East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgement Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth! — Rudyard Kipling
For 444 days during my young adulthood, Iranians held American diplomats hostage.
As a young writer in 1980, I was assigned an interview for a university alumni magazine about a 30-something graduate who had just returned to Fort Wayne, Indiana, from the Mid East. I was a staff writer at the local university, and my world was small. I wrote stories for the alumni and faculty magazines, handled media relations, and developed flyers and brochures.
I grew up in a town of 1,200 people, raised by two teachers. We didn’t have a white picket fence, but most of my childhood resembled a Norman Rockwell painting. We had our problems like any other family and community, but it was a long way from the Mid East.
The 444-Iranian hostage crisis continued. It would not end until Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president in January 1981.
This graduate worked for an NGO in countries adjacent to Iran. I asked her, “As an American, how do you feel about the hostage situation in Iran?”
That seemed like a logical question to me. But her answer surprised me. She rebuffed the question and made me feel about a foot tall.
“Don’t you know,” she said. “These types of things have been going on for centuries in the Mid-East. Haven’t you read any history?”
She was right. From the safety of that metaphorical picket fence in the Midwest, I viewed the horror in Iran with my lens of white, Christian privilege.
Still, I am as horrified by the little boy on the beach, the be-headings, the shootings in African malls or Parisian cafes. The question for me, though, is what I do I do with that horror? We can listen to it on cable TV 24/7 if we want. We can proffer our opinions about “the other.”
“The other” doesn’t have to be Syrian refugee; we’ve forgotten that the other can be a white man with a big gun and a huge hatred. We are guaranteed nothing in this life; we are not guaranteed safety from a sniper, freedom from war, warm home and hearth, a job or our next meal.
Anyone who has ever suffered any kind of loss knows that the shoe is bound to drop. It always does. There are no guarantees.
So why is it that we move forward in fear? As a card-carrying worry wart, I asked myself this question all the time. My adult son lives in Washington, D.C., a city with a bulls-eye on it most of the time. Even on our first visit for his college orientation seven years ago, our hotel was filled with guards as presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke there.
Daily, our son takes a bus to the Metro from his Brook-land neighborhood and disembarks at Union Station near Capitol Hill.
Here’s the thing. Do I want him to not fulfill his dreams to assuage my fears? Of course not.
I move forward with caution, relinquishing the control I must think worry gives me. It does not. The bus careens out of control, the bomb blows, the shoe drops, in an instant– in my hometown or anywhere in the world.
Never was I more aware of thing than on a flight from Atlanta to Madrid, Spain in 2014. We settled into the nine-hour overnight flight. About two hours into the flight, we were over the Atlantic. The lights went out and the captain came on. He told us that there was a problem with one of the engines and that they had to power down the computer for twenty minutes or so.
There we were, up at 36,000 in a flying silver cigar over one of the world’s largest bodies of water.
I did not panic. Neither did my husband. We just looked at each other and then closed our eyes. There was absolutely nothing we could do about it.
Twenty minutes later, as the captain promised, the lights came back on. The flight continued and we saw the most magnificent art of our lifetime the next day in the Prado. It was as if the little incident seven miles up had never happened.
I’m not suggesting we ignore what is happening in the world. But I suggest we gather our wits about us. That’s really all we can do.