In the great story of the United States of America, there are many dialectical quandaries we are too prideful to let lie. Rather than soften into the discomfort of mutual truths, and the freedom that comes from letting oneself be ok with not fully understanding concepts too large to grapple with, we want one truth, or the other, to win. And God help us if there are more than two.
But when you kick the tires on an issue long enough, and you walk around it a few times, you are taking the time to carefully uncover the whole story, and only then, should you get to decide. Is the whole entire story worth buying? Does it fit? Does it resonate? Or do I keep searching? (It’s easier with automobiles.)
Long ago, in what seems like another life, I took a Commissioning Oath of Office, proudly, to enter the United States Air Force, and then I resigned that commission, while some of my favorite people on this planet were at war, and now I am a yoga teacher.
My Commissioning Oath read, “I, Tanya Berg (at that time), having been appointed a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, SO HELP ME GOD.”
I didn’t even believe in God at the time (I didn’t disbelieve, either), but I did believe in the importance of this oath…so much so, that when I later was asked by several of my female underclassmen, to return and administer them the Commissioning Oath, I totally choked, and I’m pretty sure at least one of those women has a video that proves it.
The emotions and the gravity of it were never lost on me, and they still are not today. I could go into a long explanation about how my service doesn’t count as much as my fellow officer’s, because I did not get to go to war. It’s a short story. In the end, I knew it would blow me apart, and I am precariously put together to begin with, and one could argue this is true of us all.
And I’m sorry to share this, and I hope not to ruin your efforts to easily categorize me, but I still hold back a tear during the National Anthem. I still cry like a baby when I watch any person take their peace keeper’s oath, whatever form that may take. I still get that feeling of overwhelming emotion when the flag races around the rodeo, and not because I’m “proud,” per se, of my country, but because I continue to be acutely aware of the sacrifices of so many people I have actually loved, in this one short life.
And I can now hold my own in earnest prayer, and across the many settings of theology. And I can set all of that aside, and simply sit with people and help them tap into the wisdom of their own central nervous systems, and work alongside them, toward their goals to achieve greater inner peace. I mean, that is what we are all after, in the end, right?
And so today, I want to walk into one of these black and white stories, and kick the tires a bit. The story I’ve chosen, is this one: Without the peace keepers, the peace makers would not have the luxury to do so. And even more specifically, the story that says: If you are here, stateside, and working to “make peace,” you only get to do that because of those at war right now, defending your right to do so. And maybe even, that makers of peace don’t get to set about the work of peace, without our massive military force. And maybe even, the story that one branch of our military force is more valuable in their warriorship than another, but adding that would also be cheating, and loading an issue. I’ll let it sit here, in repose, and we’ll move back toward the first story.
First, I don’t disagree. Calm your pounding heart. If your heart is pounding, then we’ve run aground on a nerve. In psychology parlance, we call it being triggered. When you, or any of us, are triggered, and the amygdala spins us into fight or flight, or freeze, or fumigate, or get silly, or overachieve, or grab the intoxicants, or any other spiderweb of the human condition, then you’re in a tricky place for rational dialogue.
If you’re still calm, then good.
If you’re bored, I can’t help you with that.
My goal is not to change minds. My goal is to write about something I spend a lot of time pondering, and to jump into the guts of the matter. I wear both hats here, and I feel confused about it every so often.
Because, on the other side of this coin, live the peace makers–the nonviolents of the world, my friend who held conscientious objector vigils on campus, alongside our military-style vigils. I loved his right to object. I love that he found the path right for him. I loved it all.
And the nonviolents are certain, that if we could all reach deeper into compassion, and strive to understand humanity in all of its glory AND failings, we’d be closer to the target, and there would not be a need for war. And that if we could dig deeply enough into the understanding of self, and the trappings of egotism, we’d be free. Peace makers believe we are born from peace, and we lose our peace at the hands of others, and if we are protected from the darkness, and/or well enough equipped to block its entry into our hearts, we can remain peaceful, and forge more peace, until the hate is, essentially, withering on the vine.
And now, if you are very jaded, or have seen war firsthand, or have been abused, harmed, or otherwise defrocked of your innately peaceful nature, you can use this moment to practice soothing that elegantly pounding heart, furrowing brow, or clenched jaw, fists, or toes. There is room for your truth. There is room for all the truths.
And here, again, I don’t necessarily disagree. No one knows, inherently, where the line exists, because for all of us, there has always been war. Hate has always existed, and even thrived. Peace has been a joke, and yet the only thing that gives some of us hope. The sociopathology of the world has always broken it wide open, and even those horrors are inherently, gut-wrenchingly humanistic, in all of their facets and confusion.
And peace has always stayed, and even thrived, in pockets here and there, and in moments, in spite of terror. There has always been great, immeasurable love, and also unfathomable hatred. The peace makers keep banging the drum, and the peace keepers keep dropping ammunition. From opposite sides of the line, aren’t they both keeping us safe, all over the world, wherever they may be sprinkled? And isn’t it even possible, that there are men, and women, who are both, at the exact same time?
I can only tell you this: the only time I’m not confused, is when I explain these concepts to my children. My kids deserve the truth to the questions, “Mom, why is there war? and Why did people kill Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi? and Mom, why do people hurt each other? and Mom, Why do we need a military?”
And my answer is simple. “My dear, sweet, wonderful, fire-hearted children, full yet of wonder, No man is all good or all bad. No woman, no mommy even, is all good or all bad. There are times when bad makes itself be in charge, and then a person lets it, and doesn’t want to make peace, and when a person has decided to be bad, we have peace keepers to forcibly maintain the peace.”
Point two, my babes: “Not all of us can be peace keepers, for that is the work of saints, and occasionally, people who find themselves on the wrong side of good end up there, too.”
Which brings me to point three: “And so the rest of us need to work really damn hard, to feed not only our “good sides,” but to train our “bad sides,” into goodness, and to feed them, too, so that they don’t become more hateful, and the peace keepers can one day have less work to do.”
And their answer? “OK.” Without the peace keepers, there is no peace, and without the peace makers, there is no peace. From the bottom of my heart tonight, I want to say thank you, peace keepers, for your sacrifices, and thank you, peace makers, for your diligence in the face of insurmountable obstacles.