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Standing at the edge

"I asked [my mother] what she thought I should do for work, now that I'd graduated.

'Follow your bliss,'" she said, quoting Joseph Campbell. I was hoping for something more specific--'Plastics,' for instance. I was worried I couldn't 'follow my bliss' because I couldn't feel my bliss; I couldn't feel anything at all. I wanted to be someplace where emotions were palpable, where the pain outside matched the pain I was feeling inside. I needed balance, equilibrium, or as close to it as I could get. I also wanted to survive, and I thought I could learn from others who had. War seemed like my only option." -
Anderson Cooper

I've had Anderson Cooper on my mind lately. If you know me well, this won't surprise you. Now, it could be that he's a Gemini, his birthday being one day before my own and we're just destined for each other, or the more likely story that I fell in love watching him on Channel One.

Aside from obvious reasons (I have as much of a crush on him as I do on Johnny Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls, if that gives you some perspective), most of my preoccupation has been because I just finished his book Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival. Usually when I fall in love with someone, it's a dead Irish poet or a dead Russian writer, sometimes even an Italian one. I drug out the chapters of Cooper's book for as long as I dared, wanting to savor every word, trying to read only a few pages at the end of the night. If you've ever seen anything he's done, you'll understand how difficult this is. His book is as engrossing as his reports are.

I've had children describe my books as "coloring books" when they've flipped threw them, due to the number of scribblings in the margins and underlinings I have throughout the pages (each book is a different color of pencil). I underline and cross reference books like others do their scriptures. I treated Dispatches no differently. I found myself connecting to Cooper through his despair--he had given a voice to the darkest feelings he pushed back inside himself for so long when they suddenly burst out while traveling through the most dangerous and forsaken areas of the world. "The world has many edges," he says, "and it's very easy to fall off." This is a theme that's consistent throughout the book, through every area of the world he visits. In fact, one of the final thoughts of the book is "The world has many edges, and all of us dangle from them by a very delicate thread. The key is not to let go."

I have felt such discouragement this past week. I sat in tears as I wrote to the president of Belarus, pleading for the release of a US national who was being beaten and deprived of much-needed diabetes and arthritis medicine. Usually I can do these things with as much passion but fewer tears. I have no children to take care of, no boyfriend, no time-consuming church calling anymore, so I feel like now the most important thing I can do is look out for everyone else. But as I stared at the stack of letters about to be mailed, I felt hopeless. I could just see them being opened by an undersecretary and thrown away with the trash. I know it's silly; but if one more letter could save a man's life, I'll write one more letter. If calling a senator I've sworn to do everything in my power to remove from office will get more funding for a humanitarian mission to Darfur, I'll break down and call.

I don't know this man held prisoner in Belarus. I don't know if he did something stupid to get himself in trouble. All I know is that I find myself caring, maybe too much. Some days I think most people don't care enough and I'm trying to make up for it. Maybe that's not fair; maybe it's not that they don't care, they just don't know what to do about it. Let me tell you, I still shake every time I hang up from calling the White House (202-456-1111 is the # for the comment line, and the switchboard # is 202-456-1414) or my senators or congressmen. Sometimes I even cry or get nauseous because I am so afraid. But I know it makes a difference.

If there is one line from Cooper's book that has stuck with me the most, it is this: "Hope is not a plan." Cooper was speaking in reference to the disaster of Katrina, and the horrors that he found in New Orleans. Regardless of the reference, it's true in all aspects of life. I found myself repeating that line over and over in my head during the past few weeks. Hope is not a plan. Thank God there are men smarter than me, more in tune, who are trying to clue us in to The Plan, help us see the bigger picture. Hope is not a plan.

It sickens me to know that there are so many people suffering; I don't care what they did, if they "did" anything, what country they are from. I lie awake at night, picturing small Ugandan children huddled in bus stations and on cement floors, hiding from the LRA. I pretend I am crying there with them, smothered by the heat and weight of hundreds of small bodies. I sing them sad lullabies in my mind, trying to will them comfort and safety. I picture myself rocking Romanian orphans, shushing their cries; standing next to women in refugee camps as they brave the camp border for firewood--in this instance, in my mind, I stand guarding them with an AK-47 (I hate guns, but if I could save the life of one woman, prevent her from being beaten or raped, I would do whatever it took), the anger and solemnity on my face enough to scare off anyone who tried to hurt them.

I still think joining a relief organization. The only thing that has honestly prevented me from buying a ticket to Africa or any other troubled area has been that the worry for me would break my mother's heart. So instead I hold a lonely woman's hand at the care center, send money monthly to international relief organizations who can go where only my heart can go, write letters to anyone I think will listen, even if I know they won't, and call junior staffers until their superiors in Washington offices call me back (that's a funny story I should tell sometime). At the branch, I'm known as "the liberal". The disdain they usually say it with used to bother me, but now I wear the title like a badge. To me, in their mind, it means I will do what they're afraid to do. Maybe that's why I love Anderson Cooper so much--he's been where I cannot go physically, but understands the pain I have felt, the numbness that hurts nearly as bad as the fresh pain.

5 Responses so far.

  1. kannie says:

    I understand! There is so much suffering in the world... and there's only so much that we can do about it. You're doing great! There are many things in life that we can feel hopeless about; our challenge is to change what we can, for the better.

    When I feel this way, I try to remember that Heavenly Father is indeed mindful of all of us. We do what we can, and if it's being there with an AK, guarding camp, that's great; if it's teaching children to do the right thing and move the world to help others, that's great, too.

    Also, I think of the many prophets who've seen the world - its successes and its iniquitous failures - in its entirety, and what they've done, with their callings and authority: proclaim the Gospel. Changes of heart are how the world will truly change.

    In the meantime, we have the (potentially) best food production, best acknowledgment of God-given individual freedoms, and the best military for a reason; and honestly, I find no justification for (oft-praised-by-liberal-and-conservative-alike) isolationism in the scriptures, especially while others are suffering - quite to the contrary, actually.

    And like Anderson said, "hope is not a plan."

    So kudos to you for making a plan and doing what you can! :-)

  2. Thanks for cheering me up :) Sometimes it's hard to remember those things!! I guess it's easy to be made powerless by our own fears and feelings of helplessness. Getting up and moving forward, however slowly we think we're going, is probably the best thing to do. Thanks for your kind, helpful words :)

  3. Ann says:

    You're really right about the moving forward thing. I think that it is the best thing in the world that you have such a big heart that cares so very much. I know how you feel...helpless and like nothing matters that you do, but you have to try! But I can look back and just see all of the lives you have changed and touched (including my own) because you care so much and try so hard to make things better when so many others don't even try to care about what's going on. You're doing great, Chantile. I love that you never stand still. :) You are helping so many people, more than you will know right now. I love that you're not content with what's happening and try to change it. Don't let yourself sink under it, sweet Chantile. :) It's so easy to do...and because you care so much I think that's one of Satan's greatest tactics against you. Don't sink...just lift up your mind and heart and realize the power that you do have, and that you actually use! You try to help when others watch. You are wonderful!

  4. Ok, now there's little teardrops on my desk. :) Thank you for those nice things!! :) You always know the nice things to say that make me cry and feel better lol :) I love you!! :) Thanks for inspiring me to care more!!!

  5. kannie says:

    Oh, and please do tell the story of getting a callback from someone in Washington!!! :-)


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