I used to be a big fan of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” saying until it became the fodder of every meme maker or person on Pinterest who tried to tweak the saying for their own pleasure. (“Keep Calm and Grow a Mustache seems to be the depths of the meme world.) It has become polluted and cliché and has lost most of its meaning — which obviously goes back to British propaganda during World War II. From Wikipedia:
The poster was initially produced by the Ministry of Information, at the beginning of the Second World War. It was intended to be distributed in order to strengthen morale in the event of a wartime disaster, such as mass bombing of major cities using high explosives and poison gas, which was widely expected within hours of an outbreak of war. Over 2,500,000 copies were printed, although the poster was distributed only in limited numbers, and never saw public display.
When the Germans actually did start bombing Great Britain during the Blitz, the posters had been put in storage or trashed, due to pubic opinion that felt the messages were “patronizing.”
About ten years ago, I found a notebook with the saying on it and stuck it in my purse. It was a good reminder to not let the details of life get overwhelming — which I often do. But the threat of poison gas and bombing of neighborhoods? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t help me manage that at all. So, yes, good people of Britain, you were right. It was patronizing.
Stop the damn war and I’ll carry on just fine.
And I couldn’t help but think about that yesterday after the news in Boston broke. The shell shock that is carried inside of us from 9/11 and now from Newtown gurgles back up the surface quickly. I go from watching a movie with my 6 year old who was home sick to furiously searching the Internet for information. I go from crying at the end of Toy Story 3 to panic thinking about all of our marathon runner friends who might have been there. And I get word that most of them didn’t run Boston this year and our other friends and acquaintances who were there were fine.
Stop making me look at pictures of children — this time an 8 year old — who are dead or maimed. Stop making me think about a father who was running who now has a dead son and a wife and daughter with grievous injuries. And stop making me look at it in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq or India. Stop making me see it in Israel or the West Bank. Stop making me see it on the campus of Virginia Tech or in a daycare in Oklahoma or in an elementary school in Connecticut.
Stop the damn wars and I’ll carry on just fine.
We know they never win. We know we will carry on. Right? We know we will never forget those faces. We know this time will be different. We know we will struggle to pass even freaking background checks for military assault weapons capable of murdering hundreds of people in the matter of minutes. We know the terrorists will never change our way of life. Right?
Tell it to the families of the victims. Tell it to the people who are scared to go back into their city. And tell it to the people (like me) who approach any crowded situation with fear. Mr. Rogers also made the rounds yesterday with his quote to look for the helpers. And I agree. The outpouring of help and love is astonishing. It is who we are. But I sure would prefer to not have to endanger other innocent people when they run to the scene of a bomb to help triage war-like wounds on a sunny Boston Marathon day — with “real” war nowhere near them.
So one side of me says they never, ever win. And the other side of me says the sides of evil and hate and plain craziness can win whenever they want. They win, in their warped minds, by causing pain and terror. They win, when I have to have yet another conversation (this time mostly with the 11 year old) that starts with phrases like “Something bad has happened, but the odds of it happening are so low. You shouldn’t worry about it. We will catch these people.”
And she weeps. And says, “But Mommy, those people that died or were hurt woke up yesterday excited and didn’t even think that they would die. How do I know that it’s not going to be me?” Maternal sucker punch. Yet another seed of fear is planted in her heart. While someone else down the street plants a seed of hate in their child’s heart by saying “It was probably one of those damn Muslims” or “God is punishing us because of these gay people.”
Keep calm and carry on? Maybe it’s time to freak the fuck out and carry on. I desperately want us to rise up against the violence and the hatred and the insanity and whatever else it is that causes us to keep ending up here. But the seeds of fear and doubt have been planted in my heart too. March on Washington? Large crowds and lobbies that are more powerful than millions of people. Take on the NRA? They are armed and like to intimidate the people who disagree with them. Try to end the trillions of dollars spent bombing a world away with no real goals? Good luck.
Stop the damn wars and I’ll carry on just fine.