The People of the Other Village
hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.
Part of me doesn’t even want to write anything about this poem by Thomas Lux because I want it to settle on the reader and get minds whirring on their own. But I will share a few thoughts since this is, after all, a blog and not a “share a poem” newsfeed.
I came across this poem in college and it moved me deeply. It cuts through so many excuses humans make for how we treat each other. This poem was written as a war protest poem and could easily lead to a discussion about that topic, but instead I want to look at how the poem calls out a mentality that many of us have but choose to stifle or ignore. How easy it is for us to live our days trading tit for tat with our enemies. How easy it is to say, “They started it.” How easy it is to retaliate because we do not want to look weak. Extending grace and forgiveness is an act of moral strength, not weakness. “They do this,” but we don’t have to do that.
Consider the many facets of your life. Where do you contribute to brutality? Most likely you aren’t putting shards of glass in your enemies’ flour bags, but where are your words stinging someone’s heart? Where are you putting yourself and your selfish reactions first? I ask this not to guilt trip anyone. There is always grace! I ask this because politicians can do great good, but they cannot create world peace through charters and laws (though we need them). We, the masses, have a role in creating peace, too.
There are at least two kinds of steps that we need to take to bring more healing into this world. First, take steps of reconciliation to close the gap between you and the person you hate or dislike. Second, take steps to close the gap between you and someone with a different type of need. Helping another person is not a matter of the “haves” and “have nots,” though it is tempting to think of the situation in this framework if you view yourself as the one with more power. (Yes, one group might have more of one monetary or spiritual asset, but the point is that we all lack in some capacity.) Instead, see yourself as an equal partner. You might have a little bit of money and someone else might have a way of life marked by joy. Give and receive. Make the next year or ten thousand more beautiful than brutal. “They do this,” but we don’t have to do that.
**Thoughts in this post influenced by When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and this Mocha Club video.