the flag and sat up. At first, he was fairly frustrated at his unsuccessful attempt at dying, but he began to open up and I somehow was able to convince him that suicide wasn't the answer, and we eventually extricated ourselves, to my great relief, from the chute of death.

We ended up walking into a nearby town together, he telling me some of his thoughts and feelings and experiences along the way. I wish I could remember what he said, it seems so necessary that I do, but apparently my dream had other ideas. The important thing was that he seemed more hopeful and happy with each step we took.

I don't know why, but it wasn't until later, while at a cafe and right before parting, that I asked him his name.

"My name is Name."

I'd have never done it in "real" life, not with someone dancing so precariously on the precipice between life and death, but in my dream I left Name in the cafe. Somehow I knew he was going to be okay, and, well, I had my sister-in-law coming from out of town and had to get home to clean the toilets. Like I said, dreams are weird. And I'm sure Freud would have a field day with all the symbolism in this one.

I'm no Freudian or Jungian analyst. I've no degree in dream interpretation. But if I had to interpret this dream, I'd say that it's pretty clear that Name stands for all the soldiers who have been needlessly dumped down the chute of death in this illegal, unjust, and misbegotten war. A friend of mine, who served for twelve years alongside others like Name, passionately tells me that this is not an illegal, unjust, and misbegotten war that started in March 2003. He points out that this war started in 1990 and never really stopped. And if we were really counting, which we know the government doesn't like to do, we'd recognize that more than 10,000 American lives have been sent to the dump due to being killed in action, or due to combat related injury or diseases, since 1990. And in Iraq, an estimated 600,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqis have gone down the chute of death in the past 16 years.

And it's time it stops. Now. It's time for us to be heard. That we are saying No More names will be sent to the dump. No More names will be sacrificed for the greedy, ego stroking, ignorant machinations of a few narrow-minded individuals who just happen to be at the helm of our country.

I awoke from my dream feeling strangely hopeful. Ironically, it was Name who made me feel that. He came back from the brink of the death pit and was suddenly able to find a glimmer of hope in life. Was it because someone had tried to save his life, that someone had cared enough to listen, had cared enough to quit being a bystander?

I'd like to think so. Though I'm not so sure about Name's sudden optimism. Especially since this dream comes on the eve of several disturbing events: the third deadliest day in the current incarnation of the Iraq War, Tuesday's State of the Union address where Bush will undoubtedly try to again convince us that we need to "sacrifice" more lives at the alter of his ego, and the rapidly increasing and appalling talk about a possible war on Iran--which would endanger many, many more lives. The risk to our troops already in Iraq would increase exponentially, to say nothing about the new troops that would have to be scrounged from somewhere, the lives of innocent Iranians, etc. How much killing will we stomach, how many trips to the dump will we make, before we say No More and it's heard?

I'm not sure what the best course of action is. I'm still trying to figure out why the collective will of the world could have gone so ignored in 2003. And how the collective will of the United States, as evidenced by November's election results, along with the wise council of so many military personnel and high profile study groups, can still go so ignored by Bush today.

There are plans for a big march on Washington, D.C., this coming Saturday, the 27th of January, with many calls for people to join in. A march to end the war. To send a message to Congress, and one would hope, to Bush (but it's clear he probably won't be listening). Part of me would love to be there. I even considered taking MoveOn up on their offer for travel assistance. For almost four years now, I've wanted to go to Washington and walk around the White House blowing trumpets or banging pots and pans. Anything to make the current administration fall to their knees in supplication and sorrow for all their misguidedness. In the biblical story of the fall of Jericho, if you're so inclined to believe it, people and noise came together and accomplished an amazing feat. And I've often thought that if there were enough of us committed to walking around the White House blowing trumpets for days and days, that the whole house would crumble like the bad stack of cards that it is.

However, next to this horrific and illegal war, global warming is also on my mind, and flying from Oregon to D.C. to bang pots and blow trumpets doesn't seem like the right choice for me.

For almost four years I've been trying to figure out the best way we the people could come together and make Bush's course change. But what if it's not organized group revolt that's needed? I don't mean to suggest that a march on Washington has no value. Or a gathering in the town square. But, beyond that--and considering most people don't have the ability to hop on a plane or bus and head to Washington, or don't feel drawn to protesting in a similar fashion in their hometowns--what if what's most needed, or what could perhaps be most effective, is an internal revolution?

What if it's the small things?

What if, for example, each one of us committed to truly bringing our personal lives into harmony with what we say we believe, with what we say our values are, with what we say we want the world to be like? Maybe you're thinking you already have. But what about in the small and ordinary ways that we often ignore? Can we imagine the change that would occur, not only immediately around us, but far reaching change? Like the change created by the simple flap of a butterfly's wings...? The butterfly effect is a phrase that encapsulates the more technical notion of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory.... The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or, for that matter, prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different (emphasis mine). --Wikipedia

And to those critics within the scientific community who acknowledge the effect of one butterfly but question its ability to affect lasting change, what would they observe happening if it was a multitude of butterflies flapping their wings toward one destination they all agreed on, even if the routes they took were different? Or a multitude of people?

For some, the flapping will continue to mean going to public demonstrations, or writing their representatives in Congress, or practicing non-violent disobedience. But regardless of the bigger actions some of us take, it's probably fair to say that every one of us--desperately wanting a change of direction in our collective state of affairs right now--can also admit that we contribute to the current direction of the wind in a myriad of small ways every day. Things we often don't pay much attention to. And changing even just some of those small things may just have an enormous cumulative effect. If more of us do the small things, it'd surely make more of a difference than if just a few of us do the big things, right?

Looking back on my dream, I think maybe that's the message that was trying to come through. It wasn't anything big that I did, I was just a solitary, ordinary being wandering through the countryside who reached out to one solitary distraught man bent on killing himself. And it meant all the difference to one man called Name. And to all the ways life would be affected for both of us thereafter.

No matter how people choose to respond or act in this time of great crisis, whether it means going to Washington this coming Saturday or standing on your front porch in Kansas banging on your soup kettle; or yelling, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" out your window; or making a commitment to compassionately speak your truth to your father; or taking the time to get to know your neighbors or the homeless person on the street; or making a commitment to have less so that others can have something; or learning what it personally means--not just to talk about peace--but to be peace; it all makes a difference. Whatever you do, whatever I do, it all adds up. And whatever we agree to do together, then that's where it might get really interesting.

Regardless of whatever form our actions take, if we want a change in the course, we've got to flap our wings. For the trajectory of the system will indeed be vastly different if we don't.

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