Tag Archives: war

reconciliation-vulnerability-resistance

Finding peace

My recent vacation in Ireland included a day trip to the Peace Wall in Belfast. It was a sobering experience that brought up many memories and emotions.

The Peace Wall runs between two neighborhoods and has gates across the streets. The gates were all closed and locked the Sunday we visited.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistancereconciliation-vulnerability-resistanceWe walked along Falls Road, looking at murals that commemorate the troubles in Northern Ireland—and also murals that depict troubles in other countries—oppression around the world.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistanceShortly before I left for Ireland we had marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit riot. I was fifteen at the time of the riot, and I have vivid memories of that week in July 1967.

Some people are now calling the riot a rebellion or uprising, and while I understand their reasoning, I feel resistant to change. After the riot, my parents moved us out of Detroit, and riot captures my experience and the aftermath of upheaval in my life.

 

I had watched the documentary, 12th and Clairmount, that places the riot in a broader historical context, which was helpful for me. It also stirred up memories and emotions.

Standing there in Belfast, remembering the riot, I felt a mix of emotions—wanting to honor my experience and my memories, wanting to respect the experience and memories of others—and also wanting to find a way to move forward.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistanceThree years after the Detroit riot, I moved to Norfolk, VA, and I was unprepared for the reception I received.

More than once, white southerners told me to “Go home,” once my accent revealed that I was not from there, that I was a Yankee.

White southerners talked about “the war,” and it took me a while to remember that they were as likely to be talking about the Civil War as the Vietnam War. My protestations that my ancestors did not even come to the U.S. until the early twentieth century made no difference. I was a Yankee; therefore, I was somehow responsible for the Civil War.

Gobsmacked is the word I remember using to describe the experience. Over and over again, I encountered a hatred aimed at me because of where I had lived.

How could people hold onto something that happened more than a hundred years earlier? How could keeping Civil War hatred alive be helpful?

The wall in Belfast brought back that “we will not forget…” sentiment.

And that brought up my own I will not forget attitude. I can see that my resistance to look at the events and aftermath of July 1967 is similar to the white southerners who held on to anger about the civil war. I, too, nurse my grudge.

Looking at the Peace Wall and murals, I felt invited to let go of my anger and resentment, to be more compassionate toward the white southerners who had despised me and the Detroiters who changed my life. I felt invited to move past my resistance and onto the path toward reconciliation and peace.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistance

 

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Questions of a second grader

I grew up during the cold war days of the 1950’s and was part of the multitude of school children who were taught to fear an invasion by our archenemy, the Soviets.

We watched newsreels of the Soviet army preparing to take over America—tanks rumbling down Soviet streets and rows of soldiers marching in lockstep. I could picture their tanks creeping down our streets (an image that became a reality during the 1967 Detroit riots, only they were our tanks and not the Soviet’s).

We also saw newsreels of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mushroom cloud rising up to the sky, leaving total devastation below.

Regularly, we were marched down to our school basement, a designated bomb shelter, where we would be safe if and when the Soviets attacked.

As we prepared for war with the Soviets, I wondered if our counterparts in the Soviet Union were also watching the newsreels of our bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and being told we were the enemy. I wondered if they, too, were being marched down to the cellars of their schools.

One day, I asked my second grade teacher where my mother and little brother would go if we were attacked by the Soviets. “They will come here,” she said with certainty. Unsatisfactory answer. I knew it would take my mother at least fifteen minutes to walk to our school, and by my calculation, the bombs would have hit the ground by then.

“Why can’t they just go down to our basement?” I asked. Unsatisfactory question, which my teacher clearly did not appreciate. She was the authority and I was to accept her answer as final, whether it made sense to me or not.

How could the school basement be any safer than my home basement? I wondered. Did we only need a fallout shelter sign?

At that early age, I realized that there was more than one way to view a situation and a variety of ways to spin facts.

I made a decision: I neither wanted to live in perpetual fear nor did I want to climb out of the school basement after an atomic bomb had fallen—destroying my home and killing the rest of my family. What was the point in that? Why be kept alive and safe when everything else would be gone?

“I’d rather live under the Soviets,” I told my teacher.

“You don’t know what you are saying,” she replied sharply, as if I had uttered a blasphemy. “They have no food, not even bread.” The thought clearly terrified her.

I didn’t care; I would rather be hungry and have my family than live in constant fear of a Soviet attack. At some place deep within, I already knew that fear was not the answer.

I don’t remember when I first heard the scripture that fear is useless; what is needed is trust (Luke 8:50), but I know I heard it as a confirmation of what I already believed.