Posts Tagged peace
I’ll admit it; I’m probably not the most normal person on the planet. Some would say there is no such thing as “not normal”. They have never encountered a 39-year-old man pretending to be King Diamond at a Quik Trip gas station trying to buy a chocolate chip muffin and a Pepsi.
For a very long time, I have wondered what it would be like to walk around a major American city in King Diamond paint for an entire day. I’m not sure what started the wheels turning on this one for me. I never particularly liked mimes or really anyone who wears large amounts of face paint.
I’m a moderate fan of The King. I’ve gone through phases where I listened to a lot of his music, but I’m certainly not like the guy who was standing next to me at the 1993 Halloween concert holding a wooden cross upside down and chanting in tongues for 20 minutes before The Man got up on stage.
The transformation process was a bit strange. It took about 45 minutes to get the makeup right. I sat there listening to “Don’t Break The Oath” staring off into space as I was painted. I once wore rouge for a 5th grade presentation of Annie in which I had a brief role as one of FDR’s advisors (Harold Ickes), but beyond that, I had never gone through the process of having makeup applied to my face.
It’s uncomfortable. I immediately felt empathy for clowns, particularly this one woman “Miss Teacup” who I once met while she waited for the tow truck to come pick up her broken down Toyota Tercel. She was standing there in 95 degree heat wearing about a half of a pound of makeup frantically trying to contact the family of the child whose birthday party she was supposed to be at. If I knew then what I know today, I would never have stolen her purse.
There were really only a few noteworthy encounters. One person started singing “Rock and Roll All Night” when they saw me. I was unamused. Being mistaken for Gene Simmons under any circumstances is offensive to me, but the metal purist in me wanted to throttle the person. Another person asked me if I had any Faygo. You can imagine the horror I felt. My co-workers were relatively amused, but it was laughed at and quickly forgotten as the business of life ground on.
There are these Pro-Life protestors that I regularly see on the drive home with signs that read things like “It’s A Baby, Not A Choice” and “I Survived The American Holocaust” camped in front of the local Planned Parenthood. I had an elaborate scheme planned in which I leaped out of my car and began screeching the lyrics to “Abigail”. Unfortunately, they were not there and my rather uneventful day as The King slogged on.
I kept casting glances out of my car window at people who I intended to frighten. No one seemed particularly impressed or even remotely affected. A minivan cut me off in traffic. I drove up right next to the car and gave the driver an angry look. He cast a brief eye in my direction then went back to text messaging someone about whatever urgent thought had just occurred to him.
I assumed that my stop to get gasoline would be the highlight of the day. Someone would have to find this at least a bit out of the ordinary. Again, disappointment. I stood behind my car pumping gas. People walked by. Some looked, some didn’t. No response.
I went inside to the cash register. The person whose named tag announced him to be “Tim” looked took my 20-dollar bill and gave me change. Nothing. Was this an ordinary occurrence at gas stations throughout the American South? Was this odd attempt to garner attention not particularly interesting or funny? Was I misreading the body language of the people around me? Were people simply so locked into the everyday drudgery of their lives that a 6 foot 2 man in heavy metal makeup could not even awaken them from their daily slumber? I wasn’t sure.
I slumped back into my car and drove home. My wife and children found the whole thing pretty funny, but considering I regularly run around the house with a pair of pants on my head or singing Soviet Era march anthems, it didn’t really strike anyone as being out of the ordinary. We took some pictures and went back to our usual routines.
Life seems to march on unmoved by the bizarre actions of myself or anyone else. When something truly out of the ordinary occurs they might ponder it. For a moment. Sometimes.
Life has an energy of it’s own. It flows in 7 billion directions all at once. Everyone in their own lanes. Everyone going somewhere. Doing something. Thinking. Breathing. Talking. Texting. Chewing. It all just goes on and on. Day after day. Night after night. There is no universal theory to explain it. It’s just one event after another. An endless parade of sights and sounds.
What is the importance of one man wearing King Diamond makeup in this sea of human impulse and action? Very little. Throughout the entire day, I felt this odd pressure to be noticed. As if it was critical that someone see me, see what I had done. To laugh. To be altered from their course.
At first, I was kind of bothered that no one really seemed to notice. After all, what was the point beyond seeing the shocked expression on a few faces? As time went on, I just wanted to get the makeup off. I was tired of showing off. Tired of playing a part. Exhausted by trying to be noticed.
At the end of the day, I felt a genuine sense of relief to take the makeup off. I’ve always felt it important to stand out as an individual. I’m narcissistic enough to have spent four years writing random thoughts and ideas on this website and hoping desperately that people will want to tune into my world enough to read it. I enjoy the thrill of being noticed. Until yesterday, I had never realized how tiring searching for it can be.
The best part of the day for me was when I sat alone in the deadening quiet of my bedroom right before I fell asleep. No one was watching me. No one cared what I was doing or how I was doing it. Silence. For a fleeting moment, I felt the genuine peace of not being an individual, but simply being.
I sunk into life and disappeared. It was beautiful.
Imagine it for a minute. Nothing. Somewhere between the Korean War Memorial and the ever looming, alabaster figure of President Lincoln there stands a room. It is a small room, the size of a tiny studio apartment. The walls and ceiling are made of clear black granite. On a spring day, when the sun is shining, it appears to glow. Beyond its stunning features, its contents themselves are wholly unremarkable. Inside it is absolute emptiness.
The monuments around it all boast a rich and proud history. In some cases, it’s a history that we proudly cling to. Jefferson standing rigidly, an unbending symbol of the triumph of the individual over the menacing tentacles of the state. Lincoln staring passionately into a world that did not always share his vision, commanding dignity and respect for those who have been silenced by the oppressive spirit of commerce without compassion.
There are also the nightmares. The memories that we keep close to us in order to remind us of our most terrible moments. The misunderstood carnage of Korea. The endless horrors of Vietnam. Memories of so many wars where bodies and minds were mangled and destroyed. These memorials are there to remind us never to forget those who gave up their place in this world. Of tomorrows never realized. Of futures never lived. Of families smashed into a million pieces. These are the last testimonies of those who never came back and rejoined this bizarre American carnival of ours.
While each of these monuments and so many others throughout the Capital District are deeply meaningful, it is the empty room that represents the most to me. It is the monument for the wars that were never fought. A symbol of the lives that were never lost. It is endless possibility. In this room there is no time. It is a monument to the dramatic, life-altering power of a moment recognized.
Its central message is stillness. It seeks not to change the world, only to understand it. This memorial doesn’t spread the American Way of Life around the world, or seek to share the gift of democracy, or do much of anything at all. There are no words inscribed and there is no plaque attached. It announces nothing, proclaims silence and only communicates one fleeting, whispered message.
The room is a memorial to a world without struggle, stress, or strain. Where people can live together in complete acceptance of one another. Where people don’t wish to change those around them. Where people simply are and that is enough. This room is meant to be a place free of judgment. Everything and everyone are okay in this room, not because of any great achievement, but simply because of the beautiful array of skin, bones, organs, and personality that comprise their identity. In this room, you are enough and worthy of every bit of beauty the world is capable of showing you.
In truth, there is no place like this in Washington or any place else that I know of. Peace is often spoken of. We pay a price for peace or we struggle for peace or we are awarded prizes for who among us are most peaceful. But where in our world is peace? Real, enduring peace. It is certainly not embedded in our institutions, which encourage us to push forward and milk every drop of energy from our bodies and spirits. It is not in our homes, or our jobs, or our competitions. It is most certainly not to be found anywhere within our wars. This memorial would be one small island in an ocean of turmoil. At least there would be one place a person could go and simply be without being anything in particular. It is not a religious place, not a secular place, not a capitalist place, not a communist place, not a liberal, conservative, pro-life, or pro-choice place. It’s simply a place for people who want to be something more than they are labeled. Even for a moment.
When something terrible, something truly unforgivable occurs, we often look to the language for comfort. One readymade expression that is used to comfort us in times of genuine despair and confusion is “Never Forget”. This expression has become a part of our post-9/11 mourning process. The idea behind it is that if we don’t forget the horrors of that terrible day it will have some meaning for us. Then, maybe we can use those feelings of pain and grief in order to achieve some balance in the world. We can right the wrongs of that day, on some level, through an act of national collective memory.
As comforting as that idea may be, I wonder if it really has achieved what we’ve wanted from it. It has been 10 years since that day and few have forgotten. The test of an idea is its manifestation in the world we live in. Has clinging to the memory of 9/11 made the world a better place? Have we used our memories to heal the wounds of that day? Some would believe that we have. I do not. I look out into a world where we are mired in two of the longest wars in U.S. history, into a world consumed by turmoil, into a world where chaos and strife are commonplace, into a world where we have seemingly lost all faith in the systems that have been created to help us, into a world where the center surely has not held. We have remembered, but our memory has served us poorly.
Al-Queda has been weakened significantly. If that was the goal of not forgetting, then we can argue it has been effective. But, was that all we wanted? Was disrupting the actions of a small, but vicious terrorist group all we were hoping for after that terrible day? I believe that America saw the terror of that day and wanted desperately to be part of a world where that sort of thing could not happen again, not just here, but anywhere. For a brief and fleeting moment, we stood together. Ten years later, we are a deeply polarized nation, extended far beyond our means, spiraling from one catastrophe to the next without much hope for a better world. Ten years later, we may be safer from Al-Qaeda, but as a whole, our world is an unmitigated disaster.
There is no clear consensus on what 9/11 actually meant. Some people believe that its meaning is that we need to use all means at our disposal to crush anything that resembles a threat, some people have taken the message that we should curb our military adventurism, some people have taken the message that all Muslims are evil, some have taken the message that the world should come together in spite of religious and racial differences. It is even become relatively acceptable to question whether the U.S. government itself was complicit in the horrors of that day. We all remember, but our memories have led us to a very different place.
I’m going to suggest a radically different approach to how to cope with the anniversary of 9/11. It will probably be viewed in some circles as highly disrespectful, but I assure you that no disrespect is intended. I believe that the central lesson of 9/11 is that terrible things happen to innocent people for no reason whatsoever. It is an unjust world where some things can never be explained or properly understood. Life is filled with random and capricious acts of horror that take place everyday. Our responsibility is to lessen the suffering of the living, not to compensate for the horrors inflicted upon the dead. We have remembered, but we have not healed, we have not grown and we have not made a better world for our children. For those who lost loved ones, it will be impossible to forget that day, but for the rest of us it is time to move on. We cannot create a better world from our past, but we have a greater obligation to create a better future from the world around us today.
We have lived in the looming shadows of those buildings for ten years. Maybe it is time to forget. Not from a place of ignorance or disinterest, but from a need to build a healthier, safer world. Instead of remembering the violence of the past, we can renounce the use of violence in the present. Instead of thinking of the paradise that was lost to us, we can build a new, more beautiful world out of the tools of compassion and empathy. The past is over and that day can never be changed. The present and the future extend before us filled with promise and possibility. We have cried, we have mourned, we have prayed, and we have paid our debts to the dead. It is time to move on.