I had a fantastic, intense time at Loving More’s Poly Living 2009 conference in Philadelphia this past weekend. My partner Iuval and I each felt we learned so much about ourselves in the many workshops and in the networking and connections we made with other participants. I’ll be highlighting and profiling some in posts to come.
I noticed in particular that the people coming to the conference, identifying as polyamorous or exploring it, came from many walks of life. I met a few folks from a military background, for example, very different from my pacifist path.
In workshops designed to help us access intimacy so that we could deepen and strengthen the relationships we choose, most differences melted away with ease. I remember one particular man. I might not have ever noticed or given him a second look on the street. He seemed mainstream and businesslike, not a flavor of mine. But someone in an exercise complemented him on his eye gazing; They’d made a tender connection. Later I found myself in a group of three with him and another man. Our instructions were to talk for fifteen minutes on “something you might not know about me.” I spoke about my journey into accepting my bisexuality after living as a lesbian for seventeen years. This man, the great eye gazer, began to speak about his life as a military operative. He spoke of specific operations in the Middle East and Central America. He spoke in a certain level of detail, not as if he were breaching security in some kind of confession, but to paint a picture of pride, pride tinged with regret. He had led a certain successful rescue. He had designed a certain part of a weapon. He had been at this campaign and that one, and he stated the number of dead on both sides. He spoke many languages. He had blended in where he was sent and he had done what he was told. He didn’t say so, but I got the sense that he now doubted the morality of his actions, maybe a little, maybe a lot.
He went on for his fifteen minutes. Clearly his life and identity had been caught up in what he had thought was a good thing….once. “I have been responsible for many deaths. And those dead had families, children, mothers,” He said. After talking, we were instructed to share touch with each person and he and I embraced for several minutes–not something I often imagine doing with a military operative.
Later, after the exercise, I had the chance to thank him for his story and to thank him for not following the programming that makes soldiers perceive their enemies as subhuman, as other. “By remembering their humanity, you keep your own,” I told him.
I have to admit to a heavy prejudice against military personnel. Iuval, in envisioning the perfect Intentional Community, often suggests that former soldiers would make good members, because they’re used to hardship and simple living, hard work, doing what needs to be done, and hierarchy. Ironically, Iuval sees the usefulness of hierarchy for getting things done quickly and for taking advantage of differing levels of competence and expertise (within a consensus framework though) for Intentional Community. My Heathcote community-mate Karen is a former Navy officer, booted out under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. When she recalls what she liked about her life aboard ship, it was the bonds and community among her crew. So I suppose I need to follow my own advice and humanize soldiers in my mind.
By remembering their humanity, I keep my own…I’m grateful to have met this man in an environment of caring and listening, even if we may have walked away with our different world views intact. Were his stories true? I have no reason to doubt it. They’re someone’s stories, in any case. I have some concern that I might violate his trust by writing about my experience of his life in this post. But it is just that–my experience of pushing my own edge–which is my topic.
Really, it’s a theme in my life and the meaning of “Curio Coast,” my production company. I must like to find my borders and stretch myself. Considering the different challenges Iuval and I put to each other, we must have been drawn together for that purpose! Now I have him to question my assumptions about Intentional Community, sustainability, simple living, relationships, hunting and vegetarianism, consumerism, family…so many aspects of life. He has a talent for rooting out my complacency and the places I hide from the hard issues of our world, just as this soldier challenged me with his nuanced story.
What are the comfort zones we need to abandon to take life on Earth into the future?