Empty Space, Part 3.

Empty Space, Part 3.

Further thoughts on the territory of hunger and ache. (For part 1, see “Empty Space”: the sometimes-painful act of letting go, and being willing to sit with our hungers.) I didn’t plan to write any more on the subject, but then there was a confluence of events: A podcast. A performance. A pastoral pondering. So I guess I’ll be doing a little series on grief, hunger and ache. In Part 2 I wrote about the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking. This time…


The performance

It was an odd, 30-year sequence of events.

It began with my childhood terror of nuclear war;
it continued with me at age 22 chauffeuring a Hiroshima survivor around New England;
and it resulted in me writing a long essay about nuclear weapons and children for Consequence Magazine

…which resulted in an invitation, and my meeting Jay Moad.


J. A. Moad II is a former Air Force pilot (whose father also served in Vietnam). He started an effort called Veteran Voices so that civilians could begin to hear the real stories of veterans, and begin to understand “the moral burden of war” in a way our culture rarely discusses. And he also wrote (and is now performing) a new play called Outside Paducah, a one-man show about the toll of war on veterans and their families(It runs through Oct. 15 at The Wild Project in the East Village.)

The play consists of three monologues: a seven-year-old boy whose father is scarred from his service; a man who holds two Purple Hearts, one for his father and one for his son; and a vet still carrying the pain of post-traumatic stress. Spending time with these three characters is a powerful, difficult hour. It’s a beautifully written, very well structured play, with great use of visuals, and a lot of real emotion in the performance and honesty in the writing.


I was invited to read some of my nuclear weapons essay as the prelude to one of his performances. My argument in that essay was much the same as Moad’s: We need to see the real costs of war, and who pays them.



In that picture of us all the way at the top of this post—which was taken after the show—we look pretty cheerful. You wouldn’t know that in the previous hour, I was crying as I read the words of a child who survived Hiroshima, and Jay was howling the agonized words of a Gulf War vet. But I was happy in that photo because it felt good to meet another artist who is thinking about the same kinds of things that mess with me, too. Our backgrounds are wildly different, but I think we’ve both experienced the almost painful desire to tell stories that help people see. In my case, I hope they will help me see.

Two things surprised me about the experience of reading that day. First: That I cried during my reading. Yes, it includes excerpts from first-person accounts of Seiko Ikeda, the Hiroshima survivor I knew, who was 13 years old when the bomb fell. But I’ve revised that essay dozens of times. I thought I was inoculated. I wasn’t. It was a surprisingly emotional experience. I felt like I was grieving as I was reading.

The other thing that surprised me: Those tears, that grieving, felt surprisingly good.

It made me ponder 
the way we avoid grief in our culture.  
The way we avoid grieving our history.
The way we avoid pain in general.

It seems odd to say, but as a people,
a voluntary season of grief might do us some good.

More next time in Empty Space, Part 4: The Pondering. 

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