What We Never Know

We never really know.  It just happens.

I lost my sister this past week. Well, I guess people would call her my sister-in-law, but really she was like both my second sister and a brother I never had. 41 years. That’s a long time. We take it for granted. It seems like our most loved ones will always be there, especially those that have been there for us when we struggled or floundered. We call them our rocks. We never know when the rock slides come.

I’ve had some rocks slide away from me slowly. My dad 23 years ago defied the docs and took a year-and-a-half to move on. Mother was the same. My father-in-law was quicker, taking only a few days. Truth was, though, we knew for weeks ahead but we just denied it.

But Nancy? This was a sudden landslide. An earthquake. The rock is there and then it’s gone.  Bam. She’s gone. Pulmonary embolism outside a store while running a quick errand.  She didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect it. Lord knows my sister didn’t expect it.  We never really know.

Tell your loved ones you love them. Do it often. Because we never know.

So today is Saturday. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but some unstructured time. I’m trying to figure out how to move forward in a landscape that’s missing one big rock.

The news isn’t helpful. Two black men killed by a white supremacist outside a grocery store in Kentucky. An anti-semite shoots up a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Bombs mailed to reporters, former Presidents & cabinet officers, and others by a hate-filled, paranoid right-winger in Florida.  All of these men, and sadly they are all white men, chose to escalate from throwing verbal stones to throwing rocks to shooting bullets and throwing bombs. Why? Because they thought they knew. They thought they knew that their targets weren’t fully human. They thought they knew they were in the right. But their facts were wrong. They didn’t understand. Their own traumas and fears painted a false landscape of hate and an isolated world.  But they didn’t really know. We never really know.

Those men never met my sister. They probably would have hated her too. I don’t know for sure.  But she wouldn’t have hated them. She would have seen the hurt child in each of them.  She knew that’s something most of us share. It’s where we can start healing. That’s where she did work. Work on the healing now to prevent the hate later is the best way to stop the hurt.

This week is the 56th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.  There’s a great read here by Jon Schwarz in the Intercept, What Trump and Bolton Don’t Understand About Nuclear War. Take some time and read it. It’s about what we didn’t know. It’s about what most of us haven’t known or known wrongly.

I was in first grade during the October Cuban missile crisis. It’s still my strongest memory of first grade. I remember hiding under my desk during an a-bomb drill. That’s not just an Internet meme. It was real. We did it. I remember my anxiety about trying to remember the difference between the fire drill alarm and the a-bomb alarm. I mean, you run outside for a fire but you really don’t want to run outside into the a-bombs, right?  You never know when the a-bombs will come.  I was lucky. I had an older sister who helped calm me and figure out the alarms. We knew in Dayton, Ohio we’d be among the first to go – unless we could stay under our school desk. We never knew how close we came.

Like the rest of the U.S. we were sold a story about how President Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev and made those Russians back down. We weren’t told about the missiles we agreed to tear down too in the deal. We weren’t told how we had erected the many missiles threatening Moscow first.  No, we were told the Russians (excuse me, the Soviets) were just evil. They wanted to destroy us – just because. But we had to stand up to them and be willing to destroy them first.  Just like how this week’s bomber, synagogue shooter, and Kentucky shooter all were told that the blacks, the Jews, the Democrats, the liberals were all evil and out to destroy us, just, just  because. But they didn’t know. They didn’t know that their information was incomplete and often wrong.

The leaders in the Cuban missile crisis didn’t know either. They made assumptions about the others. Assumptions that were wrong. They saw each other as, well, “others”, not humans.  56 years ago, we were saved because one out of three Soviet submarine commanders wouldn’t/couldn’t agree to kill or hate despite the peer pressure of his  two fellow commanders.  One person was aware that he might not know.  Instead of acting on what he felt he “just knew”, he acted on the possibility that he just might not know. If you’re too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis, think about this. If that one Russian sub officer hadn’t dissented, you likely wouldn’t be here. Period. You’d never have been born.

We don’t know. The only way to for us to know more, to move forward, to keep this human race and planet alive and thriving is to talk, listen, and consider that maybe we don’t know it all right now. That means learning. And being open.

I don’t have Nancy’s ability to work with kids and adults about their traumas. But I’m going to keep working on open learning and being open to the possibility that we just don’t know it all.  It’s the only way we move forward.

Peace folks.  And tell each other you love them. Be a rock for another and let us build a peaceful world together.

jim