Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Myth of Progress

A month ago, Guernica linked to a blog post from Amy Davidson at The New Yorker. Meditating on the death of nine little boys in Afghanistan, out gathering firewood, she asked us to pause, once again, over this war. “Do we know the costs, or even understand our own losses?” she asks. Reflecting on the testimony of the surviving witness, she offers an aside: “Hemad is eleven years old. (So, as it happens, is my own child.)” 

That aside touched me deeply. When terrible things happen to someone who is just my age or just my child’s age, we feel them more keenly. We can imagine more vividly how great the loss because we are intimately involved in what it is to be eleven or the mother of someone who is.

I thought about how little I’ve done to work for peace in the past year. At other times, I’ve really tried to do my part, but it’s been a long time since I have even blogged about peace, let alone tried to contact congress. I’m deleting emails from progressive groups unread and I’ve barely signed a petition in 2011. So, for the past month, I’ve been wondering what I can do to work for peace.

And I’ve been feeling pretty discouraged about the prospects.

Then, today, I listened to my 8 year old give me the plot summary of the Kit: An American Girl (1934) book from the library, explaining the Great Depression to me and I thought about how much easier it was to imagine having parents who took in boarders in 2011 than it might have been in 2008. I thought about the wars and listened to an interview with a Tunisian activist. I read about the stagnating violence in Libya and the vortex of violence in the Ivory Coast. I saw headlines about tax season and retirement and worried about my daughters’ future. After all this, I heard myself whine to myself, “I thought everything was going to get better, but it’s not better. It’s worse.

Shame on me. All those moments in class when I mock the modernists for how shattered they were when their world didn’t get better, when war turned out to be ugly and ignoble, when bringing women into the workplace proved complicated. Suddenly, I feel so like them. Middle-aged, worried about the future of my children and my students, nostalgic for past times that were really not that good, but are now colored by the knowledge that the gas crisis would abate, the Iran hostages would be released, the Berlin Wall would come down…

The Myth of Progress dies hard. I have yet to kill it.

I need to find new ways to work for peace--and, the Bob Marley fan in me rushes to add--and justice.

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