Persevering through strife

Sep. 21, 2013 @ 06:13 PM

How do you bear it? With the tragedy in downtown Durham this past week with one loss of life, plus several at the Washington Navy Yard, and so many abroad, how do we bear it?

War. Death. Illness. They surround us all the time, whether in our communities or across the ocean. And yet, life, healing and happiness persevere as sure as the sun rises each day. How? Children are a part of all of it. As victims, as survivors, as family, as witnesses. How do they bear it? How do they understand it? Adults turn to each other, and often, religion. How do kids process it? How do we protect them from adult world tragedies? Can we?

If you’ve seen the footage of chemical weapons victims in Syria, we know the answer is no. When I’ve interviewed Holocaust survivors who lived through it as children, the answer is no. When you see the little boys and girls standing at vigils in Durham, the answer is no.

Those removed from it are only so far removed. My son is in kindergarten now, which has ushered in a time of asking Big Questions. There are fun ones to discuss, like “Does space end?” And then there are others, like, “Why are there wars?” We went to see “Planes,” the Pixar movie that’s pretty entertaining. However, if you haven’t taken your kids to see it yet, be prepared for a scene from World War II. Skipper and the other planes break through the clouds over an air and sea battle. It’s brief, but it raised questions.

World War II is pretty easy to break down into a simple answer. One country was taking countries that didn’t belong to it, and other countries had to stop it. I said that when someone is being mean to others, it is important to stop them. He asked who the U.S. fought against in the war. Countries we’re friends with now, I said. You only go to war when you have to, and then you make peace as soon as you can, I said. He said that people die in wars, don’t they. Yes, I said, they do.

This past week I covered the annual veterans appreciation lunch at Friendly City Civitan Club. I’ve interviewed several of the World War II veterans there, bringing their stories to you the past few years. It was a social time, but when I see them I’m reminded of moments during separate interviews when they recalled seeing death. Six decades later, their memories are still vivid.

I don’t think anyone ever gets past being witness to tragedy. Not everyone bears it without trouble. But leaning on the arms of others – for people of faith, everlasting arms – can help some. Everyone bears it and gets through it a different way. For some, it’s just about moving forward. For others, the struggle lasts the rest of their lives. For centuries, music has also been a way to deal with it.

Every day for the past week, I’ve been listening to the new album by Blind Boys of Alabama, called “I’ll Find a Way.” They’re a longtime African American gospel group, and I reviewed the album in advance of their two shows last weekend at Hayti Heritage Center. Their voices are comforting to me. Maybe to you, too.

The Blind Boys of Alabama were founded in the 1930s, and were literally blind boys in Alabama. If we’re holding up examples of persevering through strife, I think being a blind African American boy in Alabama in the 1930s is a solid one. Yet they persevered through music and faith. Their new album, which includes an original member, includes the title track “I’ll Find a Way.” One lyric stands out: “I’ll find a way, to carry it all.”

I think Durhamites, North Carolinians, Americans and world citizens find ways to carry it all. It helps when we share the load.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563.