Building Bridges

I’ve been thinking a lot about bridges. The schisms in this country seem to only get wider. Political storms intensify in parallel with extreme storms that our changing climate generates. Echoes of hopelessness in both instances bounce off canyon walls as the dire and increasingly hopeless conditions show no signs of abatement.

The latest foul suggestion of “liberal genocide” implies the answer to our differences is to kill those who disagree with you. Not a very pro-life sentiment, if you ask me. But you didn’t. And perhaps that is the problem. Still I can’t believe that the vast majority of those on the other side of the opinion world genuinely have a death wish for the rest of us. But the gap spreads. The rift grows. How do we turn the tide?

We desperately need a bridge or two across the raging storm current beneath.

What do I know about bridges?

Their purpose is to aid travel across chasms, canyons, or river channels.

They come in many sizes

and many different designs.

They can be a simple as a fallen log spanning a water-filled gully, or so complex they take years to build.

They can be artistic treasures, offering the best of humankind,

and are often sought by artists or photographers as worthy subjects.

Some draw tourists to unique examples of beauty merged with utility.

Bridges can be found almost anywhere.

They are built with the future in mind, to assist the travel of those who follow the bridge makers.

Sadly, bridges are often targeted for destruction during warfare.

Model of the A-bomb detonation found in the Hiroshima museum. The target was believed to be a t-shaped bridge.

But some are designed with strength enough to withstand unspeakable devastation.

The t-shaped bridge today. Unlike most of the rest of the city, it was not destroyed by the atomic bomb.

Others succumb to heavy flooding and raging water.

But they can be re-built. Some bridges have been re-built with pride multiple times by different generations. They endure for centuries.

Construction of bridges would be most efficient if started from both sides to meet in the middle. But they can be built from one side alone.

Many chasms are born when a trickle of rainwater starts to flow in a miniscule crack. When the rift is deep enough, travel across it is impossible.

But the stones to build a bridge often come from the same geologic formation on opposite sides, and the planks come from sister trees.

Though the views are mirrored from either side,

 

a traveler sees the world


 

differently from the middle of a bridge.

 

 

 

With scant leadership from our Capitol, the healing process may fall to us, the people. We need a few bridges to cross the growing chasms in our political and social landscapes.

Stone by stone.

Pile by pile.

Time’s wasting. Let’s get started.

 

 

 

 

Hiroshima. . .Then

A month ago, we walked through the museum and around the grounds of the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. That was before the inauguration of a dangerous leader in the US who seems oblivious to lessons of the past. Over the last month, I have struggled with a search for the most appropriate words to describe our experience in Hiroshima, as humbling as it was awe-inspiring, and as terrifying as it was motivating. Our entire trip to Japan for a visit to our US military family, was in the shadow of ominous historical events that predate my years, but which my parents lived through and knew intimately.

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Peace Museum, 2017. English message on left. Japanese message on right.

 

“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace,” as Pope John Paul said on the 25th of February in 1981.

Peace. . . A condition marked by freedom from oppression, harmony in relationships, and agreement to end hostilities, a definition according to my desk dictionary. It is also a condition that is perhaps as far removed from reality today as it was 75 years ago.

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The US was drawn into active participation in World War II after Japan bombed Navy ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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USS Shaw exploding in Pearl Harbor.

My uncle Lester, the older brother of my father, was in his third month of training for service with the US Navy at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He hastily jotted a note of reassurance to his family, and sent it home via air mail. Not to worry, he wrote, he was all right. However things were likely to change given the course of events, and his Christmas leave was likely to be cancelled.

It was. Lester made it home for one last visit the following summer before losing his life, almost a year to the day after Pearl Harbor. The big war impacted my own family in ways we still feel after 75 years, as surely as it left an impact on countless other American, European, Russian, and Japanese people.

Hiroshima before August 1945
Hiroshima before August 1945

About 3 ½ years after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and many battles later, The US took the fight onto Japanese soil.

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With the horrific bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki a week later, the war ended. The Japanese people had changed forever.

Hiroshima before the bomb
Hiroshima before the bomb

At 8:15 in the morning, as civilians scurried to their daily work, school children settled into their first class, and businesses opened for shoppers, the world’s first atomic bomb was unleashed in the air 600 meters above downtown Hiroshima. In an instant, the city lay in smoldering ruins.

HIroshima after the bomb
Hiroshima after the bomb

An estimated 200,000 people perished. Most were civilians, including the school children. A number of US prisoners of war and Korean natives working in Hiroshima also were lost.

After the bomb
After the bomb
Aftermath of the bomb
Aftermath of the bomb
Destruction
Destruction

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This unique t-shaped bridge is reported to have been the target of the A-bomb. It was still standing after the blast, and could be used, as seen here.

The detonation of the atomic bomb over a bridge in Hiroshima triggered the end of the war and was heralded with great celebration in this country. It was only later, after the destruction became apparent, that we realized what had been unleashed in Japan.

Washington Post edition with news of the bomb
Washington Post edition with news of the bomb, August 7, 1945
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The Evening Star, Washington DC August 14, 1945

Seven decades later, Hiroshima is again a bustling, modern city, undistinguished from many other cities around the world, except for its World Heritage site, commemorating the bomb and a pledge to world peace that this kind of destruction will never happen again.

from a museum sculpture
from a museum sculpture

 

Next:

Hiroshima. . .Now

 

 

We Pawns Speak

If the Sister March in Wichita, Kansas was representative of other events in solidarity with the Women’s March in DC, there is a good start to peaceful resistance around the world. The sun warmed the morning, pink hats dotted the crowd like so much party confetti scattered among the thousands in attendance, and the mood was optimistic toward a future where we stand together against injustice for any of our compromised friends or neighbors.

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The signs held by many echoed every concern of the last year. When a couple of bystanders yelled opposition to the purposes of the march, they were ignored by all the rest. Over all, it appeared to be the perfect first step of peaceful resistance, an exercise of our first amendment rights on the first day of a new era, when the only way to go is forward.

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Some of my favorite signs held these messages:

Respect Existence OR Expect Resistance

 

We’re Not Going Anywhere.                                       United Against Hate.

 

We love our Muslim Brothers and Sisters.           Deport Racism.

dsc03375Keep Your Laws Off My Body

I’m Muslim.                                                                                 Isis Doesn’t Represent Me or Islam

Black Lives Matter

We Stand with Standing Rock

 

Women March for Health Care

Girls Just Want to Have Fun-                               Damental Rights

The Brave Choose Love

Women’s Rights = Human Rightsdsc03376

 

Who Would Jesus Exclude?

Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly. Micah 6:8

Hope Not Fear

Make America Think Again

Hear Our Voice

War is not Healthy for Anythingdsc03382

Marching for my Daughter:                                             Her Values, Her Voice, Her Vote, Her Choice

A Woman’s Place is in the Revolution

dsc03384Dark and Difficult Times Lie Ahead.                Choose Right, not Easy

I’m too clumsy to be around fragile masculinity

End White Silence

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Never Doubt you are Valuable, Powerful and Deserving of every chance in the world.

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And perhaps my favorite,                                        Building Bridges Not Walls

(more on that later)

A few speakers and musicians were lined up to address the crowd. Though hard to hear and understand, I was able to listen to one energetic woman. She shared motivational ideas that included this message,“Love one another. Share love, even in the tiniest ways. Smile at someone you don’t know. 

“This is why I fight. I fight for my daughter and my son—for everyone. Because it’s the right thing to do. We can’t go back. We need to move forward for a better America.

“If we stop trying we’ll never learn to walk. Sure, we’ll get knocked down. But we’ll get back up again. We the People hold our destiny in our own hands. We hold the power to affect the lives around us.

“In the words of a popular song, ‘I may have only one match, but I can make an explosion!’ Together we can be that explosion! Do not be afraid, for we were born to do this.”

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As the marchers filtered back toward the origin of their walk, we listened to live musicians present the song, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. I left feeling energized and optimistic that we could hang onto the progress we’ve made over the last half-century toward inclusive human rights.

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American Chess Game

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In recent weeks, overwhelmed by the gut-wrenching posts of gifted writers, I have written little worthy of sharing. But I spend hours reading what the rest of you write. And I hear you, friends. I share your pain. I understand the disbelief, the anger, the recurring horror following an election that spoke NOT for the majority of voters, but set us up for a nightmare administration that shakes us to our very foundations. We do, indeed, grieve.

Chatting with my thirty-something son yesterday, he shared his disappointment. “I really thought we were better than that, as a nation.”

I thought so, too. I grew up believing that we, as Americans, stood for progress, for humanitarian support around the world. Through our influence and assistance, we could help other people achieve the freedom to speak for themselves, without fear. When I was a child, I felt pride in my country. That is not the case today.

Echoing a dear friend, I say, “I so want us to be the good guys.”

Yet now, it seems even though the majority of us still subscribe to decency, integrity and honesty, it matters less than if you have a lot of wealth and can buy your way into a misleading and dangerous leadership position. This is what happens when there is only one recognized litmus test for success and that test is money. Those with a lot of money control the game. The rest of us are pawns. We’re expendable. It’s a big game of power and apparently it’s been going on for decades.

Two weeks ago, on a long flight returning to the US from abroad, I chose to watch a movie on my seat’s private screen. All the President’s Men was available. Remember that one? It was the true story of two reporters in Washington DC who uncovered the Republican Party’s involvement in and cover-up of highly illegal activities intended to manipulate and influence the election in 1972. I was a high school student then, a member of my school’s Teen-Age Republicans. Watergate became a huge story. As a youth, I had no real idea what it meant, but it ended Nixon’s term early.

Watching the movie in 2017, all I could think was—“Republicans have been manipulating elections through any means available to them for a LONG time.”

To what end? This morning I read a post by Jon Perr, “The simple, sinister reason for the GOP’s never-ending war on Obamacare”. He described how the recent attack on the ACA was not an attempt to promote a better system or better care for millions of American people. There is nothing proposed to replace the contentious health care act. Indeed, the number-one reason Republicans chose to repeal Obamacare was apparently to stifle public approval and support for their opponents, the Democratic Party.

We are indeed pawns in a mega-chess game of power.

No wonder we grieve. We have suffered great loss. No stranger over the years to heart-wrenching farewells and grief of many origins, I recognize that our national reaction to events in Washington DC reflects many facets of loss. What are some things we have lost? Beyond the assurance that our healthcare needs will be answered, we grieve for much more.

We have lost the leadership of a remarkable president who consistently demonstrated his dedication to the welfare of our people and others around the world. Instead, through some political shenanigans, the reigns are handed to a tyrant who seems to care little for the majority of the people.

We’ve lost faith in the ideals and processes of our people-driven government. What might have been and where could we be now if, instead of choosing every action to make the people’s president fail, our senators and representatives had worked together for our common good? What might we have become over the past eight years? We will never know and can only wonder.

We’ve lost our belief in the basic goodness of humanity.

We’ve lost hope for the betterment of our future, for the preservation of a pristine and sacred planet to pass on to our grandchildren.

We’ve lost a dream of a future where each of us is treated with respect and dignity, and all things matter on a healthy and robust planet.  Instead, we have a vision of an Earth such as the one Wall-E was cleaning in the animated movie, because all that matters is money. Who has the most money and how will they use it to manipulate us pawns for their own greedy ends?

It is no wonder that we grieve. Loss of a dream is hard.

As a novelist, I find myself pondering some of the plotting techniques I learned in workshops over the past few years. Consider, for a moment, that we are collectively the protagonist in an edge-of-the-seat thriller story. The poor protagonist experiences set-back after set-back, crisis after crisis, conflict after increasingly intense conflict. Just when you think you’re in the clear, you’re not. (Election of Barack Obama as US president.) Just when you think it can’t possibly get worse, it does. (Inauguration of Trump, and his cabinet choices.)

Collectively, as a character in an on-going drama, we are riddled with internal conflict. The election of November 8, 2016  is one giant plot twist, catapulting us into the final climactic scenario. How will we cope? Can we find the means to pull through this era of consternation as a better nation? Will we even survive?

We pawns must write the ending to this story. Recently a Facebook friend shared a thought about grief. “Grief is really just love with no place to go. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot.”

The way to move ahead is to find new avenues to spend that love, in honor of those people, dreams, or ideas we have lost.

I sometimes have the opportunity to counsel others working through grief. It’s hard. There’s no denying that. The event, the compound losses, have changed our lives. It’s up to us what we do now. We can work through it, and become stronger in the process. Or we can wallow in it and drown.

We can either let our grief make us better people and a better nation, or we can let it break us.

I choose to let it make us—make me—better. I’m not off the board yet. I may have little or no influence in Washington’s big game, but I can influence my home and hometown. The question is, “How?”

I refuse to be overcome by fear and suspicion of neighbors and family members on the other side of issues. I can choose to share love, to smile at strangers, to listen with compassion. I can increase my support of humanitarian causes, here at home. I can be an ambassador of goodwill wherever I may go. I can support the ideals of freedom and equality. I can defend the first constitutional amendment just as adamantly as others have defended the second amendment.

(Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.)

I can march in a near-by Sister March on Saturday morning, a peaceful way to celebrate human rights, diversity, freedom, and equality for all. (www.womensmarch.com)

Who knows, if pawns in every hometown opted to spread goodwill, understanding, and justice, maybe the sorry protagonist in this suspenseful story will manage to pull through and save the day after all.

Do you have ideas about ways to resist with love and compassion? If so, please share them in the blog comments. If you’re shopping for more great ideas, check out  johnpavlovitz.com/2017/01/14/10-acts-of-resistance-on-inauguration-day