Columns » Domestic Bliss

Be quiet and listen

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How to respond to a President who dismisses international law, ignores international and national concern over the violence he might unleash if he gets his way, and refuses to hear the desperate cries of the majority of the nation's 50 states drowning in budget shortfalls?

How to respond to a President who equates the millions of protesters worldwide and nationwide with a "focus group" -- a marketing tool designed to measure the potential popularity of a new movie, a soft drink, a dishwashing detergent?

"The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security, in this case, the security of the people," said President George W. Bush, not so gracefully, as he dismissed the concerns of millions of his fellow men and women, declaring once again that father knows best.

Well, Daddy Bush, I've got news for you. Your people, including a huge number of the minority of American voters who put you in office, are not feeling secure. And it's not because they're worried about imminent attack on American soil by Iraq or Saddam Hussein.

Our security is threatened by a growing lack of jobs and lingering unemployment, by rising health care costs and by the loss of social programs that serve the elderly, the mentally ill and the working poor of our homeland, the richest country on Earth. Our security is not threatened by the flashing message at the bottom of our television screens, just below today's temperature, terror level orange (high) or by the vague recommendation from the government that we seal ourselves in our homes with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Our security is threatened by the very real fear of the powder keg our president seems determined to ignite in the most volatile region of the world.

Our security is threatened by the creeping fear that national affairs have left the hands of the people of the world's greatest democracy and rest solely now in the hands of a man who doesn't listen, who doesn't care what anyone else thinks and who will have his way come hell or high water.

So what to do?

Millions took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations all over the U.S. and all over the world last Saturday. Millions have flooded their Senators and Congressional representatives' mailboxes with letters expressing their opposition to swift, unprovoked, unilateral military action. Millions have expressed their displeasure with a military might that obsessively measures the potential danger to its own troops while ignoring the certain carnage it will impose on civilians should an invasion go forward.

It's little comfort, but it helps to see the inherent grace and compassion of ordinary citizens on display. It eases the perpetual assault of blowhard headlines like "Showdown Iraq!" or the local daily newspaper's recent insensitive announcement on the day that thousands of local soldiers were finally deployed: "The Waiting is Over!"

Comfort also comes in carefully measured words. This week a poem by American poet Mary Oliver criss-crossed the Internet and entered millions of homes and offices across the world. Perhaps you have already seen it. If so, savor it again. If not, listen:

Wage Peace

By Mary Oliver

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,

breathe out whole buildings

and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping

children and

freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong

friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,

imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty

or the gesture of

fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.

Don't wait another minute.

Are you listening, Mr. Bush? We are.

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