at 3am, i finished a 4-day trip (with 26 hours of driving) to protest the School of the Americas/WHINSEC in Ft. Benning, GA.
Within that statement lives a world of confusion and joy and challenge and faith.
The last time I went to the SOA protest was in 2005 with the lovely JVC folks. I was young and hurting and in need of community. And I found it - I still have fond memories of time with Alex, hitting the Waffle House with Christine, and writing a wonderful poem for Erica at the JVC Atlanta house.
Now, I'm almost 30, still hurting but not so young. The world hurts in different ways now, and my response is different, too. Going down to Georgia with 16 semi-strangers (and the lovely Amy) and arranging all the logistics and managing personal dynamics and trying to make sure we had gas and cars and food and lodging helped distract me, temporarily, from how i felt being there.
But, eventually, when it all calmed down and I remembered that everyone was a grown-up, I didn't have anything to distract me. And that's when I realized how far I'd come from who I wanted to be. Being older than many folks here, I struggle with what it means to live like a grown-up. I haven't really sat down to think about the ways I've pre-defined my adult life. Adults don't protest. Adults don't get arrested. Adults don't drive 13 hours each way to learn things they might just have downloaded from the Internet. Adults don't really think that saving the world is feasible or that protests are effective or efficient. And, I'm nominally an adult so I expected myself to believe those things, too. But, then...
In our hotel room, after a semi-exhausting day, we made crosses. I looked at the list of martyrs from the slaughter at El Mozote to find a name to put on my cross. I found Telesforo Marquez. He was 35 when he was killed. He was also deaf and mute. It made me think of folks I've known with disabilities, including my own mother. I thought about what it means that my government had any role at all in training soldiers who then went home and committed these acts against their own people. Do you know how many children were on the list of the dead at El Mozote? Until we fully acknowledge the role that the US played in providing tactical training for these killers, we can't claim to be a country that loves peace and freedom. At all.
While writing down Telesforo's name and details, I realized how incredibly selfish and safe I've become. What good does it do to come to a protest with all my baggage and not fully examine the ways that I'm culpable, the ways I sin? Every Sunday, I stand with my Catholic brothers and sisters and tell them that I've sinned in my thoughts and my words, in what I've done and in what I've failed to do.
But I don't always think of sins by name. In that hotel room, I feel that I've sinned by not knowing more about the privilege I inherit as American and what that privilege takes away from others. I've sinned in not being brave enough. I've sinned in being safe. I've sinned in thinking that my form of world-changing is better than yours. I've sinned in my desire for comfort over the kingdom of God.
I'm sick of being a sinner.
So, this Sunday, I went to "mass" in front of the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia. We offered to break bread with a cop, and we all provided the homily and the blessing over the bread and the wine. We looked through barbed wire toward a world that's not as it should be. And we prayed for it. And we prayed for ourselves. And we let the dead bury the dead, but remembered their names in the land of the living. With every "Presente!", we called the dead back to us, carried them with us, and set them down in front of the gates of Ft. Benning, with prayers and sorrow for all the ways that our country sins, in its thoughts and deeds, and in all it does and fails to do.
And it was the most adult thing I could have done.
ps-if anyone is interested in more information on what I was doing down in Georgia, here's a helpful FAQ. Or, ask me, and I'll tell you :)