(Note: This post contains graphic details of the Iraq War.)
This week’s New Yorker contains a long article titled “Inside the Surge,” by Jon Lee Anderson. I read seven pages about the problems of retaliatory violence, all of it weary and familiar. Then I read the following passage
“ Um Jafaar is a handsome, elderly woman. When I arrived at her home, with Karim, she was wearing a black abaya, and I noticed blue tribal tattoos on her chin and her hands. She invited me to sit down on a couch, and sat next to me in an armchair. Jafaar’s three young daughters were watching us. When I asked Um Jafaar if she wanted revenge for her son’s death, she got up from her chair, came over, and kissed the top of my head.
“Yes,” I want revenge,” she said. “I am a mother, and I lost my son for nothing.” She began weeping, great wracking sobs. When she recovered, Um Jafaar pointed to her granddaughters. “Look, they have no father,” she said. “Why?”
Um Jafaar went on to tell me that she took the body parts of Amar’s victims, wrapped in cloth, to his grave, in the holy city of Najaf, and buried them there. “I talk to my son, I tell him, “Here, this is from those who killed you, I take revenge.” Moving one hand in a horizontal circle, she said, “I put them around the grave. So far, I have taken one hand, one eye, an Adam’s apple, toes, fingers, ears, and noses. I asked her how many Mahdi men Amar had killed. “I don’t know; eighteen, twenty? But still my heart hurts. Even if we kill all of them, I won’t have comfort,” she said. (page 66, The New Yorker, Nov 19, 2007).
Ouch! I inhaled so deeply at the passage where Um Jafaar names the body parts she buried around her murdered son’s grave that I hurt my chest muscle.
As Christians we are called to do impossible tasks: forgive our enemies, pray for them and love them. When we mothers go the opposite direction, when we give into to our “natural” and sinful desires, we take down the whole family with us.
Jafaar’s surviving son is busy murdering the men he believes are responsible for his brother’s death. At least eighteen men have been killed so far. I don’t doubt that many men make that same mistake on their own initiative. Yet how much higher is the body count going to rise, if a mother requests such action? Then the mother further sanctions the killings by burying the victim’s body parts in her son’s grave?
We have such a tremendous power as mothers. Our sons will do anything to please us. Our children breathe our feelings, our thoughts and our desires as their own. Whether it is the daily grind of stress or ultimate tragedy, our response set the emotional tone for the family.
During the confessions of our sins during Mass today, I had an image of a woman burying body parts on top of a grave today. I got heartsick. I am also that woman. How many times have I gossiped about my family? How many angry words have I said to my husband and children, in this week alone?
My precious little children are watching and listening. Yesterday, on the tire swing at the playground, Lex kept calling “Hannah get off and come play with me.” He was tired and had a runny nose. He kept repeating the same sentence over and over again. “Lex, you’re being difficult” Hannah snapped. I heard that “difficult” ring across the playground. “Difficult!” Not the normal vocabulary for a four year old. My daughter absorbed that word and that tone from me. I use that expression when I have trouble getting Hannah’s shoes on her squirmy feet.
Blessed Mother, help us model your infinite charity, forgiveness and patience. Help us lead our families to heaven. Pray for us, that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ.