It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I was sprawled on the couch with a Diet Coke, watching Lleyton Hewitt beat the pants off Pete Sampras at the U.S. Open. (You may accurately surmise from this scene that I did not yet have children.) After the match, I considered a catnap but decided to make an appearance at an old friend’s birthday party.
When I arrived, the party was mostly over, but we drank red wine in fancy glasses and laughed like teenage girls. I updated my friend on my efforts to find a surrogate to carry the baby my husband and I hoped to conceive via in vitro technology. Raising her glass, she announced gallantly: “I’LL carry the baby for you!” I informed her that she was drunk. She insisted that she wasn’t, not much, and we agreed to meet in a few days to discuss the possibility.
Two mornings later, I sat hunched in front of our TV and watched the World Trade Center crumble into dust.
Later that week, my friend offered again to carry our baby, which in time turned out to be babies: not one, but two warm bundles of milky sweetness and joy. But the day the towers fell, I couldn’t imagine meeting to plan something so hopeful. It seemed indecent to anticipate new life when so many old lives, familiar lives, damn great lives had just ended, poof, like that. It wasn’t fair that I might get to love someone new, when so many were left holding a love for someone who was suddenly gone.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about those first terrible days. Our boys were born 13 months after 9/11; we adopted our daughter from Russia in 2003. I haven’t felt terrorism’s breath our necks once in the intervening years, yet I never forget that the world changed radically just before our children came into our lives. As a child, I thought of “terror” as something foreign, something “over there.” Now I worry that “over there” will come “over here,” that religion-infused foreign policy is — far from helping — bringing terrorism, step by step, closer to my children’s door.
My parents obsessed about the dangers of hitchhiking and parties with LSD-laced potato chips. I wrestle with anxiety over bombs on planes, anthrax attacks and bioterrorism, war and suicide attacks, threats to women and children and beautiful young men and families — here and “over there.” I worry that the “War on Terror” will draft my gentle, sensitive boys into killing other gentle, sensitive boys (and, yes, other not-so-gentle boys), boys with souls and hopes, boys who would fear my sons as much as we fear them.
I worry about Muslim extremists, but of course they aren’t the only zealots who pose a threat. In our “Christian nation” religious leaders like Pat Robertson blame terrorism on homosexuals, liberals, and feminists; speechwriters interweave political rhetoric with verses plucked out of context from religious texts; and senators supported by the religious right vote overwhelmingly for war. Is Christianity a violent religion? Has our “Christian nation” made it one? What does this question mean both to those of us who wear the Christian label and those who have it thrust upon us by virtue of where we live?
If we as a group – mothers and women – don’t find a way to turn the tide, for ourselves and for our children, who will? What if the women of this “Christian nation” stood up and said, “You’re not going to use my God as an excuse, or my child as a tool, to wage war”? What then?
In God Laughs and Plays, David James Duncan points out that fundamentalist Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Jews each think they have the One True Book, and each faith is now backed by nuclear weapons. I can’t change the fact that we live in a world where religious fundamentalism and nuclear weapons not only coexist but, like cranky stepsiblings, are forced to share a bedroom. I can, however, like “Mama Teresa,” do small things with great love. I can (and have) put a sign in my yard that says, “War Is Not the Answer” (or, as my children say it, “No Killing with Guns!”). I can challenge words that are unkind and hurtful — even those spoken by people I love. When my children bicker, I can resist the urge to yell and punish; I can drop what I’m doing, get down on my knees, and show them how using words can help bring about a kind of peace.
It’s not enough, and it is everything. It’s a beginning.