American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
M. Elaine Mar is the author of the memoir Paper Daughter (HarperCollins).
It's been a difficult year for all of us. We've been forced to think and feel about world events more deeply than ever. The struggle to build peace has become crucial to our personal lives, as well as being a matter of spiritual, ethical, or political conviction. For some of us--and I refer now to myself--this is the first time these issues have come into our lives so concretely, taking away the matter of choice: This past year, the war came to me. There was no avoiding it.
And for a long time, I didn't want to. To be honest, I was irritated by anyone who needed a break from these issues, believing that if only we all thought about this situation all the time, we could fix it. Quickly. I was naïve, proud, impatient, idealistic. In short, human and in need of a break. So when I was asked to contribute a review for this issue of Peacework, I tried to think of a book that might provide respite for readers of this magazine, people who are already well-acquainted with books about peace and social justice, and who might be looking for something simply to soothe frayed nerves.
I remembered a short story I'd read back in college, about a husband and wife who held jobs that required them to work opposite hours, him at night, and her during the day. One slept while the other worked; they never had the opportunity to share a bed. In fact, the only time they ever saw each other was during the brief moments when one came home to wake the other for her or his job. The entire story took place during one of these moments--the man had come home from his night job and was preparing for bed while the woman awoke and prepared for work. It was a scenario that could easily have been depressing, and yet I remember feeling uplifted by the story. There was such intimacy and love between the couple in their brief interactions, and the story ended with the man climbing into bed and rolling into the warm hollow his wife's body had left, soothed by the knowledge of her love.
The story seemed perfect as a reminder of the basic principles anchoring us to our work in the world. We struggle for peace because of those we love, and we must have faith in that love even when its physical embodiment is not present. So I went searching for that short story to have something to share with you all.
But when I looked, it wasn't there.
In my memory, the story was written by Italo Calvino and was part of his collection entitled Difficult Loves (Harvest Press). As it turns out, this Calvino collection, while beautiful in its own right, has not one single story that bears the vaguest resemblance to the one I was trying to find. Calvino writes primarily about people's isolation from one another as they struggle with self-love. In a story called "The Adventure of the Bather," for example, a swimmer is stranded in the water, because she has lost the bottom half of her bikini and feels too ashamed of her nakedness to swim ashore or even to ask help of anyone near her. In "The Adventure of a Traveler," a man strategizes to have a train compartment to himself on a trip from northern Italy to Rome to see his lover. He wants this time alone to savor the notion that he is in love, traveling to his love, and in the end, his idealization of the journey is so strong that it outweighs his pleasure at the arrival. Once there, "he was already in the tension of their days together, in the desperate battle against the hours; and he realized that he would never manage to tell her anything of the significance of the night."
It was a book that made me think deeply about my own delusions, and yet one that was hard to connect with emotionally, because Calvino's style is fable-like. Frequently, he begins with realistic scenarios, then overlays these with fantastic elements. "Theft in a Pastry Shop" starts as a story of burglary and ends as a parable about deprivation and gluttony, in which three thieves, starved of luxury in post-World War II Italy, forget about the cash register because they can't refrain from stuffing themselves with pastries, well past the point of nausea. This story, like many others in this collection, becomes confusing in its surrealism; a scene is established, and a narrative trajectory begun, then the story ends abruptly, developed imagistically but not narratively.
It is true, of course, that some of my disappointment stems from
my own idealization of a journey. I was traveling toward a story
that I loved, yet was not able to find in any of Calvino's
books--or in any book by any other author that I can remember.
But rather than feel the loss experienced by Calvino's
traveler, I choose to roll over into the warmth of my memory,
soothed by the stories that have nurtured me in the past, whether
or not I can find the physical book to read again.