I'm home from a midday bike ride, and at a bit of a loss as to what I ought to blog about.
With the contemporary culture of constant news (something to which I am surely addicted), it's rare for me to be deeply affected by a news event. But something about the horrific terrorist attack on the school in Beslan, North Ossetia, has really shaken me. What really disturbed me was the story in this morning's LA Times about a young mother of two small children, Zalina Dzandarova . She and her son and daughter were held hostage in the Beslan school overnight Wednesday, but yesterday Dzandarova was allowed to leave -- but with only one child. She took her two year-old son, leaving her six year-old daughter (whose fate is still unknown) sobbing in continued captivity.
"Alana was clinging to me and holding my hand firmly. But they separated us, and said: 'You go with the boy. Your sister can stay here with her.' I cried. I begged them. Alana cried. The women around us wept. One of the Chechens said: 'If you don't go now, you don't go at all. You stay here with your children … and we will shoot all of you.' "
She couldn't save both of them. She could only die with both of them — or save one of them and herself.
"I didn't have time to think what I was doing," she said. "I pressed Alan even stronger to myself, and I went out, and I heard all the time how my daughter was crying and calling for me behind my back. I thought my heart would break into pieces there and then."
Dzandarova cried as she talked. Her tears fell on Alan, who was sleeping. Even when his mother shook quietly with sobs as she cradled him, he didn't awaken.
I haven't cried over a news story in quite a while. I did today. I'm not a parent, but I'm sure that countless parents of more than one child, upon reading this story, are wondering what they would do if given a forced "Sophie's Choice" as Dzandarova was. And I wonder if Christian ethicists have any clear position on what one ought to do in such a situation. Part of me imagines I would want us all to die together, clinging to the notion that no matter what, our family would not be separated. Another part of me knows that as parents, the lives of our children are paramount, and we must save them by any means necessary. And of course, I wonder how Zelina's daughter will cope with her mother's decision, if by some miracle little Alana emerges from this wretched holocaust alive.
Though I've returned to the Episcopal Church, I still hold in my heart to many basic principles of Anabaptist theology -- pacifism, obviously, chief among them. Yet without the support of other Mennonites who share that conviction that non-violence is a moral absolute, I'm finding it hard to imagine how a pacifist can adequately respond to the Beslan horror. Because I am thinking more and more about becoming a father, I am becoming more and more aware that Christian pacifism is a doctrine far more easily held by the childless! And so today, as I cried for Zelina and Alana and little Alan, I also found rage-filled fantasies racing into my imagination, as I thought of what I would personally enjoy doing to the Chechen terrorists who had done this beastly thing. I wanted blood today, in a way I haven't wanted blood before -- not even on September 11, which was the last time I can recall feeling anything like this anger. And so today, even as I continue to believe that Christ calls me to pacifism, I can feel at my core just how utterly counter-intuitive a doctrine and a path non-violence really is. And I wonder if my commitment to pacifism will survive the birth of my first child.
As I rode my bike through Pasadena, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Arcadia, and San Marino today, I thought about Zelina and her children. At least, they were foremost in my thoughts when I began the ride. But I'm still a novice bicyclist, still riding in old running shoes with cages on the pedals. I've only just figured out how to use all three chain rings with which my Trek 5000 is equipped. And though trail running has its hazards (bears, rattlesnakes, rocks, disorientation), there is something deeply unsettling about learning to bicycle on busy urban thoroughfares. So by the time I was half-way through the ride, my thoughts had left Beslan and Zelina and the countless other victims, and had turned to my sore bottom and the dangers of distracted drivers. And then I got home, turned on CNN again, and felt the sorrow -- and yes, the visceral and inarticulate rage -- wash over me once more.
I'm taking the rest of the weekend off from blogging; I'll be back on Tuesday. Happy Labor day to all.
Little Alana did emerge from the devastation of the Beslan school alive and has been reunited with her mother, the LA Times reports today. It's hard to rejoice about much in the aftermath of this slaughter of the innocents, but I confess I was more than usually eager to read the paper today to find out this particular bit of news. That family in particular, and all others in their community, are in my prayers today. Though today, for some reason, the words of my prayer seem vacuous.
And I now have a Shimano pedal system on my bike, and have graduated from cages. Now if I can just master the art of "clipping and unclipping" without breaking an ankle.
And my beloved Golden Bears were victorious in their season opener.
Off to shop for tile.