Mourning for those in Turkey and Syria

“Good morn’ (or evening), friends. Here’s your friendly announcer.” Feel free to lean close to the radio: I am going to try to use my soft voice as I talk about building a more just and humane world through transformative education while we live in a world where earthquakes and wars both create suffering which is (forgive us) a scandal to reason and conscience.

The two headlines this last Friday in the New York Times for the earthquake devasting those in Syria and Turkey were: “As Anger Swells Over Quake, Turkey Detains Building Contractors”; and “Anger Over Quake Response Challenges Erdogan Ahead of Election.” Of course.

Judith Butler, speaking on rage and grief, argues powerfully for the non-violent power of staying with unbearable grief before it swells into uncontrollable anger. I wonder: can we try that together?

There are vast (and important) differences, of course, between the two sentences, “We lived happily during the quake” and “We lived happily during the war.” Still, both presume that we are (whoever we are) safe—for now and over here.

It’s been almost one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. In the Office of the First Year Experience, we are marking that terrible anniversary on February 23rd with a public reading of Deaf Republicby Ukrainian poet, Ilya Kaminsky (please join us in the Fireside Lounge in Dayton Memorial Library at 4:00pm).

The first poem of the collection, “We Lived Happily during the War,” begins with the words:

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we


but not enough, we opposed them but not


The loss and suffering found in the poems of Deaf Republic seem to happen in a fictional village in Russia, but they are always already happening in our neighborhood in the United States. And so it goes, not just in poetry but also in the real world. And so it goes, often, with our response:

… we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

The Office of the First Year Experience is charged, in part, with creating a learning community in which newcomers are challenged “to reflect on tradition, continuity, and change while celebrating the essential goodness of the world and the joy of learning.” That charge flows directly from our mission to build a more just and human world through transformative education. I try to show up each day ready to face that charge again: it seems to me a good way to face reality and part of a good way of proceeding—proceeding, as Fr. Ellacuría would say, “in a university way” (universitáriamente). Still, how can we act—carry (cargar con) and carry out (encargarse de) such a charge—if we do not first acknowledge (hacerse cargo de) our real experience of the precarity and the fragility of goodness in the world, if we are not at a loss when goodness is lost?

For me, the most daunting word in the question, “how ought we to live?”, is “we”: who asks and answers this question, and where do they come from?

As we are moved and able, let us surely do something for those in Syria and Turkey. We can begin, as we are moved and able, with uncontrollable weeping for an indeterminate length of time that interrupts all regularly scheduled programming. This is a perfectly appropriate thing for a Jesuit, Catholic university to do: if we properly mourn, then any further action we eventually take will be on the other side of a line that used to mark off the boundary of “we,” and that action will be free from the mechanical escalation to further violence. (This surely must be part of what is meant by the expression, “contemplatives-in-action.”) And if we spend ourselves entirely on mourning, there may be power in that as well.

— Jason Taylor, Director of First Year Experience and Professor