From the Editor

As they could have told you back when Saigon fell and that previous “longest war” ended, the absence of conflict is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as peace.

And who ever said the world was fair,” my mother used to ask my sisters and me whenever one of us would cry about the unfairness of things either particular or general. This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the nation’s wealth was distributed a little more evenly among the white male population. On almost every other front, however, opportunity was distributed even less fairly than it is today, which is saying something. 

We weren’t crying about wealth or opportunity, of course, unless you call eating the last brownie “wealth,” or getting to sit in the front seat “opportunity.” And it was useless to argue with Mom once she had asked her rhetorical question, which wasn’t a question at all but a command to cease and desist litigating the current lump that life had presented. Sometimes she didn’t even pose it as a question, but simply announced, “No one ever said the world was fair.” It came out almost automatically, which makes me think she probably heard it from her own mother.

Never mind that Mom’s willingness to accept the wrongs of the world as immutable seemed to apply only to her children. The bigger world of injustice was her lifelong foe, and more than once when we were arguing about who was going to get to sit in the front seat, we were running late on our way from church to the peace vigil in the center of Amherst, Massachusetts. “This is the longest-running peace vigil in the history of America,” she would tell us proudly. It probably still is. Mom’s activism moved on to other causes in the 1980s, but the peace vigil was still there one Sunday last year when my sisters and I returned to town to bury her.

Now America’s Longest War is at last over. Some of us were surfing at Squibnocket on that perfectly golden September morning when it all began, and as the rumors of planes crashing into buildings filtered out to the lineup, there was nothing to do, it seemed, but stay put, rising and falling with the clean groundswell as though time had stopped. We didn’t want to go home and hear more. Eventually we did because we had homes to go to. And people who were waiting for us.

But how many people all over the world did not come home again in those twenty long years, including my smiling friend David Rivers, who grew up here on the Vineyard and who died on 9/11? How many people at home waited in vain? Today, to me, twenty years seems like only yesterday.

The long war is over, but I’m sure the happy few who still gather at the common back in my old hometown know better than to pack up their signs and their longing for a better world. As they could have told you back when Saigon fell and that previous “longest war” ended, the absence of conflict is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as peace. 

As for the fairness of the world and of mothers, I’ve come to think that Mom’s point was not so much “shut up and put up, son.” It was more like “quit counting your brownies, boy, and fasten your seat belt. There is still time to change the world!” Rest in peace, Mom. And be sure to give my love to Dad.