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Open Heart Surgery

By Remy Benoit

Suppose you had the opportunity to give a speech to the United Nations. What would you say?

The following was my imaginary speech as the Millennium turned.

Please note that since this was written Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-) has introduced a proposal for a Department of Peace — the World Trade Center has been attacked — and Operation Enduring Freedom launched.

Open Heart Surgery

Whether you are one of those who favored the year 2000 as the fin de siècle of yet another century, or the beginning of new millennium it is time for all of us everywhere, to undergo some serious heart opening surgery.

I have heard it asked all of my fifty plus years on this planet; Are there aliens among us?

I have since my years as a child hoped: when everything on the television screen was still black and white; when the world itself viewed itself and its issues as black and white; them and us regardless who the they were; our way or their way, no real room for open communication; when I watched with awed child eyes movie after movie in which aliens tried to tell us we had to change our ways to survive as a planet, I hoped that there was some way to make us see exactly who the aliens among us were.

I wished that I could as that young girl, with dear Professor Einstein's hand in mine, pull some switch, wherever it was, and get the world's attention and show it with the clarity of a child's vision, that one idea, that one line that I would learn later, that the enemy, the alien is us, for it is our actions toward each other and our planet that determine the fate of all of us.

Our thoughts, our beliefs, our resentments, our policies, our actions are often inimical to our own well being.

And my child's world did not include graphic games of visual kills that diminish the precious gift of life itself.

Yes, we have met the alien and he is us. The enemy is our greed, our covetousness, our envy, and our sloth.

And it is, indeed, multi-tenacled, with long grasping fingers and no open heart.

As I write this in my 54th year, the television world has the potential to make glorious the vast array of the colors of our strengths, our accomplishments, our personal and collective victories. These could all be captured with the wonderful technology of all the newest, hi-tech camera equipment, equipment that far surpasses in clarity the little Brownie Reflex of my childhood and the little black and white television available then.

But the television world, the movie world, at times the music world, and all too often the world of the written word is shown primarily in various shades of red: the pulsing, screaming red of violence, the liquid, dark red, of blood spilling and corruption.

One the principles of writing is the resolution of the conflict.

Liquid, dark red is not resolution, it is death. It is an end to what was once alive. Pulsing, screaming red, is not negotiation; it is fear and hate and all things negative.

The media teaches through its programming a falsity that most of us are violent and discourteous. We are slowly, too slowly, beginning to learn the high price of this kind of subliminal teaching. We have not yet really learned, but our children are teaching us this lesson, bringing it up close and personal, when they go to school ploughing the hallways with violence and blood, rampant discourtesy, verbal diminishing and hurtful violence.

We chide, we did chide, perhaps we shall forever chide, the ravings of tyrants as the vocalizations of mad men. We are slow to stop, or to difuse those ravings, to identify them as what they are; we are slow to learn that they mean what they say; of the cost of that we all are aware. We are often slow to think for ourselves instead of listening to someone with an "easy" way out of our troubles.

It took two world wars to learn the truth of trenches and mortars, of aerial bombing, of poisoned mushrooms, of horror, terror, and genocide, and yet, yet, we have still not learned, for learning, real learning, is application of the knowledge that has been passed on. We still think about the world and its issues through departments of war, rather than departments of peace.

We have learned to watch, to say that is terrible; that war, that child riddled with flies and disfigured with swollen belly. But that is far away, it does not concern me as we pick up our forks and eat dinners with food that often has debatable nutritional value, as we watch and do not see.

We have eaten breakfasts, lunches and dinners, munched on popcorn, chips and dips as we watched media wars; as we have watched what once was a man, woman, a child with hopes and dreams zipped into a body bag. Our eyes, our brains registered the sights and sounds of words and things like Napalm, Agent Orange, Scud Missiles and Direct Hits, but we have not truly, in large part, ingested their realities.

We lived for years under a Nuclear Policy named M.A.D. And live with it we did, many of us silent when the word right in front us said it was, indeed, MAD. We lived with the concept of Them and Us. We saw it, we accepted that was the way of it. We claimed impotence to do anything about it. After all, I am just one person. What can one person do?

In answer to that I give you just a few names for your pondering: Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rabbi Hillel, Jesus, Mohammed, Marcus Aurelius, Gandhi, King, Mother Teresa. Those are names familiar in most parts of the world, but I say to you there are thousands of other names across this globe of ours making a difference, painting the world in comforting blues and greens that for the most part the media seems to have little taste for.

There are thousands sailing, flying, walking across this planet working for a better way. They are organizations that recognize no borders, no boundaries just human beings who need touching, helping, and loving.

I sit at this keyboard day after day building friendships across the planet. Thousands are reaching out for connection.

We have so much to connect us, and yet as individuals, as media conglomerates we too often, perhaps most often, speak of, run as, specials, those of us, and those groups of us, who work for a better world, highlighting them as some unique glitch in the otherwise terrible mess and smoke of our using up of not only the planet but ourselves.

We have come to take as ordinary surgery heart transplants, by-pass operations, valve operations; and yet we avoid the simplest surgery of using our minds, our spirits to unclog our hearts. And since we don't unclog them, since we don't strip all the junk of outdated propagandizing, centuries old grudges, our own resentments, the vessels that could swell them with hope and the hard work of real communication, we still sit in the left over rotting, putrid and deadly mess and smoke of what we don't need anymore.

As I write this it is Bastille Day, the Fourth of July just seven days behind us, and those precious three words keep dancing through my mind: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Those of us who live in countries where we are blessed with the first of those most precious gems need, perhaps, to have all the power of the world turned off for fifteen minutes at high noon and ask as the light goes away, as TV and movies sputter and fade, as the computers crash, we need to ask ourselves two questions:

What is it like to live in the dark of no personal freedom?

What is it that the word Liberty means?

Those tiny seven letters in that great big word carry so very much responsibility for they demand of us who are blessed with it that we accept the responsibility inherent in it; that we accept the responsibility of personal choice, personal development, as well as accepting the awesome idea that as long as one person walks in the dark of not having those choices the switch is still for all intents and purposes pulled long beyond those fifteen minutes at high noon. We have no right to walk away from that knowledge, we have not the right to walk away from that responsibility.

This not to say that the child of long ago, that all of us who watched, and still watch, aliens give us directions to stop the destruction, should don a loincloth and walk barefoot across the world preaching peace, freedom, and liberty. It is not to say we should all live in dirt floored dwellings with no running water and disease running rampant to redistribute wealth. It does say we should help each other grow in any way we can, by choosing carefully that what we do and say is life and growth affirmative.

It is saying through the voices of adults and of children everywhere, those children given a planetary voice through a Decade of the Children, that how we live is our collective choice.

The task seems at first glance awesome; yes, it is awesome, but a garden planted is begun on its path to glory with the first turning of a hand shovel or a foot pushing a spade into the earth.

It can start there with a blessing to the earth itself that brings forth abundance, when treated properly, when not draped in the oily silver rain of Agent Orange, not burned out with poisoned mushroom clouds.

Are not we all taught as children not to play with poisoned mushrooms? with nasty germs and chemicals?

We can. As we turn the soil in our own gardens, be they in our own backyards, in the country, on our corporate or legal desks, we can take that moment to utter gratitude for what this planet has given, and ponder there and then at the beginning of each work day, how can my work serve to spread abundance, to spread liberty, to rid the world of swollen bellies and torture chambers, and random, meaningless violence?

We can start with greeting fellow works with real, positive words; we can ask, are there somethings we can do better here, in our offices abroad, in the courtroom where I will argue a case today, in the classsroom where I will teach, how we got to where we are.

We can all ask ourselves how we can sweeten the path for all of us.

We can ask the young people for their input into how we can build a brighter future.

We can ask our Veterans about the verities of war, and then truly listen to their so costly learned answers.

We can ask ourselves what we have in us to give.

We can as parents turn the knob to off to the violence our children are being raised on.

We can say can I take even a little less of the benefits of my work if it means someone else gets a chance to eat, gets a chance to develop their innate talents for the good of us all.

Our world suffers from all of our mistakes passed down through all its generations, but now, in this world, when we have truly begun to learn that our very survival as a planet, as a species means we must work together, perhaps the greatest of those sins are covetousness, greed, and sloth.

We must learn to feel outrage, to show and voice outrage when we feel it, when we see things not being done with honor, concern, and affirmation of life.

If we take the attitude this too shall pass, we encourage it whatever it is.

What we each do counts.

We must cultivate taste and manners. When we name, when we frequent a gambling casino that has taken the name of a sacred mausoleum for its own, we appear ugly. When we make a tourist trap, and frequent it, of the tunnels at Cu Chi, we show disrespect for the soldiers on both side of the conflict who knew such horror there.

We diminish ourselves.

When we have a chance to pass on a smile, a listening ear and we avoid it, we diminish ourselves and the other person we could have touched.

When we are impatient, muttering mind curses at surrounding drivers, we are rippling negativity through the air, and have no doubt, it is contagious.

If we want peace, we must be peace.

We must cultivate manners, we must cultivate listening, we must cultivate patience with each other.

We must stop and think before we do without thought to what the long range effects of what we propose to do might be.

We must stop and think before we speak what the long range impact of words may be.

We must require our selected leaders, those of us who have a chance to select them, that they conduct themselves with dignity, that they conduct themselves as we expect of them, honoring their offices, not diminishing them.

We must say to them and mean it, that brinksmanship has no place in the new millenium anymore than jingoism, imperialism, or Social Darwinism.

If we do not speak, if we do not act, we become sloth, we become greed, we encourage covetousness, anger, pride, envy, and lust; we perpetuate it, and we pass it on to yet another generation or more. We throw sand on what could be a bright shining flame of liberty being passed hand to hand across this globe.

There is light and dark in all of us. If we refuse to seek out the feelings of inadequacy, lust, greed, and envy in our shadow sides, we diminish ourselves, we diminish the potential of life everywhere.

And while we are doing this heart surgery on ourselves we have to be thinking to and doing something about those we continue calling to do the cold, dirty work.

We call them, collectively, soldiers.

We raise our sons to the standards of values of our respective cultures and faiths and then send them to do, to try to survive the unthinkable.

If they are fortunate enough to come home again, we tell them to get on with life taking no responsibility for what horrors we have sent them to face; taking little or no responsibility for the damage done to their hearts and minds.

We owe them much.

We are not paying the bill adequately. We are forsaking our Covenant with them — you be there for us and we will be there for you.

We owe them compassion, we owe friendship, treatment, physical or psychological; we owe them a hand and a heart reaching out in love.

We owe them gratitude for the sacrifice we have demanded of them.

We owe them the reviewing of our shadow sides that sent them in the first place.

And, thus, dear dwellers of this dear planet, I ask you in the name of the children to take the hand of the peacemakers, review their words, their minds, their hearts, their dreams.

We all have dreams, the children all have dreams.

Let us not make their dreams into nightmares.

Let us be peace for them so that future generations know that when one belly is swollen with hunger, when one weapon is raised in war, when success in measured in body counts that something terrible is amiss; something has gone wrong, something must be reviewed and redone or Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity will never be realized. That things are not as they could and should be.

It is your hands, it is in our hands, to find a better way. Whether it be the fin de siècle or the opening year of the new Millennium, Rabbi Hillel's words from two millennia ago still ring true:

If not now, when? If not by me, by whom?


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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