by Mark Chmiel
Here is my reflection of Dear Layla, I thought at first that I should apologize for the scatter-brained style of writing I’m sure this letter will take. Then I thought, he probably doesn’t mind. So here it is, as it is, in my head.
When you sent me the pdf of Dear Layla I could not wait to read it. After reading The Book of Mev, hearing you speak, drinking coffee with you. I knew it was going to be good. Little thoughts here and there, ideas from different points in time, people met at different places. Somehow beautifully put together to create this one incredible story.
I read Dear Layla in less than 24 hours. And by that I mean I started the moment it arrived in my facebook inbox, and kept reading until my eyes really couldn’t stay open anymore. Then I picked it up again the next day, and read until I was already a few minutes late to class and I remembered we’d be reviewing for our midterm so I should probably go. Then I ran home from class to make myself a sandwich before the next one, only to forget the bread in the toaster because I was too busy reading.
And then I finished.
And I just wanted to sit there and soak it all in, feel it, live it.
But I still had class, and work, and homework, and people to be social with.
And that made me mad, because in that moment I just wanted to sit there and read it all over again, and then go to Palestine, or back to El Salvador or maybe even just out West, just to explore and think and be…
So now it’s Fall Break and most of my friends went home.
But I stayed here
Because I want to read and write and try to make chilies rellenos and do all of those little things there’s never enough time to do.
Oh, and I’m just not really ready to go home
Because I don’t know what home’s like anymore.
And I’m not ready to choose which house I sleep in at night.
Because my bed from home is here at SLU so now I can’t even use the excuse that I’ll stay with my mom because that’s where my bed is.
So here I am, with homemade green tea.
Reading Dear Layla again
That is why I’m writing to you after all (sorry for the previous rant)
I’ve never been to Palestine, or anywhere in the Middle East.
But I hear stories on the news, and I’ve seen documentaries.
And I know what the whole conflict is about.
I know we’re supposed to support Israel…that’s what our government and FOX News tells us.
But I know there are Palestinians who get bulldozed along with their homes.
And like the planes that carried the bombs that destroyed El Salvador,
The bulldozers wear the words MADE IN THE USA
And I know that men and women from around the world go to stand, arms linked, wearing their neon orange vests, waving their hands begging the bulldozers to stop.
And despite the passion, the devotion, the pure love for people
Sometimes the bulldozers don’t stop.
My good friend Ben who I shared a house with for 4 months in El Salvador has been to Palestine.
Jordan too. He’s in Beirut now.
He loves the Middle East. He loves Palestine.
He lives and breathes it and one time he told me this story.
He’d been staying in Palestine with a friend. And his friend had a 14 year old son.
Ben and this boy used to take walks in the morning, singing songs and laughing.
And after lunch they would go and throw stones at the monsters.
Boy barely blinking, no time to close his eyes, on a mission.
Save his country.
And they did this for who knows how many days.
Until one day the boy must have thrown a stone a little too big, or shouted a little too loud.
Or maybe the soldiers are just evil people.
I guess the reason doesn’t really matter though.
Regardless, they put their guns to his head and they shot him.
And I’ve never seen Ben cry before the moment he told me his story.
Like you said on page 23.
“Compromiso, noun, Spanish
Making a commitment
Taking a stand
Walking the talk”
Descansa en paz young boy I’ve never met.
Young boy who changed lives.
Though I don’t really know anything of linguistics and compromiso and acompañarte probably don’t come from the same root word, they remind me of each other and I think they belong together.
A commitment to stand by his side
Casa de la Solidaridad.
That’s how I came to know Ben
I really like the little quotes you have throughout the book.
The ones by famous people like Howard Zinn, Jack Kerouac, and Rosa Parks.
I like them because their words, worthy of italics because they mean something, are followed by your words or Carla’s words or one of your student’s words and they mean just as much.
I like Timing/1 (Insertion/1)
“My friend Nina Gold once sent me this short note
‘I’m not trying to push you
After all you’ve been through
I know you want to protect yourself
But sooner or later
You’ve got to let go of your fear’
In my courses I insisted on the students doing “insertions”
By putting themselves in a world different than their own
And accompanying people struggling for a better life…
I called Nina and left her this message
‘You won’t believe this, but I am headed to Palestine for a few months”
Here are my thoughts:
I’m not afraid of anything.
Despite my 5’2’’, not much more than 100lb stature
My spine that curves inward despite the back brace I wore for a year
A curve that makes me look a little quieter than I really am.
I’m not afraid.
I’m not afraid of heights, or the dark, or sharks.
I like to think no one can hurt me, physically.
I couldn’t hold my own in a fight, I know that.
But I’m not afraid.
I’m not (that) afraid of scary movies or strange men on street corners at night.
I’m not afraid to go to El Salvador or anywhere else the wind takes me.
I’m not afraid to be “inserted”. I’d love to be in an “insertion”
I wouldn’t mind another 4 months of having lice and parasites.
I’m not afraid to live without water, or lights, or with chuchos that watch me in the middle of night.
Your not afraid of anything?
I’m afraid I’ll be alone forever.
I’m afraid I won’t be happy.
I’m afraid I’ll never really know what love is.
I’m afraid of what the people I know the most will think of me.
I’m afraid of what my best friends will think of me.
I’m afraid of what my crazy conservative high school classmates will think of me
Even though when I see them post stuff on facebook like “free health care for all aka Obama stealing our religious liberties. Romney 2012” I just laugh.
I’m afraid to tell them why it is my dream to do JVI or Rostro.
I tell people I just want to go.
I do it all the time. This weird movement where I stick my right arm out forward.
Like an arrow. And I shrug my shoulders.
I just want to go.
I know it doesn’t make sense, or maybe it does. Maybe people know I long for this “insertion”
They probably don’t.
I say I’m interested in International Social Work. That’s why I don’t want to be in the US anymore.
I’m afraid to explain. I’m afraid to dig deep into my heart for the answer.
I’m afraid I can’t even really explain it.
I wish people could just go inside my brain, or my heart
I’m not quite sure where the answer lies.
I just wish they could go in there, and see the world the way I see it.
Feel the world the way I feel it.
And then they’d get it. And I’d make sense.
And my mom and dad would know I’m not leaving because I hate them.
And that I am sad I’d miss my favorite cousin’s wedding.
Or that I’d still love my friends even though I’d meet new foreign ones.
I’m afraid to stop being what society calls normal.
I’m afraid to stop going to bars.
Trying to meet new boys.
I’m afraid to where chacos, flannel, and old jeans all the time.
It’s kind of silly isn’t it?
I’m not afraid of the malaria pills I might have to take.
The questionable food I might have to eat.
I’m afraid to stop being “American”
I’m afraid to breathe before I act.
I’m afraid to move at a pace slower than the speed I drive on I-55 South, Chicago to St. Louis.
I’m not afraid to be a martyr.
I read this quote (I live this quote) by Ita Ford:
“I hope you find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living, maybe even worth dying for, something that energizes us, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead”
I’m not afraid to march with the campesinos, shout at a giant machine that could take me out in a second.
Yet I’m afraid to tell my parents the truth.
I think I could stand up to a wall of soldiers much bigger than myself, but I don’t think I could look eye-to-eye with mom.
Intifada, Arabic. “shaking off”
Being willing to move where one wants and needs to go.
I need to go.
I think I’ll be happy.
It’s my dream.
Maybe I’ll fall in love? Someone I’d like to spend the rest of my life with.
At least maybe I could fall in love with a little old man, or a little girl.
Who aren’t afraid to cry.
Maybe I could be like Romero, or Ellacuría, or Rachel.
Or maybe I could just be myself.
“To translate Victor Jara’s El Derecho de Vivir en Paz into Arabic and action.”
Action. I like that. A lot.
I sometimes wonder what the future will hold.
Actually I think about that all the time.
To get a job means to do work.
To do work, hacer mi trabajo. Action.
In a field along side a woman who never went to school.
Who can teach me more than professors with PhDs.
Day 1. Introduction to Social Work
Lesson 1: Social Workers won’t make a lot of money
Thought 1: Umm, okay
Thought 1 gazillion and 1: If I move away from the US I’ll make even less.
Thought 1 gazillion and 2: That’s what I want.
“We are not representatives of our governments
We are not officials of a ‘peace process’
We are not celebrities.
We are nobodies
Visiting for a time other nobodies
Who gently or vigorously elbow us awake
To the way of the world as it is
And the way of the world
As it could be”
Nobody. Awake. As it is. As it could be.
I’m still trying to figure this all out.
One time I was at a beach in El Salvador. It was midnight. The water came all the way up the sand where I had rested earlier in the day. I was talking to my friend Quentin. Looking at the stars. I don’t see those in Chicago.
And there were so many. And I was so small.
And amongst the thousands upon thousands of stars, I am nobody.
How much can I do? How much would it take to be somebody?
Awake. Like I’m no longer sleeping in my bed.
Awake. Like I see life. Like really really see it. And live it.
The good and the bad.
The absolutely wonderful and the pain inducing terrible.
As it is. As it could be.
Why can’t the former catch up to the latter?
Sleepless (Life under Occupation/12)
“I still can’t shake off
The sound of the sister’s sobs”
You and me both.
Scenes from the Classroom/4
I like what you did.
I like how you made them get up. Make a decision.
Have an opinion.
So frequently it seems our opinion doesn’t matter.
Especially if they consider it “wrong”
I like how you let people talk
And you make everyone else listen.
That’s a gift. Of this I am sure.
I wish more people asked my opinion.
Maybe I’d get better at saying it.
Why are you a vegetarian?
Why do you lean to the left?
Why do you go to mass every Sunday but read books about Buddhism?
Why do you hate America (that’s just an assumption)?
What’s wrong with capitalism?
Disponibilidade, noun, Portuguese.
A disposition of openness
In which one is accessible
Available and willing
To be inconvenienced
By the needs or requests
Of another person or event.
Sometimes I wonder how I can do this,
Without people walking over me,
I don’t have that answer yet.
In response to no passage in particular… though the entire Dear Layla evoked the following in me:
I applied for graduation this week.
Even though it’s not until May.
I guess this means I’ll have to make it to then though.
I already signed the form. Spelled my name phonetically. I’m sure I did that wrong.
Lyn z West in. I probably won’t even recognize my name being announced.
I still wish I had a 4.0
Because maybe I was taught (or maybe I did it to myself)
That 3.86 isn’t quite perfect enough.
I’ve done the math.
Even if I get straight A’s these next 2 semesters.
The average still wont be 4 or even 3.99 which I would hope they’d round up.
I don’t particularly want to be in school anymore.
I definitely didn’t last semester. When I got back.
But I thought it’d be a waste to quit then.
Angelica would be mad.
So I’m not giving up.
Even though I think my heart’s a lot stronger, works harder, used more frequently than my brain. Despite the AP classes, 18 credit hours each semester, 1,000s of papers.
I don’t like tests. What do they really measure anyway?
I used to be in the library for hours each day.
Now I just go there every Tuesday after class to pick out my weekly book to read.
I like it a lot better this way.
I’m trying to be more excited.
First one in my family to graduate college in 4 years.
I need to be more proud. Of myself.
Good job Lindsey! Way to go! You finished school! Not too many people do.
Ugh. That was a little harder than I thought.
It’s just the world is so much bigger than Room 101 in Tegler.
“The book planted a seed that first time
And now 4,392 hours later
After just finishing it for the third time
He is going to Palestine”
Wow. That’s half a year. I admire this Mateo Aranda person a lot.
I hope to one day be this confident. This bold. This sure.
I like that this quote comes from Camus.
A. because it’s a good quote
B. because one time in El Salvador my friend Yolanda (her real name is Kate) was reading this passage for our Praxis Class and the sentence went something like “and the great philosopher, writer Camus said…” But she said it like C-A-M-U-S and our teacher just laughed. And I like seeing quotes by Camus because they will always make me laugh. No matter how serious and intellectual they are. And I like that you’ve got a quote by him in Dear Layla because I believe we’re all connected. All the good, wonderful, beautiful, soul filling people in my life. They’re meant to be here.
Minute Particulars (Olives 3)
“But it’s something”
Thank you for this. It reminded me a lot of “Romero’s prayer.”
I like to think of the prayer frequently, to keep me on track.
I haven’t thought about it in awhile.
This passage brought me back on track.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
I think this is my favorite prayer.
Because it only mentions God twice. And that’s a part of prayer I’m still not 100% sure on.
The God part.
I like to pray to someone, it helps to have the faith that someone is listening.
This prayer doesn’t force God upon me. It lets me think and reflect.
And like Christobhal, it helps me realize that even if what I do is so little. “It’s something”
I need this kind of reminder.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen
In a year
This can be excruciating for us
This can be liberating for us”
Thank you for pointing out both sides of this dilemma (blessing?)
I’ve been trying to live more in the present moment.
Be present Lindsey
I think it’s good for me.
Confess Your Hidden Faults
“The Palestinians deserve so much more
Than we were able to give them”
Maybe we give and take without really giving or taking anything physical.
And that’s enough.
In fact, it’s more than enough.
People living on the margins, wow, so filled with life.
So much to give.
“Tell your friends everything. Give away all your secrets. Help Everyone!”
– Allen Ginsberg.
After reading Dear Layla I just want to be your friend.
And all of your friends’ friend.
And I want to talk to people that go places, and do things
And more importantly feel things.
I don’t really know how to thank you for sharing Dear Layla with me.
Thank you for being a wonderful writer.
Than you for being a wonderful sharer.
Thank you for deeming me worthy of reading something so beautiful.
Thank you for being a wonderful human…