Katherine Phelps

grove of trees

I do not remember much about that day except this one moment within it.

I may have been all of nine or ten years old. We had just moved again to a small town on the coast of Washington state. I was still getting used to my new residence. The school bus had stopped below our property where I could see out over the steely colored bay in one direction, and in the other direction, up the hill and between trees to a dark two storey building that was now home. Getting out of the bus I trudged through muddy leaves and needles to the back door and let myself in.

I cleaned off my shoes and hung up my coat before wandering inside to see who was around. In a small room next to the living area I could hear the television. Probably Dad watching the news, I thought heading that direction. The rest of the house was quiet, seemingly empty. I stepped into the TV room and found it empty as well.

As I had suspected the news was blaring away. Usually it was on during dinner. Another television set occupied a place of honor at our dining table. We would all have to eat in silence, so that Dad could catch up with the latest world events. I tended to ignore the news. The events reported seemed so big and far away: things that only an adult had the power or interest to absorb, maybe even move upon. At that point in time I did not ignore it. In fact the scenes seemed to catch me, hold me, draw me into their world for one bright revelation in the midst of a whole lot of sadness.

On the screen was the image of a Vietnamese woman holding a child. She was some distance from the camera standing near a little hut no bigger than the room I was now standing in. The woman looked so small and unsettled. The baby clutched as much to her as she clutched to it. Then in an instant the clap of a gun shot was reproduced on the TV speakers. I jumped in my absorption. I could not see the person who had pulled the trigger, but I could see this woman falling to the ground, her child tumbling with her. Puff, her life was gone. That easily, that quickly, that permanently.

I don't know why I identified with her then. She did not seem like a meaningless nothing that could be thrown away without a thought. I could see her feelings, even through the unfamiliar Asian features.

In grappling to find some understanding or meaning to what I had just seen certain Bible passages I had learned in Sunday school leaped immediately to mind: "Thou shalt not kill," and "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." The Bible did not say "Thou shalt not murder," but "Thou shalt not kill." Surely what happened here was killing, and just because it was part of a war I could not see how it might be reconciled with my Bible passages. If someone is doing wrong, then there must be some way to love them into a better path. Pulling a trigger seemed a horror not an answer. I felt confused and upset.

I continued to stand alone. The light of the television flickered like a tiny fire, as a nine year old absorbed some of her own thoughts and decisions.

God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9