Women in Black at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving WallI
An Exchange of Letters in the Franklin Journal

August 26, 2005
To the Editor:

I would like to thank all the people who were involved in bringing the Vietnam Memorial Wall to Farmington.

It meant a lot to me, and to the many others who went to see it. May we all never forget the sacrifice of these brave soldiers. May we always respect and honor both our veterans of past wars and the soldiers now fighting in Iraq, even if we do not agree with the war itself.

I also hope that we remember that it was through a war that this great nation became free, and not because of a group called "The Ladies in Black." They are the modern day Jane Fondas.

It seems that if they were truly concerned about right and justice and that if they were for speaking out against things that are wrong and unfair in the world, that they would protest terrorist attacks, unborn babies being killed, starving people in Africa, animal cruelty, the demise of morality, etc. It seems like the only thing the Women in Black can find worth their time protesting is the war in Iraq that has brought freedom and hope to a severely oppressed country and people.

Have they forgotten all the mass graves filled with innocent people that Saddam mercilessly tortured and killed? Have they read of how Saddam committed absolutely horrific atrocities on the soccer players that represented his country when they failed to win a game? Do they not see all the good that is being accomplished, with schools and hospitals being built, and a free democracy being established? Maybe the ladies in black should spend more time reading Glenn Kapiloff's columns in The Franklin Journal and less time listening to the twisted, liberal news media.

In closing, I would like to say that freedom is not free, it is priceless, and I am so grateful to be living in this great country, The United States of America.

Leah M. Robbins

September 13, 2005
To the Editor:

I am noticing this week, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the beauty and power of compassion. It warms enlarges, unifies, and inspires us. It benefits not only those we care about and care for, but ourselves as well. I believe that this form of love is our most basic nature.

One of the great comforts of living here in Maine, for me, lies in the ethic of mutual concern and generosity we seem to share. It produces a sense that, whatever may happen out of our control, there is a determination among us to be there for one another to the best of our abilities.

Recent national and international disasters have made it more apparent to me that we are all a part of a vast network of life systems and that each of us affects and is affected by this whole. If the problems of our day are more vast than any one of us can fully comprehend or solve—and I believe they are—then we need the insight and experience of each person to contribute toward a more wise and informed decision-making process.

It has been apparent this week that what happens in New Orleans happens to us all, and not just in our gas prices. Their grief becomes ours; their fears become ours. These events have connected us with our own memories of loss, with our desire to be of help, with fragility, and with the interplay between the hurricane and other aspects of our lives, including: food availability; the necessity of clean water; the vulnerability poverty imposes on people’s lives, even after natural occurrences; the helplessness of distant relatives, such as National Guard troops in Iraq, who could not assist those at home that, for months or years, had been worrying about their safety; questions about where we place our national resources and the fact that resources placed in one area are not available in another; and global questions about the causes of the extreme weather events.

I started this letter last week, reflecting on letters to the editor I had read about difficult, often divisive, issues among us and, more specifically, about Women in Black. The hurricane and public response to it brought new light to what I wanted to say.

I believe that compassion (feeling with) not only warms, comforts, and ennobles us, but it is also our greatest resource for solving the complex problems we confront. Toward that goal, it seems to me that some approaches to communication are more effective than others. I believe that communication that diminishes, judges, interprets, or blames another both harms that other and decreases the likelihood that others will be able or willing to hear the message. I don’t blame any of us for doing it because models for perceiving and speaking that way are everywhere. However, I don’t think it helps us to find solutions that everyone can feel a part of.

It seems to me that most people want peace and safety—for themselves, those they love, and those that share this planet with us. We differ in what actions we think will result in that goal. We each hold the opinions we do for reasons profound to our sense of dignity and purpose, coming out of our own particular life stories.

I first stood with Women in Black before there was a war in Iraq. I was inspired by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who held vigils for their children and grandchildren who had been disappeared, tortured, and killed by their government. They did so week after week, year after year, under extremely dangerous circumstances. For me, to stand with women all over the world in acknowledgement of loss, grief, violence, and cruelty, and to honor the courage others have found, serves to counter the helplessness I often feel about world events I can have little impact upon. It also provides a space for me to reflect upon my own thoughts and feelings that keep conflict going and to try to transform them.

Among those I hold in my mind and heart are those soldiers, and their families and friends, whose lives have been lost or forever changed by their participation in war. As a counselor in the 1980’s, I came to know, and deeply respect, many veterans who were struggling to cope with the anguish they lived with daily as a result of their time in Vietnam. I watched as the government suggested that their post-traumatic stress had nothing to do with the war and was just a preexisting mental illness. And I watched as the government fought to deny that Agent Orange had caused their chronic physical illnesses and the birth defects of their children. If standing in testament to that, and to all the other sorrows resulting from war, is one thing that I can do toward preventing its repetition in the future, then I want to do that.

It has been painful for me to read accusations that the silent vigils of Women in Black are unpatriotic, against our troops, naïve, or disrespectful. I can appreciate that some people experience it that way. I welcome the chance to have dialogue with them, to better understand the needs and experiences that contribute to their opinions. I would hope that such conversation would lead to greater mutual understanding and more sense of shared purpose.
While I want to hear what my choices mean to someone else, I don’t welcome being told what I mean by those choices. The last thing I want to do is cause harm or pain to others by my actions. And yet, doing something helps me to feel I am engaged in solutions to what troubles me.

I know that any of my efforts, as some have suggested on this editorial page, cannot be equated with the revolt against English domination that led to the founding of our country. On the other hand, no one person’s contribution can. We all do what we can from the narrow piece of life we inhabit. The foundation of this country was laid by the small, limited—and sometimes flawed—actions of many people, some of whom were soldiers. That is true today as well.

Also in response to previous letters, I want to point out that Women in Black was a consistent presence at the Memorial Wall during Wilton’s Blueberry Festival, not protesting the war but helping people to find names in the directories, explaining the wall, answering questions, listening to people’s stories.

Grief runs very deep in human experience. It can overwhelm us, devastate us, leave us feeling hopeless and alone. Rituals help carry us through our grief to more solid ground. They remind us that we are not alone, that others care, and that we are connected to something larger than ourselves. Women in Black is, for me, one such ritual.

It seems to me that each of us can make our most powerful impact on the disasters that are becoming increasingly familiar by approaching one another with whatever openness we can muster. Can we listen to those whose solutions we do not share for the wisdom they may bring to our own questions? Can we respect that somewhere, within the actions or words that put us off or infuriate us, there is a person with an integrity of intention, who longs for the same security, freedom, and well-being that we do? Can we try harder to hear one another and to express our opinions in ways that help others understand what lies at the heart of them? I do not claim to have mastered these skills myself, but I will continue to try.

Susan Pearson