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Calm can replace war one step at a time

I worried about writing this column too far in advance of its publication. I do need to put my thoughts down early enough that I have ample time to rewrite them a few times, but I also want my comments to be relevant to the happenings of the day they appear in the newspaper. And then I stopped to realize that the world conflicts I am pondering have been brewing for generations and aren’t likely to go away any time soon.
Many of the very places that I have visited over the past year and a half are now the objects of the evening news reports. Where I saw beautifully developed communities, I now view rubble on my TV screen. Where I chatted with happy and hopeful people in person, I now witness ‘ through the powers of the electronic media ‘ frightened and distraught citizens
A year ago, our daughter Jenny and I traveled with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis to Israel. Among the many amazing sights we visited was the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. The personnel there shared with us a unique and sobering condition. Here in this beautiful location was a new building half above ground and half underground. On this peaceful May day in 2005, all of the patient and medical support rooms were bustling in the sunlight of the day with folks suffering common illnesses and the thrill of new births. But below ground, in the floors set aside for emergencies, it was totally empty and extremely haunting. We saw this same hospital on the evening news report a few days ago. Shocked doctors reported upon mortar fire that had hit the grounds of the hospital complex. We had been told that the totally empty lower floors were in readiness for an armed attack and to hold emergency evacuees from above ground. And now it is a reality. We received an e-mail from the hospital recently telling us that since the shelling, all activities and equipment have been transferred to the underground bunkers leaving the upper levels to an even more frightening atmosphere.
We had asked on our visit that beautiful day in Israel what it was like to live through an attack like that. The response was as we ourselves would have responded, ‘terrible, frightening’ for medical personnel and patients and their families. We were told stories of parents trying to make contact with their children at school. We heard stories of what it looked and felt like to see guns and rockets aimed in their direction as they peered through their binoculars at the military lined up on the very near Lebanese border. This is no novel I read on a sleepy summer day. This is for real and it is awful.
As we left Israel last summer, I had a sinking feeling that we had experienced an atmosphere just ready to explode, and this summer it has.
Oh, so many places I enjoyed while traveling are today suffering with little to relax and smile about. In Bali, that beautiful island of the stage play ‘ South Pacific,’ I ate dinner in a little noodle shop and watched ‘Mr. Lean,’ the British comedian, on a giant TV screen and laughed my head off at his goofy antics. Last month, I saw a pile of rubble on my small television at home. There was a sign indicating it was the very same noodle shop after a terrorist attack.
The tranquil and gorgeous Indonesia I worked in as a member of Habitat for Humanity International has been devastated by yet another of nature’s harsh forces ‘ a tsunami. This time on the island of Java which had felt safe after it had been spared from the catastrophe of the ‘big one.’ A beautiful country and people laid low by forces beyond their control. Still today the reports of earthquakes and tsunamis continue.
In East Timor, we met with leaders in the newest country in the world. Our talks had all the hope and happiness mixed with hesitancy and fear of any new birth. I am in the process of editing the television footage I had taken while there to be used on our series for public television in Indiana. As I heard recently of the current terrorism in East Timor, the images of their newly appointed leaders flashed in my head. I could hear their words filled with the philosophy and actions for their future as a nation. There before me on the screen was the face of an extraordinary young man. He had stepped up to take the responsibility of leadership after seeing his father assassinated by Indonesian guerrillas. He was well educated, kind and soft spoken. I can’t quit wondering what he is doing today.
Frank and I were in Russia, the Ukraine and Yugoslavia right after the Berlin Wall was torn down. Everywhere we went, everyone was full of hope and promise that the bad days of conflict and tyranny were over, and it was now full speed ahead for democracy and the free enterprise system. Look at the signs of dangerous hot spots today.
What happens to us on our way to fulfilling our dreams of peace and prosperity? It seems to me, we as humans keep digging up old wounds of fear and hatred. Enough small disagreements, prejudices, and battles fester into outright revenge and war. Dangerous stuff in this our ‘global living room.’ In the Second World War, we citizens here in the United States focused totally on the ‘war effort.’ We gave up drinking rationed coffee, and we gave up our best and brightest sons to the cause, and it was awful. If we let things get out of control now, we risk giving up the whole planet.
There is a song titled ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth.’ It goes on to say, ‘ … and let it begin with me.’
There is something we can do, and we must speak of this again sometime soon.