In one of the classes I teach we are reading Annie Proulx’s A Lonely Coast. It’s a great but grim story, as is Proulx’s wont. I kept bringing the students back to John Balaban’s poem Words for My Daughter, which we looked at last week. Who are the victims, I ask them? Who is hurting and who is being hurt?
And who is going to save us – any of us? And how?
It is important to look closely at violence, at conflict. It’s hard when you’re in your late teens or early twenties to make a lot of headway on that subject, but still. I push them as hard as I think they can stand and they almost always rally. On some level, we all want to find peace. We all want to end conflict. We just don’t know how. Or we know and we’re scared to do it. I’m not sure.
Anyway, the discussion got around to what it means to be a man in a culture that honors strength. It’s a tricky space. Some of the young men I teach move in rough circles. The women, too. One of the young men spoke very movingly about how he wants to cry but can’t because who will let him? But then he told us that he has a trick – he snuggles with his girlfriend and they watch romantic movies and he cries in the dark. A little, he does.
How grateful I was for his courage in sharing that! And for the class which honored his sharing by responding to it with graceful vulnerability. His comment opened a rare space and we stepped into it together. Truly, there are moments when it seems we are not such a hopeless tribe. We are here for each other – we just need to be reminded of that.
After class, some of the students asked me if I cry and I told them the truth: not as much as I would like but I am getting better. I am finding my way to the weakness that is true strength. I told them about my song for finding tears, and I am sharing it here, too. It reminds me of my beautiful dog Jake who saved me in ways I am still discovering. It breaks my heart.
How do we beget peace? I think we start by talking to each other: by listening: and by going to those places inside that scare the hell out of us. We’re one. We are.