I’ve read many books this summer. As goes with my mind, the books are deeply entrenched in me when I read them and poof! gone the moment I finish them. They inform and inspire me as I read them and then I move on. The reading of them is another experience in my life. I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten and conversation I’ve had, so, too, with my reading material—it’s been absorbed into my system some stays, enriching the rest, and some goes.
But right now I am in the midst of two books that point to the two ways my mind seems to be wandering of late. They are What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It by Trish Wood, and home safe by Elizabeth Berg.
One, as you can tell by the title, is a very tough-to-read book about what some soldiers have experienced in Iraq. The other is not; it is about a woman coming into herself after her husband dies. One I need to read because it is too horrible to think that “we” are fighting two wars, one since 2001 and the other since 2003, and yet my life is untouched and even my reading, except for some articles and the biographies that the Washington Post publishes when there have been enough deaths for a two-page spread.
I am determined to pass this reading onto my students. No, not just reading, I am determined to have them think outside of their boxes for a while. No, I am determined that they rise to their capability to think about the world they live in.
These wars have become the white noise behind the childhood of these kids (and our own “adult” lives); the seventeen-year olds I will be teaching would have been nine when the War in Afghanistan began and eleven when the Iraq War began. My assumption is that except for the kids who have a parent serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or the military (lots of military kids here, right down the road from the Pentagon and a number of bases) they are not very aware. Not only that, with all of the wars and sundry other things that the history teachers must cover in a year (my take on our history textbooks), they barely talk about Vietnam. So rather than read a novel that enables them to escape, which they surely know how to handle, I feel that we need to reach into the world we live in and consider it.
I’m not sure if I can blame them for their complacency when it’s us, the mature grown-ups, who have become complacent. Or have our experiences and observations made us not believe what Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
While there had been a time when I entertained visions of creating an NGO that changed people’s lives I have come to find that I am not so much of a doer. I feel bad about that, and no, no amount of wanting it is going to change my personality and I don’t care what all the self-help books say. But in my little classroom I am determined to do my part. It’s not possible that I have become an English teacher only to help kids master the comma and the thesis statement. There must always be a purpose behind a purpose. So, the woman with a master’s in conflict studies, is going to read and talk about war. And I’m excited about it.
Because the way to peace is to understand war.