“The ‘thought picture’ of what happened in a place is still out there. It is as if the action is still going on: if you stand very quietly you know they’re still there; you just can’t see them.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved
On a visit to Viet Nam I had the opportunity to enter a tiny portion of the vast Cu Chi tunnel system. The Vietnamese built the tunnels during wars with the French and, later, the Americans. This elaborate tunnel system is enormous — 124 + miles — and offered a relatively safe place for secret travel, food, shelter, and medical care.
In retrospect, upon lowering myself into this magnificent space I felt something eerie and haunting. It was as if there were still spirits from the war, patrolling the tunnels and maintaining the sacred grounds. I suspect I might experience the same feelings if I walked the beaches of Normandy or stood overlooking battle sites at Gettysburg.
I’m coming around to Morrison’s point of view. These locations (and thousands like them across the globe) are not only historical reminders of death and destruction: there’s more that you ‘just can’t see.’ I wonder if it’s possible — and extremely important — to honor the souls who transitioned from those places more than once a year? And can we offer more than flags? And how should we do it?
By accident I found a good first step from reading provided by the monk Thomas Merton who says, “For the real stuff dig deep; for real stuff look deep, a place of clear thought, quiet solitude a place where inner core is buried. There must be a clear space that’s accumulated all the cells of the body labeled private.”
So if we all took time to meditate and reflect deeply at these places, what would happen? What would come up? If we consciously spend more time considering the ramifications of our decisions would it take us longer to rush off to war? Would we be able to martial a more compassionate first response?
Merton wanted to station himself — like the artist, writer, or sage — in a margin that exempts him from complicity in society, the Church, monasticism. From that point he could speak purely, openly, and with wisdom. He called it living on the margin without losing faith in the world. It was his way of finding his center.
How might you live on the margins?