A few minutes before midnight in the Tel Aviv airport, jetlagged already and awaiting another transatlantic flight I found myself confessing, again, the accusation that my generation abandoned the struggle for Justice to become insurance salesmen and grow houseplants. That’s how it would have been said back then, salesmen.
I confess this time to an intrepid young woman who’d asked permission to share a table then left her passport beneath her wallet at its corner as she returned to a kiosk to retrieve a bowl of soup rich with pesto. She had graduated a few months prior from boarding school and launched a “gap year” from the West Bank. In response to my praise of the soup she said life was more primitive where she had stayed. People made their food from scratch, she said. She expected to enroll next year in a conservative Jewish seminary school in New York.
I am meeting my daughter in the airport; she is a few years older than the future seminarian and has also been in Israel. Her time was spent within a multi-national project viewed with suspicion by Israeli officialdom. “My daughter is working for World Peace,” I tell this younger woman with the small ironic smile that provoked wry and slightly condescending smiles from my Baby Boomer peers back in America.
I tell the younger woman how glad I am to see young people getting back to our unfinished work on Justice. I tap my cell phone, worrying my daughter about the approaching boarding time. I mention Stuart Brand to the girl, the visionary scientist who grasped the significance of the first photograph from space of the entire planet which, Brand said, “gave the sense that Earth’s an island…” He coined not merely the phrase but the entire “Whole Earth” concept and led many of its earliest manifestations.
The message to us Children of the Sixties that We Are One wasn’t exactly taken to heart, I confessed.
It is 30 years since my accuser said we abandoned the struggle for Justice once we saw the price of war. He told me this the week John Lennon was shot, 10 years after Kent State where overly armed and undertrained Ohio National Guardsmen shot 13 students to rein-in protests against the Vietnam War. Four were shot dead. After that, he told me, my generation went home to sell insurance and grow houseplants. We didn’t merely capitulate; I inferred from this, we didn’t even stop at collaboration: We turned tail and returned to the lives of petty privilege feeding Injustice.
I wouldn’t need to explain Kent State to these two women; they’d been in Israel where overly armed men and women just their ages roam the streets. It would have been difficult to explain how it appeared back then that only men made war.
They would surely have grasped the quote from that time, “This is a nation at war with itself,” which Wikipedia attributes to a lawyer in the Nixon administration, but which was too broad a sentiment of the time to actually be accorded to only one man.
But as for One Earth – the Whole Earth – could they have grasped the significance of seeing for the first time our entire plant from outside, the recognition that we are not merely All One, it is actually a very tiny place. The first visualization of the mother planet, and she looked alone.
I offer none of these explanations. Instead I say of my accuser, “He lost his daughter and her family in 9-11.”
Why keep sharing this shard of guilt in the first place? And why now consistently endow it with the unrelated but somehow connected accumulated weight of 9-11?
And why in particular burden these fresh-faced women whittling toward World Peace? To assuage my own guilt? Simply because I had spent 13 hours in mind-numbing pettiness trying to move harmlessly and unharmed through Israel for no other purpose than to get home. I had not even been long in Israel. I had spent the weeks touring lovely European seashores and museums. I had bought my daughter a T-shirt of Pablo Picasso’s “Don Quichotte.”
Was that it? Simple but now compounded guilt?
It is time to seek our boarding gates. She has finished her soup and would like a polite way to exit. I am texting my daughter that it is time to board. All of this and a large glass of wine too quickly downed weighs on my jetlagged soul. “I’m nothing but an old hippy,” I tell the young woman. We smile and part.
And that alone of what I’ve told her was a lie. I wasn’t a hippie. In May of 1970 when four died in Ohio I talked a big game but pretty much expected life insurance, house plants, daughters. My friends and I didn’t choose petty luxury over war. We never considered war would – or should – interfere with the accumulation of petty luxuries. Few of us expected Lear jets, for example, but we all expected homes of our own, well, with our husbands and enough food and even ballet and piano lessons for our daughters. More petty bourgeoisie than hippie.
The Vietnam War was ludicrous. Our generation of soldiers weren’t saving anyone's world for Democracy, rescuing unjustly tortured and exterminated peoples. There didn’t even seem a conspiratorial economic reason for Vietnam as in oil in Iraq. Vietnam was our parents' petty bourgeoisie war.
It is only today I think to ask my accuser, what would he have had us do? Even had it been possible for Kent State to morph into a Harper’s Ferry what would we be today? Israel? You can't go to war to end war. It doesn't work. Nor did the peaceful strategies of refusal work when the war was more a generational struggle than a cultural clash. It is harder to bite the hand that feeds you than the one that takes your food away.
But even as I boarded, despite of or because of my tipsy jetlagged state, I still thought I'd handed something off. Something more than my guilt. Something kinder than the worn-out warning to do as I say, not as I do. I hope this young woman and my daughter nose around a bit about Stuart Brand or Kent State, about collective efforts and the incorporation of peace into life, even petty lives. And I also hope my husband watered the plants in my absence. It seems always a good thing to have reminders that in spite of it all, life is flowering around us.