Hold It All

Category: Activists

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 »

“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 »

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

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 »

All Part of the Great Life Force

Mayumi Oda, I Opened the Gate, Laughing: An Inner Journey

Mayumi’s inner journey meant getting divorced from her husband (John Nathan) and reconnecting with the Buddhism of her youth, as well as finding her path through gardening and connecting to the earth. This book has many colorful prints of her garden, fruits and vegetables (radishes, cabbages), other creatures (frogs, spiders, and insects) and strong women role models, aka goddesses (Green Tara).

I realize I first encountered Mayumi back in the late 80s and early 90s when I was reading the first books of Thich Nhat Hanh published through Parallax Press; she contributed the drawings. In addition to revisiting and enjoying them, I will continue to reflect on the following passages from I Opened the Gate, Laughing

We both maintained exciting professional lives in NY. Life was very exhilarating, but somehow it didn’t make much sense to me.

Everything I have done is in the service of Gaia’s garden.

My heart was calm and my eyes were open.

Many times I felt like a failure at living my life.

My heart still pounds with the mystery of this blossoming out of wet, black soil. Read the rest of this entry »

The Russians

It should come as no surprise that black folks would immerse themselves in this Russian literary tradition that is so profound in its willingness to raise unsettling questions. They say when you go into James Baldwin’s house, the first thing you see is Chekhov. You go into Ralph Ellison’s house, the first thing you see is Dostoevsky. You go into Richard Wright’s house, the first thing you see is also Dostoevsky. So I can imagine [Alice]Walker reading these Russian texts, like Notes from the Underground, in Zinn’s class and saying, “Oh my God, this sounds like Letitia down here. Sounds like Shaniqua down here.” With all the brilliance that a Shaniqua—which means “God is gracious”—and a Letitia—which means “Joy”—can have, trying to make sense of the world given the absurdities of predatory capitalism and patriarchy and white supremacy and U.S. empire

–Cornel West, on Missing Howard Zinn Ten Years after His Death

Anne Waldman on The Art of Writing, Reading, and Sharing—Winter Class/Arco-Online 2020

Imagine you are not alone. Consort with other writers. You are in a League of Writing. You are part of a conspiracy to lift the discourse and practice of writing higher. Think of your writing as a way to alleviate the suffering of yourself and others. To make the world more beautiful and interesting.
—Anne Waldman, “Creative Writing Life”

If you writing life needs a recharge, if you want to reconnect with your writing practice and other kindred spirits, please join us in this class as we will engage the accumulated wisdom of Anne Waldman, poet, teacher, cultural activist, anthologist, and subverter of the patriarchy.

In her inspiring book, Vow to Poetry: Essays, Interviews, & Manifestos, Waldman has short chapter entitled, “Creative Writing Life.” It’s nine pages long and this will be the chief text for our class. Each week we will read, discuss, and write off of a page of Anne’s prompts–both friends who want to share via a class blog, and those who can meet up in St. Louis. We will spend our time in and outside of class experimenting, practicing, and integrating what she has to offer (I count 136 specific suggestions). Perhaps you will discover that 10 of these are really what you matter to you at this time in your life.

For Saint Louisans, outside of a 90 minute weekly class, you will need at least another 1.5 to 2 hours. Friends joining us via the class blog count on 2 to 3 hours a week. Make room in your schedule for cultivating creativity, clarity, and community.

We meet on Thursdays from January 30 to March 17, 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. at the home of Andrew Wimmer, 4400 Arco Avenue 63110. Online participants will receive an agenda on Friday mornings to direct their activities for the week.I will be frequently in touch with you, and try to connect people in the same city. The more we share, the greater our learning and expansion!

All you need are your writing materials and/or devices and, ideally, a copy of Vow to Poetry, or one of Anne’s other books, such as Fast Speaking Woman, Beats at Naropa, Civil Disobediences, or Outrider. Check out your bookstore or public library, or contact me for assistance–I have access to university libraries.

Tuition for St. Louisans, $100.
For online participants, $50.
You can send tuition to me by Paypal or by check at the first class.

For those of you who have done a class with me before and found it worth your time, please pass along this announcement to anyone you know who may be interested in this class, especially the online version.

Penny Smith, Northwest Coffee, Central West End

Start a club/”study group” around the work of a deceased writer or writers or a literary movement or a book. Meet once a month and plan to read aloud (or translate), write “off of,” and examine texts. The Sappho Club, the Niedecker/Zukovsky Salon, the H.D. Room, the Beat Trope Circle, Robert Duncan Lab, New York School Gallery, Black Arts Solarium…
–Anne Waldman, “Creative Writing Life”