"Surely, they say, there must, there has to be another way of doing this."
OK, let's start here, with this flicker of anguish, this quick stab of despair and disbelief that war is a rational means to an end. These words, from an essay by Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of the Jewish peace lobbying group J Street, describe the complex discomfort felt by what he surmises to be a "third stream of Jews" in the U.S. and elsewhere — neither committed peaceniks nor "Pavlovian flag wavers" — over Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip.
"There has to be another way . . ." Let's sit with it for a moment, nurture it before it passes, because it is awareness at the earliest noticeable stage, and most of us on this planet, I think, can no longer repress it, no matter how much we want to and no matter how alone we feel with it. This awareness may be the fire we must harness if we are going to survive.
I say this mindful of how difficult life is without an enemy to blame for our suffering, for everything that's wrong. I say this mindful, also, of the hell that others do create, as we crouch in the hallway with Lubna Karam.
The young woman "and the other nine members of her family spent the night huddled in the hallway of their Gaza City home," the Associate Press reported as the ground war got under way. "The windows of the house were blown out days earlier in an Israeli airstrike, and the family has been without electricity for a week, surviving without heat and eating cold food.
"She said no one slept overnight. 'We keep hearing the sounds of airplanes and we don't know if we'll live until tomorrow or not,' she said."
There has to be another way. "War anywhere, at this point in our history," writes Marianne Williamson, "is an action that threatens peace everywhere."
Every action, in other words, still produces an equal and opposite reaction, and in a world as linked as this one, the chain of retaliation never stops. It just keeps growing and growing, as does the potential for destruction and "collateral damage." No matter how virtuous our outrage, we can no longer afford the luxury of indulging it, or condoning anyone else's indulgence — not, good God, by humanity's ritual of carnage we call war, which has a vested interest in its own perpetuation and, more and more, seems to be the course of first resort for those with the capacity to wage it.
There has to be another way . . .
"They care deeply for Israel and understand even why its government felt compelled to launch the devastating Operation Cast Lead, but they are extremely disturbed and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction that almost seems part and parcel of the action," writes Ben-Ami. "Surely, they say, there must, there has to be another way of doing this.
"And," he goes on, "they live with those doubts, often unexpressed, even among families and close friends because the worst thing they find is that others around them . . . can't find in themselves compassion for the dead and wounded on the other side. They begin asking themselves very awkward questions: Are they surrounded by latent racists, or is something wrong with them that denies the feelings of certainty of those around them? Or does everyone have similar doubts but are simply afraid to express them?"
These doubts are humanity's salvation, or can be, if we choose to honor the well of compassion that is their source, and surrender to that compassion. If enough of us did so, war would not be the "inevitable" predator its propagandists and profiteers claim it to be. Ultimately, it would not even be possible.
Surrendering to our compassion, living up to its requirements, is the extraordinarily difficult next step in our evolutionary journey. Gandhi said we must be the peace we wish to bring into the world. To do so is not a feel-good proposition; it requires the courage to eschew the certainty of the militant, who surrender over and over again to the illusion that, once we kill our enemy, we will be safe.
The argument against this illusion has no doubt accompanied every war in human history, but perhaps now, for the first time, because the stakes are so high, a critical mass (to borrow a term from the annihilation industry) of humanity is capable of hearing it.
Williamson, in her extraordinary essay, "Towards a Miracle in the Middle East," writes: "The human race is evolving to the realization that what is happening on the level of consciousness both precedes and determines what happens in the world. War is just an effect, not a cause. With the power of our minds, we can move beyond the level of effect to the level of cause."
So war begins here, in our minds and hearts. There has to be another way, and it also begins here. I pray for the bombs to stop, but I know they won't until we . . .
And here I stop, not knowing what to say next. If you can complete this sentence, please do so, and share the answer. Live the answer.