This I Believe

kathy - LOS GATOS, California
Entered on January 27, 2008

Io Solo

One night in 2002, I woke from a dream, remembering strange sounds being repeated in my head. I hadn’t the faintest idea what the sounds meant, so I phonetically transcribed them onto a piece of scratch paper and then quickly fell asleep. When I looked up the words, “io solo,” the next day, I saw several websites containing the sounds; I hit the translate button and learned that the language of these words was Italian, a language I had never studied. Io solo meant “only I.”

Since the U. S. decision to go to war with Iraq was being debated at the time and because I was feeling unsettled about the status of peace in our world, these new words, Io solo, provided some solace.

Only I. I saw these words as a call to a more responsive me. Only I, I understood, could choose to make the impact on the world that I am called to make. So I protested the war, I volunteered my time, and I dialogued with others, even joining in the polarity that was sweeping our nation.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe that I fully understood the meaning of Io solo until last night when I once again woke to a persistent inner voice that wouldn’t quiet until I wrote down the ideas that were circulating in my brain. No new unintelligible words appeared this time, just a deeper understanding of the ones that visited me before the war began.

As all United States citizens know, as soon as the war in Iraq began, a polarized war at home started. And Io solo came to me again last night to guide me to let go of the “us versus them” mentality that began in this nation at the same time the war in Iraq was launched.

If I really want to heed the call of these words, I need to buy into a collaborative framework rather than a competitive, isolated one. If I allow myself to remain polarized against others in this nation, I now understand, dead soldiers and wounded soldiers aren’t the only U. S. casualties in this war. Our union in this nation is a casualty, also. And I have inadvertently been contributing to the disintegration of that union.

I recently told a friend about the U. S. soldier who spoke up about the rape of a young woman and the killing of her and her family in Mahmoudiyah, a city south of Baghdad. This soldier who reported the rape, which was allegedly committed by some of his troop members, felt that he should have done something at the time of the attack; instead, he stood idly by, watching the home of the family burn to the ground after the murder of four Iraqi people. My wise friend pointed out that the soldier standing by is a magnificent metaphor for what many Americans have done during this war. And the soldier’s speaking up might just be a call to all U. S. citizens to speak up, to do something, to wake up.

But I’m not like the soldier who stood idly by, am I? Weren’t his actions cowardly, immoral, out of the norm? Didn’t he give in to something we consider harmful and ugly? No good parenting technique, enlightened government, or acceptable U. S. military strategy encourages us to do nothing in the face of evil actions. Aren’t U.S. citizens the opposite of this young man because we don’t do what he did?

Io solo. Since I, not the government, not the military, not my family, am ultimately responsible for the kind of adult I become, I decided to look further into this.

If I look at the flip side of the argument, which says that this soldier who stood by is an anomaly, perhaps I can see that this soldier, who has been legally, systematically trained to kill those who are designated enemies, lost his way for a moment and was stunned into inaction, into silence.

Have I, I must ask myself, been systematically trained to view a group of people as Others? Have I been encouraged to do nothing, maybe even told that it is my patriotic duty to remain inert even when every fiber of my being is telling me something is wrong?

When I responded honestly to these questions, I realized that my new lesson was about unity. I could vilify my political leaders, the press, those who commit inhumane acts. However, nothing will change until I see my complicity in the torture, rapes, and atrocities that are perpetrated using my tax dollars, tax dollars I earn while teaching about Jesus Christ, love and peace in my religious studies courses.

Accepting Io Solo as a personal call in the night is challenging. Being an individual that recognizes a common humanity with the soldiers who follow orders, the soldiers who commit atrocities, the military system that systematically trains soldiers to see people as Others, the families who suffer and wait for their children to return, the average innocent Iraqi who waits for peace, the insurgents who fight for their cause, the U. S. journalists who expose the truth, the media giants who call active, caring people “unpatriotic” and the administrative and congressional architects of this war is not an easy task.

Nevertheless, the only way to save our union, our country, our common humanity, is to recognize both our complicity in allowing the wars at home and wars abroad to proceed as well as our power to end these conflicts.

There are many individuals, many Io solo’s, with many different ideas in this country. But there is just one people in this country that belongs to one world that we currently inhabit; waking up from our slumber and recognizing our common path is the only way to move things in the direction of unity.

Io solo is about individual responsibility to the whole. We all know that our national motto is E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. If we take our country and our individual calling seriously, we can clearly see that our nation depends on our contributions to our union, our United States. Io solo.