The last time I can remember something like this happening, I was a sophomore in college. I was up late IMing with my friend – in my memory it was two, three in the morning – and we both had browser windows fixed to video feeds of a night-vision sky over Baghdad. It was the start of the Iraq War, and I don’t think we had the words at the time to articulate what we were feeling or why. We just knew that we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the news. Maybe it was a kind of horror mixed with fascination – an extension of what we’d felt in September of 2001. It was the first time in our young lives that we had a palpable sense that the future was more uncertain than we’d realized, that history wasn’t just something that we read about in books but was being written all the time. I fell asleep that night with the computer screen on.
I’ve been feeling that same feeling this week, as I imagine many of you have. Of all the things to come across my feeds (these feeds that did not exist in 2003) I’ve been thinking most about Ukranian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s “We Lived Happily During the War”, which ends with these startling lines:
In the sixth month of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money, our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
Read it yourself a couple of times, then watch Kaminsky read it. And try, as I am trying, to receive its gift of pause.