The tears of grandmothers

I have been reflecting, as I weeded the raspberry patch, on the power of grandmothers in our world. It is not the kind of power we are used to thinking of – political power or economic power. It is the power of care for the future – and, sometimes, the power of tears.

One story in particular came to mind. It is told by Sam Obaydee Doe and Emmanuel Habuka Bombande, in A View from West Africa, in A Handbook of International Peacebuilding: Into the Eye of the Storm, edited by John Paul Lederach and Janice Moomaw Jenner. It is about the women of Mano River, who intervened in a violent dispute among the Kissi people who lived on the the border between Guinea and Liberia.

Forty of the women, led by Saram Daraba Kaba, of the Mano River Women’s Network for Peace, were listening to the elders on the Guinean side of the border. “To the astonishment of the women, the level of anger and bitterness could not allow any meaninful exchange with the elders. Sponstaneously, the women decided to sit and just listen. They did nothing but listen. As the elders spoke, their emotions deppened, and they cursed and swore to massacre their own kinsmen on the other side of the Liberian border.

“At a point where the women could no longer take in the outpouring of violent language and the quest for revenge, they broke down in tears one another the other. Some of them rolled on the grass and wailed loudly, ‘What is the future for our children?’

“Suddenly all the elders, who a few moments before had been swearing and cursing, also broke down and joined in the weeping…..The elders looked at one another and one by one began thanking the women for their patience and tolerance in allowing them (the elders) to discover reason and wisdom. They vowed that on the contrary, they wanted to reach out to their brothers on the other side and swear an oath that they would never allow government soldiers or rebels to use their territory or kin to inflict further pain and suffering on the two communities.”

Other powerful stories from the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding also are told in this chapter, but it is this one – the grandmothers sitting down and weeping, and by doing so, illuminating what the conflict was doing to their people and society, that has always remained in my mind..

It is one of many stories of how grandmothers are weaving togehter the frayed and broken places of our society. The grandmothers of Africa are raising a generation of grandchildren orphaned by their parents’ deaths from HIV/AIDS – aided by Canadian grandmothers who were moved by their courage and reached out, through the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, to nurture their African sisters.

Or the story of the grandmothers of the Playa del Mayo in Argentina, who stood in the plaza silently, wanting to know what had happened to their children during the dirty war when so many people disappeared. They stood there patiently, month after month and year after year, and their quiet presence was more powerful than any protest demonstration could have been.

Or the grandmothers of the Greek Islands who, having once been refugees themselves, welcomed families fleeing violence in Syria and other parts of the world, seeking peace and a future for their children. They saw cold and hungry people, and they welcomed them into their homes and communities.

I find myself wearied beyond words by hearing the anger and contempt expressed by people like Donald Trump. All it does is create more and more anger – there is no empathy, no understanding, and very little listening.

So I have been wondering what it would look like if the grandmothers of the United States sat down and wept about what is happening to their children, and grandchildren, their famiies, and their communities.

I imagine them, listening to the angry voices around them, trying to make sense of their grustration and grievance, and finally breaking down in tears, and asking ‘Where is the future for our children?”

Sixteen years ago, the women of Mano River showed the power of tears.

I think it is time for the grandmothers of America to reach out to one another, across borders, across political differences, across ethnicity, and speak for the children and grandchildren – through their tears. By doing so, they may create powerful change indeed.

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