I love to read, but reading for my own interest and pleasure often falls victim to my busy schedule. One of the great joys of vacation time, therefore, is reading. This past vacation, however, the reading I chose could not be described as joyful: The Drone Eats with Me: Diaries from a City Under Fire by Atef Abu Said. The book is a personal diary, recording each of the 51 days of the 2014 war in Gaza, called “Operation Protective Edge” by Israel. Said is a journalist but, more relevant to the diary, he is also a father, husband, son, brother and friend. Day after day, page after page, the tragedies mounted. By the end of the war, over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, 11,000 injured, and 17,000 homes were demolished.
To counter The Drone Eats with Me, I reread the last books of the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. These books are also about war, telling the epic tale of the battle between the forces of the Dark Lord and those who stand for freedom and diversity and justice. Although Rowling takes something like 1,500 pages to tell the story, it is never boring. She doesn’t pretend that war is fun or glamorous, but it is certainly exciting, filled with opportunities for bravery and heroism. I read late into the night, unwilling to put the books down, inspired by the clever schemes, daring acts of resistance and breathtaking feats of self-sacrifice.
It was quite a contrast to The Drone Eats with Me. That war story was not just sad-it was monotonous. Day after day, page after page, Said and his family simply survive. He writes: “Everything becomes normal. The barbarity of it, the terror, the danger…You might die. Your children might die. Your whole extended family might die…The sound of explosions becomes the most normal thing in the world.” Day after day, page after page-bombs and casualties and worry and tragedy became boring. Being sad and scared became boring. Being angry with a political system that allowed such tragedy became boring. I was never tempted to read “just one more chapter.” Instead, I had to resist the urge to abandon it altogether, insisting with myself that if Said could live through these days, I could at least read about them. And so, turning the pages became a spiritual discipline, an act of prayerful solidarity with people whose primary source of hope was simply that they happened to wake up that day and go to bed that night.
I’m sure there are other stories of this war that tell of heroes saving people from collapsed buildings, harrowing tales of delicate peace negotiations, thrilling military maneuvers, inspired speeches and brave activists standing up for justice and compassion. Perhaps those stories would have left me feeling brave and bold, inspired to take my place in history. But Said’s faithful, painful record left me with something perhaps more valuable, and more lasting: perspective. War is an everyday thing, as is survival. The work of peace must be likewise-steady and faithful and, perhaps more often than not, boring.
Blessed are the peacemakers, not because they will star in adventure stories, but because they will be called children of God. This, with God’s help, is our rightful place in history.
The Rev. Rhonda Waters is incumbent of the Church of the Ascension, diocese of Ottawa.