So I'm driving along a small mountain road, descending from one more abortive attempt to drive along the (mostly closed) Blue Ridge Parkway, and my radio is on, and a news bulletin is fading in and out as I round the curves on the road. Suddenly, I hear snatches of the news from India: fire on train, passengers burned to death. Frantic to learn more -- is this real? Or some horrific re-enactment of Godhra, but the date's not right? -- I stop where I next can on the winding way. Too late. I can't get that station any more, and no other station has any news. I yank out my little shortwave, nothing. Pick up my cellphone, no signal.
That's where I am: aware that something awful has happened in India, but unable to find out any more.
Much later I arrive at my destination, a log cabin in the lower Appalachians, where I am going to spend a couple of days. Amazingly enough there's wireless internet here. So now I know more. Bombs on the Samjhauta Express, 66 burned to death ... what is it, really? What is this about? Where are we going, my country where are we going?
I mean, I'm sitting here looking out at stands of bare trees, the sky a pale clear blue through them, strands of clouds, a gurgling stream behind the house, a slight chill in the air, not a sound that I can hear except for my fingers hitting this keyboard. I mean, I'm just sitting here in this spot, trying to imagine sitting in a train on the other side of the globe, trying to imagine an explosion and fire and screams and death and the train trundling along nevertheless. Trying to understand that it's called the Train of Understanding.
I'm trying, but I can't. From this place, right now, it's like trying to imagine what Mars is like.
Earlier today, I had been reading about another bomb. A smaller one than on the train, luckily it killed nobody when it went off outside an abortion clinic in Asheville, North Carolina, one morning in March 1999. The next morning's Asheville Citizen-Times had a banner headline: "Clinic Bomb Jolts Asheville". The report said that the bomb "explod[ed] many residents' feelings of immunity from domestic terrorism."
That terrorist in Asheville has never been caught. But that bomb set off some interesting events. Among them, a continuing dialogue between a small group made up of people from both sides of the abortion debate. They call themselves the Blue Moon Group, for the cafe they meet in. (I'll have a longer piece about this effort sometime in the future). At the first meeting, the anti-abortion people started by apologizing for the bomb, even though they had not been responsible for it. It went from there to strength and more strength, and has helped immeasurably in defusing tensions over a subject that rouses great passions in this parts. This week, the group even features in Time magazine as a model for dialogue on a vexing issue.
Tell me: too much to hope for in an India where we are too inured to bombs and violence? Too naive? Poor analogy?
Maybe. But understand this: there have been no more bombs at that clinic in Asheville. Samjhauta, indeed.