All these years, I have had the news of the war only in print and on the radio: sounds of explosions, cries of the wounded. It is harsh enough.
But the other night I watched a program evaluating the current "surge" into Baghdad on the television. It was harsher. I jumped every time a bomb went off. Is this what people are seeing on the news every night? I asked Q, and he said that surely it must be.
Explosions -- a car backfiring will do it -- and the sight of twisted metal and broken masonry anywhere fill me with dread, and have ever since the World Trade Center was destroyed. And here were blocks and blocks of dread. I was not able to look at much of it. I could and did walk amidst the smoke and rubble week after week when it was real, and I will find the courage to do it again when it happens again for real, but I can't watch it all over again, time and time again, when it is over.
And what was demanded of me, really? So little. I was not wounded. I didn't carry a rifle. I could go home at the end of a shift, or back up to the church on 46th Street where the noise was just the noise of Hell's Kitchen: car horns, boom boxes, laughter and arguments, the voices of children. I could return to my world, to my home that was not lying in pieces in the ground, that was more or less as I had left it. I could take a shower and wash it all off.
The television program filled me with dread, then. Dread and a futile wish that I were there, anyway, dread or no, that there were something I could do to make it more bearable for those who cannot get away from it. I know I could surmount my dread if I had to, and why shouldn't I have to, just as they must?
Dread and anger, too: I thought then and still think that a military response was the wrong one to that terrible September. It was a crime committed by an international organization. It was a matter for intelligence and law enforcement, and anyone who thinks that police work is a poor second to military action has never lived in New York. It should never have started a war. It should never have brought about a situation in which such attacks are more likely, rather than less so.
So then what? I have no direct power over any of this.
I do have the power of prayer, though, and so does everyone else. We may not have an obedient genie who must do as we command if we can just figure out how to summon him up, but we do have a God who is revealed in human history. We do have the power and the daily opportunity to join our spirits with those in terrible need and with those in power as well. When all I can do is sit and watch, that it still not all I can do: I can watch and pray. And God will be revealed. I not because I have summoned God. God was there already. But now I will see with my own eyes, and I will be there, too.