Leave All That May Be Left of Home

Posted by on April 30th, 2006

Concord, CA

The sun is blazing away and the temperature will reach 81 in Concord today. After what I was calling "the Endless February," a strangely cold, wet and gray March and early April (sign of global climate change?) spring has finally come to the Bay Area. As John and I set up the hammock and glider swing seat after their months of hibernation in the garage, he jokes, "Tell me again WHY we're leaving now?" Standing in our garden with its profusion of California poppies, fruit trees leafing out, mock orange trees in full blossom and yellow-bellied finches darting to the feeder, I wonder why myself. Our house is a sort of summer cottage, with deep porches suitable for lingering on in warm weather, though we live in it year-round. I need to finish packing, but I don't want to pack. I don't want to leave.

"Leave all that may be left of home," counseled Julia Ward Howe, and her words seem as counter-intuitive, as cruelly dismissive, to me in the early 21st century as perhaps they did to women in 1870, when she wrote her proclamation. Home is often all women have felt that they could control and express themselves through. Home is safety, comfort, order, predictability – or at least that is the ideal. Home is both my work site and my place of rest and leisure.

And yet, home to me is more than this address on Grove Way, an "old-suburb" house built in 1950 in a subdivision carved out of walnut groves. Home is more than the grapefruit tree whose pale yellow fruits are piled all over our kitchen counter before we juice them. Home is more than the birdbath, the back lawn being yanked out to be replaced by drought-tolerant creeping thyme, the messy garage, the hydrangea bush that will flower while I'm gone. Home is…

Home is the city of Concord, the largest city in Contra Costa County, where I've taught ESL, off and on, for 11 years and resided in for two. Home is Todos Santos Plaza, where I've gone for free concerts and the weekly farmers' market, and recently attended an immigrants' rights rally. Home is Mt. Diablo, the tallest mountain at almost 4000 feet, in the Bay Area, where John, my son Dan and I went for a ramble yesterday past lodgepole pines and long, flower-studded grasses. Home is my Contra Costa Code Pink buddies gathering at my house for a meeting, and other friends calling for directions to the send-off party. My gym is my home away from home, where I have sweated off rages against new casualty figures, Rumsfeld's arrogance in briefings, torture revelations. Temple Isaiah, the Reform synagogue in Lafayette that John and I belong to, felt like a refuge as I talked to Rabbi Judy Shanks about my need to go to DC for Mother's Day Month… and my ambivalence about leaving. At the end of our conversation, she took my hands and added to the traditional Jewish blessing for travel with her own affirmation of my journey.

I am so fortunate, so privileged, so protected to have a home that I do NOT want to leave, that I can count on returning to, unharmed. No woman in Iraq can rest in that assurance, no matter if her home has been in the family for generations, her clan has lived in the same place for centuries, and she is a far more dedicated and skillful homemaker than I. The most haunting single image of this war for me has been that of an American boot lifted to kick open the door of an Iraqi home. How could they live there after having their homes violated? I have often wondered. After foreign soldiers have trampled on and desecrated one's home, with their violence but even with their silent, curious or contemptuous gaze, how could one bear to remain, to clean up afterward, to try to relax, to comfort children and old people, to pray, and to sleep?

Many Iraqis are homeless now, living in internal exile, in tents, in friends' houses, in Jordan or even farther away. How do they manage? Who helps them? When if ever will they return? These are the questions that not even sympathetic and unembedded reporters, with rare exceptions, present to the public for consideration. How many units of housing has this war and occupation destroyed? How will they be rebuilt, and who will profit from the rebuilding, if any?

American homes are blasted in less visible ways by this war. They are blasted by absence, by aching unappeasable grief symbolized by a flag folded into a triangle in place of a son or daughter, by lack of money, by suicides from untreated PTSD, by wild screaming and rages, night after hellish night.

The mindset that produces war does not think in terms of "home." It thinks in terms of targets, territories, resources, assets, bases and headquarters. Expeditionary armies by definition do not live at home, nor do they make new homes. They destroy and appropriate homes for the functions of war.

To protest these crimes in DC, in May 2006, I will leave. "All that may be left of home." I hear bitter sarcasm in the phrase. In my understanding of Julia Ward Howe's words, I hear: So, you think you are safe and comfy, in your little space with its china cups, its freshly laundered linens? In this world of warfare, where your husband comes back to you reeking of carnage and your sons are morally emptied out, is it a home, or a pretty cage? Are you a woman unwilling to examine the facts of a bloodied and dangerous world? Do you want to tidy up after carnage, or do you want to come together with other women, in a space NOT your homes, and seek to end war?

And so I pack, receive the blessings and messages of friends at my send-off party, grab my stuff, and close the door. Leaving what I have, and love, for the moral ambition expressed by a woman of another era, and brought to expression again by Cindy Sheehan and many other women of CODEPINK in my own day.

My journey is Concord to Washington, DC, leaving the known for the unknown, security for hope, home and family for political theater on the steps and halls of Congress, the Mother's Day of cards and flowers for a Mother's Day MONTH of action to get the troops out of Iraq, and YES, to bring them home.

End the war in 06,
Janet

"Democracy isn't something you have.
It's something you DO.
"
-- author unknown

"Take your face out of your hands
And clear your eyes
You have a right to your dreams
And don't be denied
"
-- Ben Harper, "Better Way"
from "Both Sides of the Gun" CD