Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Increasingly and Inordinately Feel

Choosing to live in Kosovo during the short cold days and long dark nights of winter, many feared that I would slip into a depression, a recurring battle in my life. And while I saw many issues arise unexpectedly, such as anger and feeling out of control, I never stepped over the precipice of depression.

For those who have never suffered a depression, it is not defined by feeling badly, but rather by a total lack of feeling whatsoever. Feeling no desire is what terrifies me about those times of my life. No desire to write, to read, to engage in life. No compassion, no excitement.

In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s account of her life during the war and oppressive regime in Iran, I found this reference about the necessity of feeling by writer Henry James, his response to the atrocities of World War One.

“James emphasized in his many letters one important resource to counter the senselessness of the war (WWI). He was aware, as many were not, of the toll such cruelty takes on emotions and of the resistance to compassion that such events engender. In fact, this insensitivity becomes a way of survival. As in his novels, he insisted on the most important of all human attributes – feeling – and railed against ‘the paralysis of my own powers to do anything but increasingly and inordinately feel.’

From a letter (James) wrote to Clare Sheridan, a friend whose husband – they were newly married – had gone to war and been killed. ‘I am incapable of telling you not to repine and rebel,’ he wrote, ‘because I have so, to my cost, the imagination of all things, and because I am incapable of telling you not to feel. Feel, feel, I say – feel for all you’re worth, and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live, especially to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour and celebrate these admirable beings who are our pride and our inspiration.’ In letters to friends, again and again he urges them to feel. Feeling would stir up empathy and would remind them that life was worth living.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Leading by Example

During my time in Kosova, two very different leaders died very different deaths. Ibrahim Rugova, the peaceful president who led Kosovar Albanians in their quest for independence, died only months before the status of Kosovo was due to be decided. I witnessed great crowds of people gathering to mourn his death and celebrate his life. Shortly after I returned to the U.S., Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president who orchestrated the wars that defined a decade of suffering in the Balkans, died in his cell at The Hague, having been indicted for crimes against humanity. The media offered pictures and testimonies that ranged from relief and celebration, frustration that justice was not served in the form of a verdict and sentence, to his supporters defending his life and actions.

What is leadership? On my flight from Kosovo to Budapest, I sat next to a political consultant who worked with the top leaders in conflict areas, from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq. As we discussed our different experiences in Kosovo, we agreed that leaders cannot afford to allow grief and anger to set their course of action. He stated that it is the leaders who must set the example for reconciliation despite their own feelings – that is their responsibility for the future of Kosovo. It can be seen in other violent situations, from Northern Ireland to South Africa. A British soldier himself, my seat-mate referenced the fighting in Northern Ireland, where cold-blooded terrorists who had bombed buildings and killed women and children were released from prison, while convicted killers who killed in a passionate rage outside the frame of war, would remain to serve a life sentence. While no one liked freeing those who bombed buildings, it was the lesser of two evils, and had to be done to move forward towards peace.

When I mentioned friends who had lived through personal horror, terror and evil during the war in Kosovo, he acknowledged that these people should not be expected to easily forgive and live in harmony with those neighbors who had committed war crimes. But he expects the leaders to take the necessary steps to end the division and conflict. This reflects on our understanding of leaders as “public servants,” putting aside their personal feelings, vendettas, or even views of justice for the greater good. I referenced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa – that while many could not understand granting amnesty to those who were willing to confess (and met the TRC requirements that their actions had been state-motivated), it was a difficult decision from the leaders, based on wisdom that sacrifices must be made, to lay down the right to revenge and immediate justice in order to move forward in peace.

I have no answers or solutions for a future of peace and reconciliation in Kosova other than what Desmond Tutu prayed on the first session of victim testimony of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and I pray this prayer especially for the leaders, both political and spiritual in Kosova.

“O God of justice, mercy and peace. We long to put behind us all the pain and division of apartheid together with all the violence which ravaged our communities in its name. And so we ask You to bless this Truth and Reconciliation Commission with Your wisdom and guidance as it commences its important work of redressing the many wrongs done both here and throughout our land.
We pray that all those people who have been injured in either body or spirit may receive healing through the work of this commission and that it may be seen to be a body which seeks to redress the wounds inflicted in so harsh a manner on so many of our people, particularly here in the Eastern Cape. We pray, too, for those who may be found to have committed these crimes against their fellow human beings, that they may come to repentance and confess their guilt to almighty God and that they too might become the recipients of Your divine mercy and forgiveness. We ask that the Holy Spirit may pour out its gifts of justice, mercy, and compassion upon the commissioners and their colleagues in every sphere, that the truth may be recognized and brought to light during the hearings, and that the end may bring about that reconciliation and love for our neighbor which our Lord himself commanded. We ask this in the holy name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.”