This week I visited the Museum of the Dog. It’s on 40th Street between Park and Lex. I love dogs and they generally love me back. It was an enjoyable experience, with lots of art, historical stuff, Snoopy, and some interactive exhibits.
However, at one point, I couldn’t help but think “Who am I to be walking around this museum when war is raging?”. Then I thought “Wow, LaVetty, such hubris!”. I thought this because, seriously, do I honestly believe my actions have any impact on the situation?
Yet, I get an uncomfortable feeling, going about my life as usual, with everything that’s going on. The focus right now is the Israel/Palestine war. But there’s still Ukraine, and Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, other parts of Africa, Haiti. Yesterday’s crises take a back seat. Is there just so much we can handle and then whatever new crisis emerges takes center stage? That’s what seems to happen and I think it’s natural and self-preserving, and perhaps even unavoidable. As unavoidable as the uneasy feeling I get when the world is in turmoil and I’m strolling through a museum.
Geography, distance is everything. The further away things are, the less they affect our everyday routines, regardless of how close we may be to the situation, how worried or fearful we feel.
In the days after September 11, 2001, in New York City, unless you were downtown in the Ground Zero vicinity, except for intermittent sirens, there was a silence over the City, a pall. One thing that struck me was that there was no one in the nail or hair salons, just workers standing outside looking bewildered. No one seemed to be out doing their daily run or exercise. No one was shopping in stores other than grocery or drug. People who were eating in restaurants looked guilty and rushed as if they just wanted to get it over with. It almost seemed like these things were inappropriate given the circumstances. Everyday life vanished and shock and fear took its place. That was as close as most of us will ever get to what others around the world are experiencing right now.
I have a few friends with family in Israel and I know one Palestinian, Iyad, the tour guide for my pilgrimage there in 2011. I listen to them and read what they have to say, their fears, their anger, their outrage. But, other than “praying for you”, I’m lacking any helpful response.
Often, when someone suffers a loss or is in deep distress, there’s nothing tangible we can do to help, no words that won’t chafe. In those times, it’s good to remember the value of just being with someone, sitting in silence.
My mother died when I was 16 and a neighbor sent her daughter over to sit with me while my father went to make the arrangements at the funeral home. I didn’t want this girl with me; she was younger than me and we didn’t have much in common. I preferred to be alone with my loss. But her mother wouldn’t take my “no thanks” and sent her anyway. It was awkward at first, but in the end, it was okay and I was maybe a bit comforted by her presence. What a beautiful lesson that mother taught! Now I wonder if this girl, Maria, had asked her mother what she could do for me. And the answer was, “just go and be with her”.
In our current world crises, there’s indeed very limited things we can do, but do them we must. We can donate what we can (one suggestion is the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which supports the Christian-run Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza), we can reach out to friends who have loved ones directly in the path of war, we can pray privately and together, and we can simply let our souls sit silently alongside all the innocent, suffering souls and just be with them.
And meanwhile, it’s okay to attend to our daily lives, holding even the most trivial, routine activity precious, because, in some way, that expresses hope for all…even visiting a Dog Museum.