Sunday, June 28, 2009

Too much to write/not to write

It's hard to know where to start, so let's start with Thursday night, after a rough day at work, when I was trying to chill by cruising around Facebook, and came across the video of Neda, the young woman shot in the heart by an Iranian military sniper while watching the protests in Tehran.

The below video isn't that one... you can find that yourself very easily by Googling Neda's name, and I know most folks who read my blog really don't want to see something that troubling. The video below I took at a candlelight vigil I attended Thursday night in Dupont Circle. The vigil was in honor of Neda and other protestors who have died over the past couple of weeks at the hands of these government killers, who wait on rooftops and cherry-pick individuals to annihilate with one bullet to the head or the heart, killing them almost instantly.

I honestly found the vigil confusing. I was there to pray. I brought a candle and I walked around, feeling out the scene, listening to the conversations and watching the faces of the folks who were there. Almost everyone appeared to be an Iranian expatriate, and they were gathered in little clumps, speaking Farsi. Most appeared quite affluent, well-dressed. Some of the girls clearly saw this as a night out, and were dressed accordingly. I hardly knew what to do with this... I was expecting a better mix of white peaceniks and internationals. Surely, people aren't so cynical that they really dismiss the issue of the corrupt elections as being merely an Iranian problem, right?

There were images everywhere of Neda right after she died, blood covering half of her face. That image had already clearly become iconic. That afternoon, after watching the video, I joined a Facebook group called "Neda, Angel of Iran". It didn't take long at all for her to represent to these folks everything they detested about the regime. But no one appeared upset. I walked around and around, unable to wrap my head around the atmosphere, which was far more like the funeral reception for a distant relative than a real protest.

I found a place to sit on the rim of the fountain, acutely aware of how conspicuous I was with my European features and small silver cross dangling from my neck. A young man came up and started talking to me... he had been walking by after attending a reception for the alumni association of his Ivy League college, and was drawn to the scene, trying to figure out what was going on . He was an interesting kid... 24 years old, Jewish, grew up in DC and worked in local politics in Maryland... and he asked me almost immediately "what is the point of all this? Do you actually think this will change anything?"

It was a rude question, but I had to give it to him that the purpose of the event wasn't clear. So I told him my reasons: Neda's death was an objective wrong. I understand that conflict dynamics are complex and there are rarely any innocent parties, but she had no role in the protests. The sniper killed this beautiful young woman because he could. So, in the same way that I attended a protest in 2007 in support of the monks who were peacefully protesting (and being arrested and beaten) in Burma, I attended this... because what was happening was an objective moral wrong and I had to do SOMETHING. Plus, I told him, I believe when two or more are gathered in the same space, praying, that God hears... and I was there because it was likely that there were at least two other people there begging God to intervene. I offered my prayers with theirs.

He heard me, and didn't totally buy it... so the conversation continued for about another half hour. It was a good conversation, and I was appreciative of it because at least there was a person from the outside trying to understand. I walked away a little bit sick, though, realizing that I very well might have been the only person praying to God, and that I actually hadn't gotten much praying done. What WAS the purpose of the vigil? Had I wasted my time? I still felt that it was better to go than to sit in my apartment and stew, but how much better?

My questions have a particular weight to me at the moment because I have some guilt associated with my new employment. The money will be nice. It is interesting to put my mind to a new task and to learn new things... but my heart is really broken right now. Why am I in this organization? What good will it do to pursue this work? I can't just have a job... I don't care how much it pays. Who will I help? How will I serve? It's all a blank to me right now as I just try to figure out what's around me and how I plug in to the massive, insanely complicated organizational structure of this project.

I miss my GMU family. I miss my students. I miss their appreciation and respect, which I honestly feel I didn't quite deserve, but which fed and nourished me, and I feel myself sorely lacking this now. I miss feeling held up by the love of others. Again, my mind tells me that I did the right thing, but my heart feels the lack, and I wonder where I will find sources of this love. I know you get back what you give, so it is up to me to put my love into other parts of my life and have faith that God will supply me with the love that I need from other places... but right now it's really hard. I feel uprooted.

Being at this vigil made me wonder about why people were there. Were they there because of passion for this cause? Were they there because their hearts were truly moved by the death of Neda? Where were the tears? Where was the visible anger? Did I not understand because I don't speak Farsi, or was it really a gathering of people there to participate coldly in the ritual, because they have no real hope that things will ever truly change for Iran?

I want to believe that God cares. God DOES care. He's set it up so that He's given us some mysterious level of agency in the world, where He won't intervene unless we do in some way. I don't know why He's done it this way, although I am aware of a line of reasoning that says that God wishes to receive our love as well as give it, and He can't do that if we're automatons. He has to give us free will. He has to give us the ability to completely fuck up this world, even if it breaks His heart. I guess this is as close to an explanation as I can come, although it still hurts to know that it really might not get better in Iran, or Zimbabwe, or Sudan, or North Korea, or Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Venezuela, Mexico, Ethiopia, Somalia, etc., etc., etc.

LORD God, what am I to do with all the suffering but open up my hands to You and say, please help me? Please guide me? Please bring the corrupt and unjust leaders to a swift end? In the end I am like the Psalmist, imploring God to "smite" those who prey upon the weak and innocent... but God, I know You want more. Show me what to DO.

1 comment:

Ken Tennyson said...

It is very hard to feel helpless in the face of evil. I don't have any answers but I think I know what you are feeling...