The other day I was forced to admit to myself that I am tired. Not simply the “I didn’t get enough sleep” kind of tired, though that state has become more commonplace than I care to acknowledge. I mean a deepening, in-the-bones kind of weariness. I am aware that some of this is the war weariness that comes upon someone who has done battle over a protracted period of time. I have not been in the military or trained in any kind of physical combat. I have not experienced the actual horrors of war, the fear, the grim determination, the mental, physical, and emotional strain that our actual combat soldiers and local “peacemakers” have experienced. In that sense, perhaps the metaphor of being a warrior is not appropriate.
Those of us who have not engaged in actual battle need to be significantly less casual in our use of martial metaphors. However, when I think about fitting metaphors for the type of work some of us engage in, while the “battles” are generally not physical ones, sometimes the mental and emotional drains for various types of noncombat work can be psychologically and physically draining. Those of us who work for social change: racial and social justice, marriage equality, reproductive rights, economic equity, immigration reform, environmental justice, peace in contested regions around the world, food security, and so many other areas of endeavor are in our own ways warriors of a kind.
Those who have battled in these areas over many years move through various phases–we are passionate, dedicated, and energetic early on, become battle tested and hardened over time. We take “command,” leading others in the work, and eventually, we get weary. Along the way we may burn out, experience setbacks and be sidelined, get sent back from the front lines, be “wounded” and face all types of hardships and obstacles. Often though, we pull ourselves together and recover enough to throw ourselves back into the fray.
Metaphorically speaking I suppose I am a grizzled and somewhat reluctant old warrior. I have been campaigning for many, many years, sometimes leading, often following. I have had “commanders” who didn’t know what they were doing, who were ill-equipped to do the tasks that were set before them and yet somehow were in leadership. They took orders from the brass even when the results of those orders would be ineffective at best and disastrous at worst and turned around and asked us to execute them. I spent at much time trying to circumvent the foolishness and meet our objectives in my own way when and where I could, protecting the people I was responsible for along the way. In spite of all the dysfunction I managed to do some good work and to stand strong and live to fight another day.
Recently I found myself questioning if I have the stamina for one more campaign. I’ve been given a new set of orders. It’s kind of like in the movies and novels when the leader gives you an assignment that you’re pretty sure you’re not going to come out of in one piece (think of the epic battles in “Lord of the Rings” or the civil war battles depicted in the film, “Glory,” or storming the beaches at Normandy.) You know when you look at the map and the accompanying orders, the objective you’re being asked to take, that you have no idea how you’re going to do it or if it’s even possible, but you know you have to try. People are depending on you, lives are affected by what you are able to accomplish. You have to do what must be done, what Eleanor Roosevelt called “the thing you think you cannot do.”
It is good to be thinking about this during these 40 days of contemplation on the nature of suffering and healing, loss and redemption, death and life. Even when one is weary there are some key things to remember:
- You are not doing this alone. Every great struggle for freedom, equality, peace, justice, faith, etc. has been and is engaged by many, many people all over the world. This is not solely your struggle, you do not have to carry it all by yourself. Even when you feel most alone, remember this.
- You really are stronger than you think. Every time I think I have hit a wall, I have been able to draw on some inner reservoir of strength that I hadn’t remembered was there. These days I suppose I no longer panic when I get weary. When I reach for the energy it is there, and if I ever reach for it and it isn’t, then I know it’s time for a rest. I trust I will know when I’ve gotten to that point.
- There will come a time when you can rest. No one can battle forever. There comes a time when you can “lay down your sword and shield, down by the riverside” and won’t have to “study war no more.” I for one am counting on it. But for now the fight goes on.
I keep proverbs, prayers, and quotes posted around me to keep me moving when I feel tired and overwhelmed. Among them is this wisdom from Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox: “The more we do, the more we see the potential of what is possible. We are not discouraged by the enormity of what lies ahead, we are motivated by it.” While I confess that periodically I am discouraged by the enormity of the hills I have to climb and the work that needs to be done, I know I can’t afford to sit in that discouragement. I have to pull myself together, take quick breather, and get back at it.
That’s what this 40 days is allowing me to do, contemplate and view life through different lenses. I am grateful to be able to share reflections with any who might read and find value in them. Whether you are an actual warrior, physically laying your life on the line around the world, or a more metaphorical warrior battling against all manner of social ills that plague our planet, I have to believe that at the end of the day, we mostly want to study war no more. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May we all experience and know true happiness and peace and savor the fruits thereof. May it be so for us all!