In her writings, Terry Tempest Williams always challenges her readers to think and to act in new responsible ways or face some inevitably dire consequences. In the same voice, she confidently reassures and comforts those same afflicted readers. Her recent essay, "Engagement in a time of terror," however, left me cold, at first (HCN, 3/17/03: Engagement in a time of terror). I felt she left me hanging."Engagement!" I shouted inwardly, "Exactly! But how? How should I be 'engaged'? That's the question!" I felt as if she had called me to some action, but forgotten to leave the address! I went away mad. But I didn't stop thinking.
I've stopped believing in public political acts like marches and letter campaigns. The great American Twins, militarism and commercialism, have entirely occupied all the public spaces, and they are being used to market weapons of mass destruction and consumption. I just want to 'close my personal boundaries," and protect myself from this violence.
Then, I heard an interview with the rabbi who started the Tikkun Community. He was talking about the failure of the peace movement to make room for grief. We do righteous indignation and moral outrage quite well, he said, but we don't 'do' grief.I realized my weariness was really sorrow and loss and longing. My loss of faith in public acts wasn't some moral failing; it was a symptom of my grief.
I returned to Ms. Williams' essay to see how different it might look in this new light. When I unfolded HCN to re-read the essay, I couldn't help noticing the title of Piero della Francesca's painting in italics, The Resurrection, and the drawing of the leafless tree. My own critique of the essay flashed in my awareness - it left me 'hanging." I nearly wept.
This time, I studied the essay and found what I'd missed in the first reading: I needed 'a quiet place," too, for my aching heart. I'm not angry at all, but as devastatingly sad as if a beloved family member just died. For me, it's not just 'a time of uncertainty," as it is for Ms. Williams; it's a time of intense grief. It's a time to mourn.
Wayne A. Gilbert