We were lined up, robed, on the risers, facing the congregation. I was always the one who insisted on the robes: even in shades of medicinal pink and purple, they made church choir feel gloriously dramatic.
And this is how it goes in my memory: our song is interrupted by the assistant pastor, stepping up somberly to say that we, the United States, have just now on a Sunday morning dropped a clutch of bombs in Afghanistan. He leads us in prayer about it.
I don’t remember if we started singing again after that.
That was 2001. A lot of things have happened since then, both martially (for us) and personally (for me). One thing (really, the only thing) uniting both of those columns: a massive chunk of the taxes withheld from every paycheck in my first six jobs went to the wars.
But otherwise, nothing else happened, for me. For millions of people in various countries thousands of miles from here, and for many thousands of my fellow Americans? Everything happened, or stopped happening.
19 years and most of my life after that day in church, just a week ago, I was having a night at home pruning my houseplants, doing the laundry, and meditating. A real evening, you know? Then I looked at the internet and it appeared that a whole new war was starting. Or the unending one was metastasizing. It’s sort of hard to tell the difference. My stomach made a few flips. I took a few capsules of valerian root and tried to sleep.
And what do I do?
I drive around Northern Virginia when I’m unable to avoid it. There are apparently no zoning laws and people live cheek-by-jowl with the sharp-topped office towers bearing proud names of companies whose advertisements on the metro make little sense and are almost always for drones.
I read Silk Roads. I learn: this is what those who desire to be world powers do. They bite down hard, and don’t let go, of the area between the Mediterranean and China. They are happier to let it dissolve in their mouths than to open their jaws. They always have and they always will, from Rome to Britain to the USSR to us. These days, they are required to find timely, heart-rending excuses for this behavior, but these excuses are superfluous, neither necessary nor sufficient to explain it.
I continue to be disappointed about my government from without and within. I learn more about the massive portion of it that is completely unaccountable to us, by design, and proudly so. I find it hard to stomach this.
I come to believe that abuse of power begets conspiracy theories about the abuse of power. Belief in those conspiracy theories enables those who would abuse their power to do so in the open, with a smile, on a grand scale.
This is not a surprise.
And even as I write these words, weary and in a sense heartbroken and enraged, I look up from the keyboard to laugh with my boyfriend. I take breaks to write notes thanking family and friends for Christmas gifts. I stretch my legs on the floor.
We were happy during the war.