Just this week, I finished the book "Baghdad Burning." It was recommended to me by one of my favorite Library Ladies* and I can't thank her enough. The book is a collection of blog posts by a young Iraqi woman who lives in Baghdad and blogs under the name "Riverbend." The book covers the period between August 2003 and September 2004. It was at times very difficult and frustrating to read, but I couldn't put it down. It was full of horrible moments, but there were heartwarming moments as well--like the school supplies shopping trip for Riverbend's cousin's young daughters where Riverbend explains to her cousin's wife that scented erasers are significantly superior to the ones that just smell like rubber. (The blog is still active, though it hasn't been updated since July 15.)
The whole time I was reading it, I kept catching myself in the midst of my everyday whining about too little time and too much to do and not enough money and my cranky boss lady and I would feel like a complete ass. Here was a woman who didn't know from one day to the next if she and those closest to her would be alive and I was whining about what essentially amounted to blessings--my family, a job, even the money problems have to do mostly with wants rather than needs.
The way I felt reminded me of the foreword in E.B. White's essay collection "One Man's Meat." The book was published during World War II and White was sheepish about the timing--"a book concerned with the routine pleasures and troubles of a peaceable life is almost embarrassing." He opens the foreword: "One thing about the war, it gives a man a feeling of guilt every time he finds himself doing some habitual or comfortable thing, like eating a good meal or getting out a book in springtime. "
In an essay in his collection, E. B. White talks about the movement among writers during WWII to write only what is "good and significant." He says, "I know of one gifted crackpot who used to be employed in the fields of humor and satire, who has taken a solemn pledge not to write anything funny or 'insignificant' again till things get straightened around in the world." But White believed, "Even in evil times, a writer should cultivate only what naturally absorbs his fancy, whether it be freedom or cinch bugs, and should write in the way that comes easy." He went on, "In a free country it is the duty of writers to pay no attention to duty."
And if no less than the ghost of E.B. White expects me to keep on whining, to keep the superficial, self-involved torch burning, well, then, I guess I'm up to the sacrifice.
*My town's library is the absolute greatest, staffed by lots of helpful Library Ladies--so many who are so helpful and generous, I can't pick a favorite, but if I were going to pick a favorite this one would have to be it.
--With the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina uppermost on most of our minds, following White's advice seems even harder. So while I may present a wholly self-absorbed front, please know that there is a whole portion of my heart and soul that is with those who are suffering. The damage is breathtaking in scope and I can only hope that the relief efforts become much more efficient quickly enough to make a difference.