If I were still a child I could light a candle for the young immigrants from Central America and believe the flame I’d lit would do them some good. Tonight I’d include in my list of blessing requests the new father who was killed a few miles away by a drunk’s stray bullet. I’d say Hail Marys for the sad Arabs who are murdered every day and then I’d light more candles for slaves all over the globe. When I was a child I believed things would come out all right in the world if I prayed enough and if you joined in. I was taught to light candles and to pray, as were my schoolmates, of course, but I took to it mightily. I remember feeling like God would listen, and it was only a matter of time before people would become kind to each other and peaceful. But I’m an adult, and I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do for this barbaric race of ours.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “barbaric” as 1) savagely cruel 2)primitive; unsophisticated 3) uncivilized and uncultured. Here’s a splendid list of synonyms: brutal, barbarous, brutish, bestial, savage, vicious, fierce, ferocious, wicked, cruel, nasty, ruthless, remorseless, merciless, villainous, murderous, heinous, nefarious, monstrous, base, low, low-down, vile, inhuman, infernal, dark, black, black-hearted, fiendish, hellish, diabolical, ghastly, horrible, barbarian, primitive, heathen, wild, Neanderthal; thuggish, loutish; uncouth, coarse, rough, boorish, oafish, vulgar, archaic, rude. (When I read this list I wondered if possibly the lexicographer was being sarcastic by ending with “rude,” but I don’t suppose sarcasm seeps into dictionaries as a rule. ) This is the etymology: Origin: late Middle English (as a noun in the sense 'a barbarian'): from Old French barbarique, or via Latin from Greek barbarikos, from barbaros 'foreign' (especially with reference to speech). So, “other,” then. Not us. Certainly not me. I’m not a murderer. I don’t keep slaves. I don’t get drunk and shoot a bullet that travels through the woods to stop in the body of a proud father celebrating the birth of his first child with his wife and a few friends. I’m not a barbarian. I wasn’t when I was young enough to believe in those burning candles sending my messages to God, either. When I heard about the starving children in China from the nuns or, as you might have, too, from my mother when she was trying to make me eat something revolting like squash, I felt a pain somewhere within. This aching still goes on in me, and in you, (if you’ve read this plaint so far then I can say that confidently) when six year olds die from gunshots, when boys and girls are sold to sex traffickers, when chemical weapons are deployed. I sometimes yearn for the belief I held fast in my heart as a child: if I prayed and you prayed, brutal, barbarous, brutish, bestial, savage, vicious, fierce, ferocious, wicked, cruel, all those kinds of things, would stop. God would fix things for us. Well. I’ve turned out to be someone who doesn’t light candles or get on my knees and fold my hands together in nightly prayer anymore, but I find I still hurt. And I’m at a loss.