I’m currently facilitating an on-line class, Be in Love with Yr Life, based on The Book of Mev, with 11 very special people. The other day, I posted a short response to a Barsamian/Chomsky book, and afterwards, going through my files, I found the following letter.
Wednesday 9 October 1996
Professor Noam Chomsky
I hope you are doing well these days. To refresh your memory, since I know you receive hundreds of letters, I invited you to speak at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley a couple of years ago (while a student at the Maryknoll School of Theology in 1990, I did a thesis on your Mideast work). Your visit then was just before the time that my wife Mev Puleo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Mev died this past January at the age of 32 after a long and excruciating deterioration here in St. Louis. Actually, she took pictures at your talk to us on “Intellectuals and Political Responsibility” — that was the last shooting she did before her surgery. (One of her photos appears in the enclosed review).
Anyway, I have been slow to resume my work since it has been quite difficult to face the loss of wife, partner, and best friend, in addition to someone whose commitment to solidarity was simply exemplary. I am hoping to finish soon my doctoral dissertation for the GTU on Elie Wiesel; your work has been immensely helpful to me as I examine the connections between Wiesel’s work of memory and his august status in the U.S. intellectual and political community. (I’ve recently written Professor Shahak to see if he had translations on Wiesel’s reception in Israel, to which you’ve referred). I am hoping to trace the evolution of Wiesel from “unworthy victim” to most “worthy victim,” in your and Ed Herman’s classification. You were the first person I’d ever read who dissented from the strong Christian consensus that Wiesel is a prophet of our times. Read the rest of this entry »
From time to time I’ve learned how some readers of The Book of Mev recognize themselves in Mev Puleo’s words, say, from her letters and journals. They remind of the French novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote: “In reality every reader is, while she is reading, the reader of her own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable her to discern what, without this book, she could perhaps never have perceived in herself.”
In this late summer-early fall writing class, I invite you to read (or reread) and write off of stories, themes, and questions from The Book of Mev. We’ll explore topics like being present, community, accompaniment, faith, spirituality, the state of the world, the state of the soul, friends, mentors, teachers, creative arts (e.g., photography), travel, breakdowns, breakthroughs, illness, celebrating, grieving, letting go, poetry, El Salvador, Palestine, Haiti, schools, gospels, letter-writing, gratitude, bearing witness, and much else.
We go for eight sessions, from Sunday 20 August to Sunday 8 October. Each Sunday I will email participants an agenda to direct reading, writing, and sharing in the week ahead.
Time Commitment: You’ll need approximately 1 to 2 hours a week, more if you have the energy. It’s not necessary to do an entire agenda in one sitting; feel free to space it out over the week. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday I caught up with Liz Burkemper, home for spring break from her first year at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Liz inspires me with her aspiration to simplify her life and take time for contemplation. I told her I was grateful for her remembering Mev and her Brazil message at some of the vast and lively protests she participated in in January and February.
By chance yesterday I came across the following reflection by Emily Warming from 2007, when she was in a Justice and Peace Senior Seminar with Roger Bergman at Creighton University. I have been blessed and inspired by many Creighton friends, like Emily, who have been deep readers and enthused hallowers of life.
I was nervous for Mark Chmiel to come to Creighton. Mev only died a week ago for me. I was grieving and it seemed like he were coming to Creighton to help us bury her. How do we talk about this book with this man? How do we even begin to address the flash, the brilliance, the ahh! bright wings of Mev? She so radiated and resonated with us. Presente! She is with us. The book was so personal, so broken open, receptive and burning of suffering and joy, so sacred in some way. The many voices; the concrete manifestations of exhilaration, edification, frustration; the crushing grief; the inexplicable soaring of heart; the hope hope hope made this book breathe with the holy texture of life. Read the rest of this entry »
Started rereading The Book of Mev last night. Partially because I needed her reminder that being academic does not mean being disengaged from the world
and from the people behind all those ideas.
Also because I wanted to be near Mev
Though I have never known her.
Thank you for sharing her,
And thank you for sharing you
And the love between the two of you
love draws new dimensions of us love comes to surprise us
Out of our small safe place
Into the wild home we didn’t even think to ask for.
Maybe love is wilder when it is not just for us
But the community too
And loss is love’s coda.
“Do this in remembrance of me”
from Part Three, The Book of Mev
Monday 5 February 1996
And so. Three weeks ago, we buried Mev. So we did. So she is gone. Vanished. Not palpable. Or at least, most of the time.
I think I’ve been pretty good at telling you over the course of the months what was expressed in yesterday’s homily, namely, as far as my theology goes, such as it is, you have been Christ, you showed me that, yeah, it’s maybe, likely that God is love, because you are love, you loved Mev, you loved us, and therefore you are in and of God. Shocking, isn’t it? If you are in and of God, I wouldn’t sweat so much my paper for the American Academy of Religion. Read the rest of this entry »
Hey Dr. Chmiel! Hope the new school year is treating you well! I thought of you the other day because I was perusing my bookcase (which, by the way, I’m doing JVC in Camden, NJ this year, so we have a stocked bookcase of a bagillion different cool books) and I came across Faces of Poverty with the wonderful Mev Puleo as its photographer! It made me really excited because as I was reading The Book of Mev, I had always wanted to see the book that she had worked on… Anyway, just thought I’d let you know that Mev has a presence in Camden! (It was also cool to see that one of the pictures she took was in Camden! It’s the one with the two billboards, one of Virginia Slims and the other about praying…)
Have a good weekend!!