Rebuild the Old Wastes
by Grant A. Mincy
Peace on Earth and goodwill to all — in a world of conflict, ’tis the season of peace.
A season of peace it is. Thankfully my family and friends are safe, happy and (mostly) together. I greatly enjoy the Christmas/holiday season. Winter has arrived in my scruffy town of Knoxville, Tennessee. The weather is cold. Mist and fog are a constant these days along the southern banks of the Tennessee River. Church bells chime as trains whistle forlorn across our Old Sevier neighborhood. Lights decorate this southie community, glasses clink at our local watering holes and children laugh and play in their newly constructed public waterfront park. We maintain a cautious optimism regarding the gentrification. At night we huddle in around our bright trees full of clunky figurines and bulbs, drink egg-nog , sing carols, eat too much and watch holiday themed movies. It’s cozy — no better way to put it.
We enjoy silent nights in our world of conflict.
On every continent, save Australia and Antarctica, wars rage. I don’t know what war is. Having never experienced battle I cannot fathom the situation. But, I can reflect on the human experience. I’m a husband and a father. My wife and child are the most important people in my life. I think of our cozy home, its warmth and what it means to my family. Then, I force myself to think of Aleppo, Syria. Syrian families are dreary and sleep starved, terrorized, wondering if they will live to see the next day. Wondering if their small child will ever realize their own potential as a human being. I think of bombs rocking adjacent buildings, the loud blasts and roars from military vehicles, screams of those trapped under rubble. But, it is too much to try to consider the unthinkable.
One of my favorite things in life is carrying my child. When he is sleepy, the boy clings hard to my neck and rests his head on my shoulder. When in a good mood, the boy makes a host of silly noises and gives high-fives or fist-bumps. When sad, he asks for kisses. He is warm, loved and alive. For many fathers in Syria these moments are taken from them. They cling to their loved ones, but the loves do not cling back. Instead they are limp and lifeless. Murdered.
The image is horrifying. At times I am very worried about the future, the world the child will inherit. But, only at times. When wrought with despair, I think of all the good in the world. I also think of times of solace and still reflection. Agrarian and Appalachian author Wendell Berry, in his poem The Peace of Wild Things, describes these moments best:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I don’t despair long. Struggle will always exist, but it’s imperative humanity find a way to struggle through social change without war. To do so we must think about war and challenge the legitimacy of those who call for such incredible violence. War is enacted by those caged in authoritarian principles who often underestimate the complexity of reality. War is a sweeping, simple solution to complex problems. War destroys the lives of everyone involved. Everyone, every child of humanity, deserves liberation from the dehumanizing ideology of war.
There is far too much violence in the world. There are the armed conflicts of states and the ideas of terrorism; rising poverty and wealth disparity; climate change and environmental degradation; the crimes of humanity and our creeds. Though ominous, these threats do not accurately reflect the entire spirit of humanity.
In our world of conflict it is important to remember the better angels of our nature. For we are many. I find it important to think of the people in my life. Whether family, friends, colleagues, mentors, peers, the woman who always gives us stickers at the market, whoever: all of these actors, including myself, are vulnerable to the surrounding world. We are all beings who grow and adapt in a complex physical and social environment. We are social beings and depend upon each other for survival, be it through our close personal relationships or our overlapping and intertwining cultures. As our species evolved the mechanisms of selection favored competition, but just as importantly cooperation, pro-social behavior and mutual aid. The human is competitive but cooperative, deeply rooted in the principles of mutualism.
We are not purely selfish agents. In each of us lies the intellectual and emotional capacity to build, alter or deconstruct strategies and institutions. Each of us will no doubt get a few things wrong, but our ideas will also be revolutionary, appropriate, helpful and right. We are social, individual, emotional, diverse, harmonious, contradictory, faulty and ultimately complex. We are all under the sun together. We are all mortal. This is what is so appealing, so hopeful, about the human condition. Individual actors, their small acts, build our common empathy and can change the world.
We can rebuild the old wastes and restore our home.