Winter Count (and War)
I first came upon the concept and term “winter count” in a short story by Barry Lopez. It’s a practice employed by Native American tribes of the plains to record the most memorable event of each year. Each year is symbolized by one picture (representing the event) drawn onto (originally) a hide. Taken together the pictures form a tribal history. According to the website http://wintercounts.si.edu/html_version/html/
“Winter counts are physical records that were used in conjunction with a more extensive oral history. Each year was named for an event and the pictures referring to the year names served as a reference source that could be consulted regarding the order of the years. People knew the name of the year in which other important events occurred, and could place these in time by referring to the winter count.”
For some years now, at the end of the year, I’ve engaged in a practice of listing some of the year’s most memorable events and calling it winter count. This year I’m struck by how in years past I have limited myself to only the most personal experiences. This year I know that I must include the reverberations and costs of American wars. I know that I am deeply affected by the outer context of my life and, unfortunately, war forms a part of that context. The few tears I shed listening to news of war this year, while offering a poignant expression of it, do not begin to express the full impact of war on my life.
This was the year for me to realize more fully than ever the devastating consequences of war and the poisonous thinking that underlies it. The picture I would draw would be of a woman crying, mourning her loss, and me sitting beside her doing the same. This was the year to really feel how our wars degrade all of us every day and undermine our chances for survival. War and violence serve as a measure for how far we have to go in creating a life-affirming and resilient society. It seems that war is not typically included in all the talk about “sustainability” and that, it seems to me, is a major oversight.
Some like to distance themselves from things they disapprove in our society believing “it’s not my war” or “I had nothing to do with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” It’s not true. All Americans share in the responsibility of the things done in our name and purportedly for our benefit. Responsibility is the price of citizenship, whether we choose to exercise and acknowledge it or not.
2012 will be the year I will work harder and smarter than ever to end war. There’s nothing precious or kind-hearted in that pledge. As Mary Roberts Rinehart put it: “Peace is not a passive but an active condition, not a negation but an affirmation. It is a gesture as strong as war.” I trust that I am not alone in this commitment. And please don’t believe even for a second that there is something inherently morose about pondering war at this or any other time of year. Seeing reality clearly means seeing the paradox, the light and the dark, the destructive and the beautiful. Opening to the world as it is frees up the energy for joyous and authentic living.
Mark Twain offers an intelligent and profound gesture of protest in his short story The War Prayer. Part of its beauty lies in how it holds up the mirror of self-reflection without shaming anybody. Shame doesn’t work, isn’t nonviolent, and isn’t smart activism but it’s still the common fallback position. I think Mark Twain’s graceful story has something to teach us. http://warprayer.org/
As always, I welcome your feedback. Wishing you a great new year full of personal and planetary restoration.