Tuesday, October 6, 2015

War Makes us all Less Human


"Woman, what's your name?" "I don't know."
"How old are you? Where are you from?" "I don't know."
"Why did you dig that burrow?" "I don't know."
"How long have you been hiding?" "I don't know."
"Why did you bite my finger?" "I don't know."
"Don't you know that we won't hurt you?" "I don't know."
"Whose side are you on?" "I don't know."
"This is war, you've got to choose." "I don't know."
"Does your village still exist?" "I don't know."
"Are those your children?" "Yes."

This poem by Wislawa  Szymborska, (1923-2012) a Polish poet who was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, was the topic for an article in the Kyeongyang magazine by a professor of English. She helps us to interpret the poem.

The woman was found by some soldiers, in a burrow she dug in the ground. Forgetting one's name is not a common occurrence, except for those with some form of dementia; seeing the situation it is not hard to understand the fear of the woman when asked her name, she  was not lying, she was scared. 

The following questions were all easy for her and the readers to understand, and they all received the same answer: " I don't know."  The woman was being questioned at gun point;  the war  was raging, and  she didn't know what was  in store for her and her children. When we are overcome with fear, all our thoughts disappear. 

Whose side  are you on? A dangerous question especially since she bit the finger of the soldier which could have been seen as defiance, and yet she continued to answer: "I don't know." Fear was everything.

Her response could easily be seen as contempt and resistance which it was not. For this to have been the case, you would expect a few more words in her response and more of a game plan in her answer.  She was 100 percent paralyzed with fear.  The miserable results of war are not who, where and how many have died, but the end of dialogue, and as in the poem the answer: "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know." The fear that enters the soul: is no more and no less than 'horrible'. 

The last question: "Are those your children?"  You would expect the same answer as in the previous questions but no, this time it was a resounding yes. I don't know was her response in the face of death but this time it was her children she couldn't forget. She was a mother. War makes us forget everything, but she couldn't forget her children.

We are all someone's son or daughter, someone's mother or father. In this world, there is no one who is alone. Even after we leave this earth all of creation sends the message of love. This is the prayer we have in our hearts: peace  instead of war,  overcoming injustice with justice, evil with  generosity, selfishness with concern for others and making this central in our lives.

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