How does someone move on from war…?
Imagine waking up one morning, and something feels different. You get out of bed, put some clothes on, then step outside and look around your neighborhood. All the windows of neighboring houses are shut, maybe even boarded up. Many of your neighbors are packing all their earthly possessions into their cars, some only taking what they can easily carry. There’s actually a traffic jam on your street, with cars backed up in every adjoining street as well. The whole world seems to be trying to get on the interstate, trying to get away. You approach your next door neighbor’s house, but it’s clear no one is home. You go further down the street to ask anyone who you encounter what exactly is going on. Before you even get to the next house, however, you see it….
Across the street. What once was the house of a neighbor is now a burned out husk. You approach the charred wreckage, stunned by the sight of it all, the acrid smell stinging your nostrils. You desperately try to remember if you heard sirens in the night from fire engines. You don’t see any sign of the home’s inhabitants, but clearly make out the scrawls of graffiti painted on the lawn and driveway. “This is no longer your neighborhood. Get out. Or you are next.”
You run home. The world is now upside down. “Where are the police? Why haven’t they come? How did this happen? How long do I have before the attackers of my neighbors house come back?” You do as your neighbors do: you don’t think, you grab everything you can, pack up your car, and join the throngs of people fleeing. You aren’t sure where to go, maybe a relative’s house, maybe a friend’s. The roads are packed, cars barely moving, the traffic jam stretching for miles. People step out of their vehicles while they wait, discuss what they know. You hear stories of attacks by groups of armed men on sleeping families. Roadblocks. Executions. Angry civilians seeking retribution for wrongs done to their families, to their neighborhoods. Overnight, the established order is gone, and the birth pains of a new order are beginning.
I’ll stop here, and I’ll ask my initial question again. How does someone move on from war? What exactly is that adjustment like from war to peace? Especially in situations where the war was a war of neighbors, a war of families. When all is said and done, when the cease fire is called, when the treaties are signed, how do get up and go to work the next day remembering what your neighbors did to you, to each other, or what you did to them?
For one character I play in the show, the janitor Fahim, those questions were central to how I would portray him on stage. He committed a terrible crime against humanity, and never suffered any consequences for it. He wasn’t a commander or leader, he was a grunt, someone who followed orders. However, in spite of his apparent powerlessness, his one moment of redemption reveals that he was never without power. He could have made different choices, he didn’t have to go along with crowd. How does that weigh on a man’s soul? How does he wake up day after day for decades after and accept what he did. Can his life ever feel fulfilled knowing that the greatest thing he ever did was the worst thing a man could possibly do?
Can the victims of violence ever forgive? Can people learn to overcome the cycle of hate and violence which tears apart so much of our world’s surface? Can those of us in the United States ever come to understand that we too play a role in our own cycle? As of September 2010, there were approximately 1.5 million internally displaced people in the country of Iraq. 1.5 million people who fled their homes following the overthrow of the old order, and the advent of the new. 1.5 million stories, all different, yet all the same. 1.5 million memories of anger, victimization, and loss. 1.5 million cries to make sense of it all. 1.5 million Fahims.