Calm Before and During the Storm

Poised on the threshold of summer, of university protests and disrupted graduations, of US political conventions in July and August, of threatening weather with tornados and hurricanes churning on both US coasts and in the middle of the country, I pause in a patch of early morning sun to savor and seal a moment of calm.

Though I won’t be at the political conventions—may even be out of the country for one of them—and will hopefully miss the worst of summer weather, storms appear on the horizon, and it does no harm to prepare by identifying and fixing one’s North Star.

Photo credit: Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

Before the arguments begin or untruths unfurl, or provocations proliferate among the citizenry or even in one’s own family during the US election season, I pause in gratitude that we are allowed to disagree and even protest nonviolently. I am grateful when journalists I know and those I read and listen to work to uncover facts and report in an unbiased fashion. These, however, are not my North Star. I rely instead on a more transcendent light, lodged deeper in a universe that moves towards harmony. I see evidence of this harmony in people caring for each other in the smallest details, in strangers who regularly hoisted my heavy suitcase filled with books and papers into the overhead for me as I traveled on a book tour, in the Uber driver originally from Uzbekistan who stopped en route in NYC to buy me a bottle of water. Small kindnesses we offer each other are the fabric of our citizenry and the evidence that we can be and continue to evolve into a more perfect union.

In the most intractable conflicts between nations, it is the citizens who inevitably must find peace with each other, and perhaps it is with the citizens that the seeds of peace can begin to grow even when politicians are deadlocked. I recall stories from the Balkans War in a memoir Worlds Apart by Ambassador Swanee Hunt. I quote here from the review I wrote in The Christian Science Monitor a decade ago, along with a link to the full article.

The city is surrounded. Shelling rains down on the population. Sniper fire, bombs, mortars erupt from all directions. There are no safe havens for civilians; dozens are killed each day. The international community meets, protests, debates what should be done. Powerful players like Russia obstruct action. Sanctions are tightened, but it is citizens who suffer most. Outside nations are willing to offer humanitarian aid, but are conflicted about arming the opposition. The UN organizes peacekeeping forces, but the mandate and rules of engagement are unclear. The siege and the deaths continue … for years.

This description could be from today’s headlines in Syria, but instead it is the siege of Sarajevo in Bosnia 20 years ago. The paralysis of the international community to intervene and prevent the killings of citizens is still haunting.

In Worlds Apart, former Austrian Ambassador Swanee Hunt chronicles her years (1993-1997) on the inside and the outside of the corridors of war in Bosnia. As the US Ambassador located in Vienna, she sat at embassy dinners, met with European and US government officials, engaged in countless discussions of what should be done. She also used her position, both geographic and political, to visit with the citizens of Bosnia dozens of times in the country and to bring citizens outside the country to meet with each other….

I hope you’ll read the full review linked above and also the book.

And so I will continue to pause in the mornings and savor the light and the promise and endeavor to add my own small and large kindnesses along the way.


Photo credit: Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

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