Hold It All

The Path of Sympathy in a Time of Plague

Tarrou was swinging his leg, tapping he terrace lightly with his heel, as he concluded. After a short silence the doctor raised himself a little in his chair and asked if Tarrou had an idea of the path to follow for attaining peace.  “Yes,” he replied. “The path of sympathy.” Albert Camus, The Plague, 225

 

The best part of Camus’s novel is the theme of commitment.  In a time when there is plague (HIV/AIDS, empire, military occupation, to name three contemporary plagues people suffer from), what options do people exercise?  Tarrou, Rieux, Grand, and eventually Rambert all take in one way or another “the path of sympathy,” the way of “comprehension,” which is Tarrou’s word for his code of morals.

Tarrou, who wanted to be a saint without God, is a hero, even with all his contradictions (and don’t we all have our own?):  he looks unflinchingly at the plague and works to combat it, and risks his life. Ultimately, he dies. He is like Rachel Corrie: This must stop – but he couldn’t stop the plague, he could only accompany the victims.  And not be condemning or judgmental.  

And what is true religiosity in a time of plague? It is praxis, it is the path of sympathy, and you can take the dogmas, doctrines, and rituals—who needs them? It is Yitz Greenberg’s anguished cri de coeur: No theology talk is credible; pull the children out of the burning pits!

This means knowing that children are being burned alive (recall Steiner’s  refusal to sit still). This means going near to where the children are, you’ve got to see it.  And then doing something.  But we keep our distance; we offer solidarity from afar, which alas isn’t much. Or is it? I myself said that “the real work” on behalf of Palestine was back in the US, what were we really doing to fight the plague there, in Gaza? It may have seemed heroic and risky from the stateside perspective. But I was convinced that we have more to contribute here, working to cut off the source of the funding and ideological support for the occupation, than doing accompaniment work.  But it’s ambos: Both/and: I had that opportunity then, I have this opportunity now, to be vigilant.  Here’s Rieux’s critique of distance:  “…sometimes at midnight, in the great silence of the sleep-bound  town, the doctor turned on his wireless before going to bed for the few hours’ sleep he allowed himself. And from the ends of the earth, across thousands of miles of land and sea, kindly, well-meaning speakers tried to voice their fellow-feeling, and indeed did so, but at the same time proved the utter incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering which he cannot see. ‘Oran! Oran!’ In vain the call rang over oceans, in vain Rieux listened hopefully; always the tide of eloquence began to flow, bringing home still more the unbridgeable gulf that lay between Grand and the speaker. ‘Oran, we’re with you!’ they called emotionally. But not, the doctor told himself, to love or to die together—and that’s the only way. They’re too remote.” [124] Read the rest of this entry »

Women in Black by Hedy Epstein

Every second Tuesday of the month, we hold a vigil of Women in Black in University City.  Usually, these are uneventful. People may support us, some take our flyers and say thank you, others refuse to take them, cars may honk once in a while.  Not much else happens. Cars may honk once in a while.

One time, I was handing out fliers, and a man behind me started talking to me.  He asked me, “Do you know how to solve this problem?” 

I said, “Well, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be standing here.”  

He then responded, “Well, I know the answer: Kill all those criminals, those vermin”—I realized he was Jewish and was talking about the Palestinians.  He went on and said, “Throw them all into the Mediterranean. Get rid of them all!” Then, he left. Read the rest of this entry »

Lauren Shared with Me, and I Now Share with You

“So easy in the woods to daydream and pray to the local spirits and say “Allow me to stay here, I only want peace.”
–Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Listen here.

If you find yourself laying on a prehistoric-feeling rockface while the waves not so far below you crash ruthlessly into the stone, the seaspray tickling your face while your eyes are closed in a moment of true peace, just know that you’ve found the answer you’re looking for.

If you wake up late in the morning after sleeping in, in a home that is not your own, and you hear other members of your family crying out whales whales! and you rush up the stairs as quickly as a half-asleep person does, into the kitchen and up to the wide window to scan the sealine for any sign of the majestic mammals and yes, yes, out there in the distance, you do see the spray shoot up into the sky from the blowhole of a creature that lives out there in the deep, then you, sweet friend, are really living.

When you follow the path that’s been pounded into hard dirt by so many other feet, hiking feet, bare feet, sandaled feet, sheep’s hooves, when you follow that path into the thicket of a small forest, a trickling brook, the footbridge, the pines, some brushy flowers, a hidden sloping creek where salt and freshwater mix, when you take this path, and on your walk you see not one, not twenty three, not fifty, no, more like hundreds and hundreds of sea lions bobbing along the coastline, and are they looking at you? Yes, they are definitely looking at you, right at you! from hundreds of feet away, but they see you and you see them and there is a link between you and these animals, their dark eyes knowing you, readily, up there on that cliff, please know that there is an invisible line of silk connecting you to them, them to you, so you know the truth is that there is no separation between you and the sea lion, you and the sea, you and the rock, you and the urchins in the tide pool, you and the grass, you and the whipping wind that tangles your hair endlessly, you belong, you are a part of this, this wild abandon is yours and you belong to it.

But you can’t take it with you. You have to leave it. This is difficult with all the rainbows and whales and stuff. But you have to leave. If you stayed, what would you do here?

“You Are That Person”

A student asked Soen Nakagawa
During a meditation retreat:
“I am very discouraged. What should I do?”
Soen replied, “Encourage others.”

At the beginning of this year, I read Kazuaki Tanahashi’s autobiography, Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis. He dedicated it to his dharma sister Mayumi Oda. Recently, I’ve read her books, and the experience reminded me of first becoming acquainted with her in the late 1980s and early 90s. Parallax Press out of Berkeley had begun publishing works by Thich Nhat Hanh such as Being Peace, Touching Peace, and Interbeing; Mayumi contributed her drawings to these now classic books.

Given the tsuris [Yiddish, translated by Allen Ginsberg as “serious difficulty”] in recent weeks, I returned to Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace in search of a passage I read decades ago. It’s from a talk he gave to peace activists and meditators, and while the issues and references of the mid-80s may seem distant to us, I hope his words speak to your heart….

“Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help. Read the rest of this entry »

Real Butchers

Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murat
Translators, Pevear and Volokhonsky

I should read this short novel every year, in January. This time I read it thinking of Vietnam, the American occupiers (Russians), the indigenous resistance (Chechens), and the rivalries among the Vietnamese (Shamil v. Hadji Murat). Then there’s destroying the forests with herbicides (and the Russians cutting down the forest trees [441]). And the mutilation of corpses as in “beers for ears” (Hadji Murat’s head carried around in a sack). And these passages for meditation…

But deep in her heart Aksinya was glad of Pyotr’s death. She was pregnant again by the salesclerk she lived with, and now no one could reproach her anymore, and the salesclerk could marry her, as he had said he would when he was persuading her to love him. 410

HM: “Fear came over me and I ran away…Never afterwards. Since then I always remembered that shame, and when I remembered it, I was no longer afraid of anything.” 422

To disagree with Nicholas’s orders meant to lose all that brilliant position which he now enjoyed, and which he had spent forty years acquiring. And therefore he humbly bowed his dark, graying head in a sign of submission and readiness to carry out the cruel, insane, and dishonest supreme will. 443-4 Read the rest of this entry »

There and Then, Here and Now

A lady: Yes, that’s just like what goes on nowadays, and it’s because anyone that is struggling for the liberation of the oppressed, he himself is a Christ, and then here’s a Herod, and what we’re seeing is the living story of the life of Jesus. And more heroes will come along, because wherever there’s someone struggling for liberation there’s someone who wants to kill him, and if they can kill him they will…. it’s perfectly clear that the business of Herod and Christ, we have it right here.

–Ernesto Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname

 

Ernesto Cardenal, 1925-2020

From Three Chinese Books

1.

The Master said, To learn and at due times to repeat what one has learnt, is that not after all a pleasure? That friends should come to one from afar, is this not after all delightful? To remain unsoured even though one’s merits are unrecognized by others, is that not after all what is expected of a gentleman? 1.1
—Confucius, Analects, 1.1 (translated by Arthur Waley)

2.

Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his boundless sense of responsibility in his work and his boundless warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people. Every Communist must learn from him. We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people. A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already nobleminded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.
—Mao Zedong, Little Red Book [Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung]

3.

I am always trying to find how to get the message through. [In Munich] we custom-made five-thousand backpacks like the ones of these students [who died in Sichuan] to construct a simple sentence [spoken by the] mother of a dead student. It was: “She has been happily living in this world for seven years.”
—Ai Weiwei, Weiwei-isms

Art = Survival

I had my second son Jeremiah in 1970. Between taking care of two children and the house, I had very little time to create. I felt like I was going to lose myself. Out of desperation, my art became a survival force. Without creating art, I couldn’t be myself. The children forced me to see myself as positive and strong. Through creating Goddesses, I became stronger. Art was a means of survival.

Goddesses are a projection of myself, my desire and my dreams. They help me to see who I am and who I want to be. Through my creative process, I have been creating myself.

–Mayumi Oda, Goddesses, 1988

Share the Wealth with Bob Suberi: A Delegation to Palestine

Growing up as a Labor Zionist in the 50’s and 60’s instilled a sense of community and pride in being a Jew. Although I grew up in a predominately white Christian suburb of Los Angeles, I spent my childhood summers at Habonim, a Labor Zionist camp where my mother worked as the camp cook and “mother.” At the tender age of 10 or 11 I was introduced to Socialism, Zionism, liberal politics and the inspiring folk songs of the labor movement and its impact on the settlement of the Jewish homeland. We sang and danced in celebration of the liberation of the Jewish people and the establishment of the State of Israel. Throughout my life I viewed Israel through this lens; a haven for a persecuted people in an otherwise vacant land. The problem, of course, is the fact that the land was not vacant. And the rationale for displacing the Palestinian occupants, a process that continues, has become more difficult to justify. 

Our delegation to Palestine was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Non-Violence, a group of Diaspora Jewish activists committed to defending the human rights of Palestinians. We call it co-resistance and we work at the direction of Palestinians along with other concerned groups within Israel. We also acknowledge the moral injury inflicted by the Israeli government upon its own citizens by their mistreatment of Palestinians. I quote Carlos Mesters, the Carmelite liberation theologian:   “If I hit you, I am dehumanizing you, but much more than that, I’m dehumanizing myself. The moment I mistreat someone I’m hurting myself more.”

Join us
Sunday 1 March
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Bob begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Bill Quick and Dianne Lee
7457 Wise Avenue
Richmond Heights, MO
63117

“Doing Your Best Is the Surest Way to Remind Those around You to Do Their Best”

Today in Intercultural Studies class I shared some famous passages from the manual Thich Nhat Hanh wrote for Vietnamese social workers back in the 1970s. If you are familiar with this Zen Master, you may remember “washing the dishes to wash the dishes” and eating a tangerine one section at a time.

My students had already been introduced to the Japanese practice of Naikan, adapted for the course by writing in a notebook and becoming adept at responding to three questions vis-à-vis an important person in one’s life—What have I received from him? What have I given to her? What troubles and difficulties have I caused them? Read the rest of this entry »