December 27, 2004
IRAQ REFLECTION: Flatlining
by Maxine Nash
The medical term, "Flatlining," has to do with a machine connected to an
individual to monitor their heart. When the heart is beating normally,
the screen of the monitor shows a mountain range of peaks and valleys,
indicating the comforting thump-thump of a regularly beating heart.
When the heart is not working normally, the peaks and valleys may be
less mountainous, less regular. If the heart dies, the screen shows a
In my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) I have to be careful
about the flatlining of my own soul. I work in conditions
where I see so much trauma, so much death and destruction, that part of my
coping mechanism includes hardening my heart to what I see and hear, just so
it won't overwhelm me.
I even hear a few Iraqis mentioning this phenomenon now. One friend said,
"Every day I see the bombs and the killing on TV. I think I should feel
badly about this, but I can't because there is so much.
I must survive, so I can't think about it."
I'm not always aware when I'm becoming hardened to my own soul, but it was
brought back to me yesterday, like an electric shock to a patient who has
flat-lined. Friends of the team told us that they
had received a threatening phone call at their home regarding their
association with foreigners. The friends are scared. How safe is their
home now, how safe are their children? How would I feel if
something happened to them?
It's something the team and I take very seriously. This is an unusual
situation for CPT because we may have actually increased danger to others.
We are very careful with our friends and our working partners here and
continually ask them how they feel about
being with us. We remind them that they should always feel free to tell
us if we shouldn't visit, or if we shouldn't be seen with them.
So why are they still willing to be with us?
I think it has to do with their own amazing capacity for living full, rich
lives. They've had so many traumas in the last 20 years, so many reasons
to harden their hearts. however, they've decided
not to just live, but to live abundantly. They don't let themselves
become ruled by fear, but rather move through it with their faith and with
the idea that life is joyous. In other words, they've rejected flatlining
as a way of life.
In our world, that now carries so many messages of fear, we need to be
reminded that if we harden our hearts we can survive, but it's not the same