I spent much of yesterday returning to a state of tears over Afghanistan, while at the same time marveling over how many decades I've spent feeling weepy because of what's happening in Afghanistan. My first memory of knowing about Afghanistan as a country was the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, which made my teenage self both angry and weepy.
As I prepared for my wedding in 1988, Afghanistan was in the news because the Soviets were pulling out. I joked that we should have gotten married earlier because peace seemed to be breaking out in the most unlikely places in that summer of 1988.
Ah, the foolish optimism of youth. I was astonished that Afghanistan seemed to fall back into the middle ages once the Soviets left. The 1990s brought all sorts of misery to Afghanistan, particularly to females. It was shocking to me that a country could go backwards that way, in terms of women's rights. I thought about Margaret Atwood's claim that anything that was in The Handmaid's Tale was something that was actually happening in the world as she wrote the book in the early 1980's, and I felt a shiver along with my weeping.
For the past twenty (20!!!) years, many events in Afghanistan could provoke weeping, but I held out hope that the U.S. presence in the country helped stabilize it. I predict that events in the coming weeks will solidify that claim, as the U.S. leaves, and once again, the country will head to a place that's very unhealthy for females.
As I listened to coverage of yesterday's events in Afghanistan, I thought of the scene in The Princess Bride about the classic blunder of getting involved in a land war in Asia. When I first saw that movie in 1991 or so, I heard the line and thought about Vietnam. Afghanistan has been another part of Asia that has a long (very long!) history of being very challenging to invaders, from Alexander on to the U.S., century upon century of sorrow.
Not for the first time, I wondered why anyone would want to have the U.S. as an ally. I thought of our history of abandoning those who tried to help us. Some of my earliest political memories are those of the exit from Saigon, those images of people clinging to helicopters and trying to push their way to a safe exit. As the news from Afghanistan has gotten progressively worse as the U.S. leaves, I've thought of the South Vietnamese, of the Kurds, of all of those types of people in Afghanistan who have tried to help the U.S. and will now be in great peril. And I've thought of the females, who are also in great peril, solely because of their gender.
My life has shown me the folly of trying to save everyone. My life reminds me again and again that I can't even keep my closest loved ones safe, so why should I think that I can somehow protect the vulnerable in other countries? Why should I think that I can save those who didn't win the lottery of being born into a safe body, a safe country, a safe situation?
Why do I believe in safety at all?
As I waited for the AT&T person to finish making my phone line communicate with the outside, I ended my day by reading Patricia Smith's brilliant and terrifying Blood Dazzler, a good reminder of all the aspects of life that threaten us: hurricanes and poverty and bad information and poverty and learned helplessness and poverty and forced helplessness. I loved this cycle of poems that revolve around Hurricane Katrina, and each subsequent reading only increases my appreciation of the work.
I wondered about my own ruminations throughout the day and wondered if I could create some sort of poem cycle that connects Afghanistan and the health of a nation and the personal health choices that lead to ruin. Or maybe I want a simpler poem, a poem about a woman hearing about the dire circumstances of Afghanistan's women and children, a woman sobbing in the car as she goes to pick up her books on hold at the public library, a woman who has spent her day at work trying to make the educational path easier for college students. Let my brain ruminate on that a bit before I attempt to catch it on paper.
This morning, I came across this magnificent blog post, where Dr. Wil Gafney makes connections between Afghanistan and the ancient prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Her work always makes important connections, so I wasn't surprised to find her continuing to do so. I am grateful for a solid spiritual dimension to my reading about Afghanistan this morning.
I am grateful to know that I am not alone in weeping.