I paused then and I continue to pause now, at what she had said.
In this case, she was a parishioner and because she was appreciably ahead of her time in so many ways (Saint Peg, we called her, Mother Inferior she called herself in retort), I wondered at her identifying herself as an aspiring pacifist. Years later, I still wonder, does not the idea of being an aspiring pacifist sound a little like being a little bit pregnant, which is to say, either you’re all in or it doesn’t count?
Or was she—and are any of us—just being realistic when it comes to the mere suggestion that such is even possible, given the current level of human evolution to date? After all, as we emerge from the pandemic, it seems even more people are stopping off at the gun stores on the way to the beach (expecting, I suppose, to secure the peace for themselves and their families thereby), so perhaps instead of nitpicking the adjective, we might laud aspirations to alternative forms of human relationships wherever they occur, however embryonic.
We are by nature competitive and routinely think in terms of winners and losers, us and them. One team wins the World Series, one candidate the office, one victor the spoils—everyone else just looks on. At some level, competition works to our advantage, at least if we accept the notion that progress has a place in the human drama, but how might we keep the competitive spirit from boiling over into the destructive behaviors that create chasms and build walls and leave tragedy in their wake.
The problem is that we may say there is enough so everyone can have enough, justice in distribution paving the way to peaceful coexistence, but we don’t live that way. The toilet paper shelves were empty for weeks at the start of the pandemic; people were instructed not to fill plastic bags with gasoline when the cyber attack recently shut down the Colonial pipeline.
Inescapable, primitive tribal impulses drive our territorial instincts. Inevitably, we bump into one another—what to do when we do? For routine, everyday irritations, maybe nothing? Like the bumper sticker counsels, “Relax — It Was Only a Lane Change!” Fine, but what if it was more than a lane change—then what? Honk the horn? Raise a voice? Pull out a gun? And if the actors are nations irritating nations, then what? Google tells us (so it must be true) that of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them (8% of recorded history). One begins to suspect that violence comes almost (almost?) naturally to our species.
Aspiring pacifists … now more than ever.
Increasingly, it’s becoming ever so clear that we need to place more emphasis on the things that build up a sense of community, clearly the work of pacifists, aspiring and otherwise … and the rest of us as well, and among the places that we get a taste of what that looks like is sports events. I have found, for example, that a Dodger Dog and Dodger stadium on a sunny afternoon is good medicine for the soul. Everyone knows that Chicago Cubs fans are a little … enthusiastic about their team, and one afternoon at Wrigley Field, one such fan sitting a row above me expressed his enthusiasm, inadvertently sloshing just a wee bit of his beer down my back—like joining the fraternity it was.
I’ve sat hip-to-hip at the Big House in Ann Arbor (attendance at Michigan football games always exceeds the official capacity of the stadium), shivering in the cold and snow and sleet, a unique and cherished experience, to be sure. I know people who would sit in a blizzard to watch the Packers play (in fact, without snow and mud does it even count as football). In some (most?) parts of the country, Friday Night and Saturday afternoon football is practically a religion. I suppose my view of the Bible counted for something but what I remember about an interview for a church in Midwest farming country was the search committee making it perfectly clear they wanted a pastor who would attend the local high school basketball games. (Whether I declined them or they declined me was never clarified.)
Whether as spectator or participant, sports certainly do have a way of bringing a community together: World Series or Super Bowl champions get tickertape parades, their fans cheering as if they themselves contributed to the victory. Sports allow us to be competitive without (as a rule) becoming destructive and maybe we should see it as a sign of hope that the world will stop its madness long enough to sit in the sun or the snow to play ball or to chase little white balls across oceans of green or to marvel at machines that roar at very high speeds around very tight tracks for extended periods of time and hold together, their fearless operators in command of ground-based missiles.
When one of my church members got too old to run the bases on our softball team (but not too old to pitch), they adjusted things so he would swing at the ball and if he connected, another member would run to first. Sports at its best—Community in the works.
Saint Peg, right again, but maybe not ahead of her time.