Monday, September 30, 2013

A Terrible Love of War: Another Loss, A Sequel

RIP: Dwight Graves, Vietnam veteran, falling with the autumn leaves[1]

“Fall: The flavor of fall is pungent its smell is rank. The Emperor lives on the Comprehensive Pattern side of the Hall of Light. He wears white robes and white jade ornaments, rides a war chariot pulled by white horses with black manes, trailing white streamers…Cool winds begin; white dew descends; young hawks are now able to sacrifice birds.”[2]

Dwight Graves was a burning star, an indomitable force in many domains: A Master potter, musician and artist, long-standing member of the League of NH Craftsmen, an active member of the Tucson Pottery Co-op, a NH Educator of the Year, accomplished musician, Vietnam Vet ('67-'69), Harley rider, activist, world traveler and peaceful warrior.

Dwight’s life, particularly after Vietnam, was a living testament on how to promote peace over war. Dwight was able to understand peace because he understood war, which most people can’t because of impaired imagination; that’s according to James Hillman in his groundbreaking book, A Terrible Love of War. He says, “War demands a leap of imagination as extraordinary and fantastic as the phenomenon itself.”[3]

Dwight personifies such an extraordinary and fantastic leap. With an artist’s imagination, he was able to transcend our country’s shrill and petty, polarized and self-serving, black and white understanding of war.

 I first met Dwight in the 1980s when we were founding Merrimack Valley Chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP). He and I and the rest of our initial group were Vietnam vets who came together in common cause to keep it from happening again, a new Vietnam, another illegal and immoral war, this time in Nicaragua which, at the time, Ronnie Reagan was foaming at the mouth to start.

Dwight was the perfect manifestation of the peaceful warrior but not a pacifist. None of us were. We vehemently disagreed, years later when our national organization voted to make our motto: “Abolish War.” We knew, like it or not, war was forged into our psyches, “an archetypal truth of the cosmos.”[4] It was simple minded to think one could abolish war: any crusade to abolish war would fail just as surely as the periodic crusades to ban sex before marriage.

Love and war, at first glance, appear to be mutually exclusive but A Terrible Love of War discloses that they are in intimate relationship:  “where else in human experience, except in the throes of ardor – that strange coupling of love with war – do we find ourselves transported to a mythical condition and the gods most real?”[5]

According to Hillman, we can’t have one without the other: both are essential components of the human psyche: Aphrodite, the goddess of love, art, beauty and poetic discourse acts as a counter-balance to Ares, the god of war; or in Hillman’s words, Aphrodite’s “softening, bridging pleasures” of poetry, music, and art “weaken the will of aggressive war.”[6]

Dwight lit up the sky because, in my opinion, he represented the best qualities of love and war. On one hand, he personified Aphrodite, not only through his magnificent art, music and ability to create community but from the fact that Dwight made each day of his life an exuberant celebration of love.

At the same time, rather than denying Ares’ presence, Dwight appeared to embrace the reality of war in the same forthright manner as classical Greek and Roman civilizations. With that same ancient wisdom, I can imagine Dwight asking Ares to grant him that unshakable courage and conviction he always possessed in order to fight back against the mob, to restrain the emotional hysteria that causes America to rush blindly, hell-bent into one war after another.

I imagine him appealing for help, just as the Greek’s did in the age of Homer in this “The Hymn to Ares:”

Hear me, helper of mankind
dispenser of youth’s sweet courage,
beam down from up there
your gentle light
on our lives,
and your martial power,
so that I can shake off
cruel cowardice
from my head,
and diminish the deceptive rush
of my spirit, and restrain
that shrill voice in my heart
that provokes me
to enter the chilling din of battle.
You, happy god,
Give me courage, let me linger
In the safe laws of peace[7]

Now that Dwight has left us, I see him, in my mind’s eye, looking down on us from above, still personifying the best of Ares and Aphrodite, carrying on just as outrageously as before, make music, making art, making love; all the time beaming his cleansing light into our lives, dispensing courage to us all to give us the strength to fight the good fight for social justice and equality while restraining that shrill voice in our hearts that provokes us into the chilling din of battle.

Click here to seea' A Terrible Love of War: Part I'

[1] A photo I took (& then posterized in photoshop) of Dwight at a VFP party in the 1980s at Paul Nichols home on Loudon Ridge
[2] An Elemental Thing by Eliot Weinberger, p. 86
[3] A Terrible Love of War by James Hillman, p. 6
[4] Ibid. p. 214
[5] Ibid. p. 9
[6] Ibid p. 176
[7] Ibid 202 (from an ancient text of Homeric Hymns)
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