[Editor of The Daily Home's Note: Father Bob Blackwell, and his wife, Kay, have been living and working in Damascus, Syria, since May 2005. As the Middle East is rocked by another spasm of violence along Syria’s border, Blackwell sent an e-mail to The Daily Home sharing some of his observations on “Living on the Brink of War.” Most of that e-mail is reprinted below, as it was sent Tuesday morning. ]
"Living on the Brink of War"....
It is only 30 miles from our door that the bombs are being dropped on the roads, bridges, buildings and people of Lebanon. It could be only a matter of days before they begin to fall on Damascus. Our first thought was, "How and when do we leave?"
But as we began to talk with the members of our congregation here ... all English-speaking expatriates who are working here as diplomats from the U.S., Britain, Canada, oil workers, health care specialists, and other professionals from Holland, the UK, Australia, and many domestic workers from the Philippines ... those who had been through something like this before, we found out that this is part of life in the Middle East. And the best way to live "on the brink of war” is to try to keep life as normal as possible.
Our job here, now, and as always, has been to support these people in their life and work, with spiritual, emotional and sometimes physical encouragement. We talk to each other, or e-mail, almost daily. We are having people for dinner on a regular basis. We are still attending official functions at the embassies. I am still working on sermons and bulletins and Bible classes for the church. Life goes on.
But this does not lessen the fact that there is still a horrible situation going on with our neighbors, 30 miles down the road. In fact, all of Palestine, Israel and Lebanon are a part of our Diocese here in the Middle East. The cities you are seeing on CNN all have priests in churches that I have been to meetings with. They have congregations in their care who are in harm's way.
We have sent messages to Beirut and offered the use of our home for any who may be able to leave Lebanon. But I have not heard back from them. Most, I think, are being told to stay where they are, if they are in a safe area of Lebanon.
We do not think that the war will spread to Damascus, except the war of words.
We are hoping that Syria will help find a solution to the problem, rather than escalate it. That is the wish of most people here. There was a large demonstration in the streets yesterday, to show support for Hezbollah, but as with most demonstrations here ... all government workers, which is most people, are made to attend, being bused from their work place. It is hard to know the truth.
Nevertheless, these demonstrations do excite some people with an anti-American sentiment, and we usually try to stay inside the day of and away from any such events.
Yesterday, however, after most of the day inside our house ... I walked to the church, the bank and the grocery, just to not go stir crazy. I went out about 3 in the afternoon, when the temperature was over 100 and most people are inside.
We have also learned that we cannot watch the TV news all day without becoming consumed with worry and sympathy for what is happening, the poor people in the midst of it all. We watch just enough to know what is going on, and then get on with the other duties before us.
The people of Syria are just as concerned and upset with what is happening as people around the world. There are good people here, but people who look to America to help bring an end to the problems in the Middle East.
The solution is not at the end of a gun, or on the end of a rocket.
The solution is bringing people together to talk and to treat one another with dignity.
Gandhi said: When we live with "an eye for an eye,” the whole world will be blind.
We are trying to live a life of grace and forgiveness in this place, which does not come through power, but through the crucified One, the One who said from His cross: "Father forgive them."
We are where we are supposed to be, and we have to believe that our prayers and presence here are making a difference, at least in our own lives.