The other night I was listening to Sting"s song "They Dance Alone," and I came to a new and profound understanding of Cindy Sheehan's protest in Crawford, Texas. As I heard Sting's stirring lyrics about Chilean women dancing in the streets with photographs of their sons and husbands who had gone missing under Pinochet's dictatorship, I came to see Cindy Sheehan as yet another woman mourning and grieving a loss she found meaningless and unnecessary.
Cindy Sheehan has become something of a folk hero to some and a crazy person to others. Despite no realistic chance of coming face to face with the President, she continues to camp out as close to the President's house as the Secret Service will allow and to call for a meeting. In a sense, this behavior is as crazy and as symbolically profound as dancing in the streets with a photograph pinned to your blouse.
Leaving aside the politics of the Iraq war itself for another time, I see Sheehan as expressing the excruciating anguish women have suffered since men first started going off to war. Uninvolved and powerless in the decision to go to war in the first place, we have to live with its consequences on a very personal level and for the rest of our lives. For us, it's not a matter of abstract principle or even whether the conflict is just; instead for us it's a permanent unbearable void. And so, like the women before her, including the women in Sting's song, Cindy Sheehan is carrying on a time-honored tradition of doing everything she can to make sure her son is not forgotten and that more lives are not lost in vain.
When "They Dance Alone" was first released, I remember sitting by the ocean listening to it and thinking how powerful music can be in drawing attention to issues and evoking deep feelings. Listening to it again the other night, I found it just as true today:
"They Dance Alone"
Why are these women here dancing on their own?
Why is there this sadness in their eyes?
Why are the soldiers here
Their faces fixed like stone?
I can't see what it is that they despise
They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands
They dance alone They dance alone
It's the only form of protest they're allowed
I've seen their silent faces scream so loud
If they were to speak these words they'd go missing too
Another woman on a torture table what else can they do...
One day we'll dance on their graves
One day we'll sing our freedom
One day we'll laugh in our joy And we'll dance
Like so many women whose voices are never heard Sheehan has a truth to tell and she has found a way to bring light to what many women know from their gut to be true. With the death of her son she has been given the gift of clarity that politicians so often lose.