Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto: Rest in Peace

It’s dusk, the snow is about to start any moment, and I’m driving down Iowa Street, one of the main drags in my town, on our way to Target to buy something for dinner and a DVD of the Simpson movie. It’s been a good day, considering the holidays’ pressure that still lingers behind me, my husband sick at home across town, and the tricky weather ahead. At least, it seemed like a good day until NPR began telling us of a woman who runs a website to match up people with their missing gloves.

“Why in the world are they reporting on this when Benazir Bhutto was just killed?” my oldest son, Daniel, yells out.

I almost stop short. For years, I’ve followed her story, mesmerized by her daring, intelligence, and leadership. The first woman to serve as prime minister of a Muslim country, Bhutto, and 20 others – as most of you know by now – were killed at a political rally by an assassin who blew himself up afterwards. Born into a wealthy family, and educated at Harvard, and Oxford, she lost her father and two of her brothers to political violence. She also lived in exile in between serving two terms as prime minister, dodging death threats and denouncements of her political party, being falsely charged with corruption, and continuing to defy those who would silence her.

Returning to Pakistan after 8 years of exile, she was met with a bomb blast that just missed her. In recent weeks, she’s been under house arrest and even had her house barb-wired by the police to keep her from speaking at a rally against Gen. Musharraf’s emergency rule imposition. That didn’t stop her from launching her election campaign 27 days ago

“We can expect 3-5 inches of fresh snow tonight, and a 50-50 chance of more snow tomorrow,” the news announcer says with just enough cheer. I aim the car toward the Target parking lot, feeling shaken by how, when she stuck her neck out for her beliefs, someone slit it. I forget to look for a parking space for a few moments.

There are news stories of tragedies far from here all the time. Maybe because I tend to hear most of my news on the radio instead of having repeated images imprinted into my memory, I often find it easy to just feel momentarily sad, and then get occupied with other things. But there are some stories, like this one, that break through the numbness and resistance born of being safely here, where I can wander store aisles without fearing for my life or buy my kids sweat shirts without fearing for theirs. Minutes after heading the top-of-the-hour news, headlined with the sounds of Pakistan men weeping, I’m pushing a cart through Target, looking for noodles.

Yet my mind is on Bhutto, who I believed would win election and start the slow process of releasing the fascist steam from Pakistani politics. Maybe, and quite obviously, this was a na├»ve belief. At this moment, many time zones from where we’re expecting freezing drizzle before the snow, thousands of people face far more than my dashed hopes. I circle through the bread aisle twice without remembering what I’m here for, and try to wrap my mind around the grief and loss, the great gulf of fear just split wider, the unbearable pain for so many in Pakistan. I wish for comfort and peace in a country that hasn’t seen much of either in so long and now faces a future where both will be as rare as a brave woman who walked right into the fire, refusing to be silenced or hidden.

I push my cart toward the register and find no line to wait in, only a simple prayer: Benazir Bhutto, rest in peace.