National Poetry Month And Morning Meditations: A Happy Confluence

I agree with my friend, author Iris Graville: “EVERY month is poetry month.” But I especially appreciate her post, “30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month,” for its reminder of a convention I’ve been trying to lure myself back into: memorizing a poem. (That’s #4 on Iris’s list.)

When I was a kid, my dad would pay me and my sisters a dollar for each poem memorized. Go ahead, ask me to recite “I’m Nobody” or “Jabberwocky”! I still got ’em.

No one’s offering cash right now, but the rewards of having poetry in your head are undeniable. It’s SUCH a better response to the daily noise of ugly news than going, “la la la, can’t hear you!”  And, as I wrote in my last post, I’ve been starting my day with a poem since the election of 2016. If reading poetry works, how much more so memorizing? What a glorious way to start your day, with words of beauty coming out of your own mouth!

How my brain feels when NOT insulated and reinforced by poetry.

Incidentally, my other response to the “daily noise” and its lure toward tribalism has been to immerse myself in the words of bridge-builders. Relying heavily on Krista Tippett’s podcast, “On Being,” I spend at least an hour a week listening to people talk about how they’ve bridged terrible divides in their lives, or healed themselves or others, or found practices that lead toward the community they envision.

So I love the serendipity of finding this poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama in last week’s “On Being.” It offers me all three prizes at once: a beautiful, heart-opening meditation with which to start the day; a way to turn my sights toward hope and away from cynicism; and a path toward the kind of bridge-building thinking I want in my own head.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a good guy to listen to, regardless of any hoped-for outcome. According to his “On Being” bio, he’s “a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge since the violent division that defined that country until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.”

He’s also extremely Christian, which I am not. But I’ve long since found a way to put my own meanings on the names “Jesus” and “God,” so they don’t stop me. If you find that they do, in this poem, I encourage you to substitute other words that work better. I’m sure Pádraig wouldn’t mind.

Here, then, is his poem.

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.

Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.

Hello.”

I don’t have a photo of the sun rising above the chimneys of North Belfast. But here’s a photo of the view from my own rooftop, which is a bit more apropos, isn’t it?

Hello.

I’ll be working on memorizing these lines for probably the rest of the month, maybe beyond. But who cares? Isn’t every month Poetry Month?

When Routine Is Anything But: Finding A Daily Path That Requires Open Eyes

Hey, welcome back to Wing’s World in its non-travel-blog iteration. If you’re hoping to read about travel adventures, sorry–you’ll have to wait till my next trip. THIS entry is about the art of staying home, one day after the next.

Home, for me, begins with a ferry ride.

If I were still teaching school, finding a daily routine would be no struggle; the struggle, as all teachers (and students, and parents) know, is keeping your head above water enough to teach/learn/communicate/eat/sleep/repeat with some minimal effectiveness. In my 20 years of teaching, I got all the news I needed during my commute.

As a former teacher, however, employed in one part-time, manual-labor job and one completely non-paying, artistic one, the idea of routine is usually just that: an idea. I gave up commuting, but I was fine with creating my own balance of baking and writing and keeping vague touch with the rest of the country for the first several years of my post-teaching life. Then came the election of 2016, and the real illusion was revealed: that America was on the right path, that Dr. King’s good ol’ Arc of Justice was bending appropriately.

Since that time I, like a lot of my White friends, have been working hard to re-educate myself in American reality, recognizing my own unwitting but comfortable complicity in helping make Trumpmerica possible. Routine is long gone as I cast about for the best way to make of myself a better instrument, a better citizen.

Going back to teaching is a decision I have moved beyond. I’m too deeply immersed in my writing career to be willing to sacrifice it, and too respectful of both jobs to be able to do justice to both at once. So I work at the bakery I continue to love, and fill my non-baking, non-writing time with a slew of different types of volunteer activity. This makes for a ragged schedule. I rather like the variety of my days…after breakfast. It’s that first hour that, since 2016, has really gotten to me.

See, my Mate is an early riser, and starts his day with a workout. Which he does in front of the TV, watching the news. He keeps the volume low, but our living room lies between our bedroom and kitchen. So by the time I’ve prepared my tea and sat down with my cereal, I’ve had, willy-nilly, an injection of CNN that makes my stomach hurt.

How I don’t want to start my day: angry, defeated, cynical, self-berating.

How I do want to start my day: hopeful, inspired, open-eyed, empathetic, challenged.

I’m lucky to live in a place where the scenery itself can inspire. But this view is NOT available to me first thing in the morning; it takes a 25-minute drive to the ferry dock. Not to mention clear skies.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to try to shape that first hour:*

  1. Hum to myself to drown out any CNN until my tea kettle does it for me.
  2. Before turning on my computer, re-read the poem I read yesterday from the collection of poetry I keep on the kitchen table. (Currently: Seamus Heaney.) Then read a new poem. (By this time CNN is a mumble in the background, nothing my brain cares about.)
  3. Turn on my computer, but before going to email, read some news stories. Lately, after finding myself turning to BBC, NPR and the Christian Science Monitor to escape CNN’s Trump focus, I decided to subscribe to the good old “failing” New York Times. The story that really got me today was about the escalation of violence against women in Honduras.
  4. Again, before email, I look at the weather forecasts, not just for Lopez Island, but for the whole country. I try to imagine how different people are being affected in different states and regions. (Road trips help with this–we know a lot of folks in a lot of different states and regions!)
  5. OK, now it’s time for email, Facebook, all that delicious focus on ME and my near-and-dear, or far-and-dear. But because I started with the bigger picture, it stays with me in perimeter even as my focus narrows. And because of the poetry, my brain feels brighter, my noticing muscles primed to do their job.

*on baking mornings, which start around 3 a.m., this routine is foreshortened, of course. I don’t need to worry about the Mate’s news habits; I’m actually up before him. But I spend the first ten minutes of my ride (if biking) or my drive, saying the names of people in need of special attention and love–anyone from an ill neighbor to, for example, the people of Puerto Rico.

I have tried, by the way, to internalize this kind of empathic meditation and make it part of my day when I’m not leaving for the bakery. But I haven’t yet found a place and time that feels natural. Still a work in progress.

“No man is an island, let that be my prayer/ no matter how alluring be the shore…”

Because of that, I would love to hear of other people’s routines. What special things do you do to start your day off on the right foot, for both brain and soul? 

 

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness: “The Jewish Nurse” Shares His Story

“Darkness,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Case in point: Ari Mahler. A friend recently shared the story of the nurse who treated the killer who had just shot up the Pittsburgh synagogue. In following up, I found this original story by Angelina Gibson on Nurse.org. I can’t tell it better than she can:

“In a country that is no longer shocked by mass murders and random shootings at places that should feel safe, from schools to synagogues to yoga studios, there is one act that has risen out from amongst the violence that is perhaps the most shocking act of all:

Kindness and compassion. 

Ari Mahler, an ER nurse from Pittsburg, was one of three Jewish doctors and nurses who cared for Robert Bowers, the shooter who killed 11 Jewish worshipers and injured 6 at the Tree of Life Congregation on October 27th. After Bowers, who had a long history of anti-Semitism and posted “I’m going in,” stormed into the synagogue and began shooting, a police shoot-out occurred and it’s thought that Bowers was shot by officers

As a result of his wounds, he was taken to Allegheny General Hospital to be treated, where Bowers continued his tirade against Jewish people, even reportedly shouting, “Death to Jews” as he was wheeled into the hospital. And it was at that moment, when a man so filled with hate that he murdered, that Mahler could have chosen so many paths in his role as a nurse. He could have declined the patient assignment, he could have hurled cruel words back, or he could have taken the patient but failed to care for him properly. 

Instead, Mahler chose to rise above hate and instead, cared for Bowers, in his own words, with “empathy.” 

In a revealing Facebook post, Mahler described how he was the Jewish nurse who cared for one of the country’s most hate-filled shooters and how the interaction with Bowers was a deliberate one meant to honor the lives that had been lost, not add to the hate that took them.

“I am The Jewish Nurse,” Mahler began his post. “Yes, that Jewish Nurse. The same one that people are talking about in the Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 dead. The trauma nurse in the ER that cared for Robert Bowers who yelled, ‘Death to all Jews,’ as he was wheeled into the hospital. The Jewish nurse who ran into a room to save his life.”

From Ari Mahler’s Facebook page

Mahler went on to describe how he was nervous for writing up a post on what happened with Bowers, noting his past growing up Jewish, with a father who was a Rabbi, and experiencing anti-Semitism. 

“I found drawings on desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, ‘Die Jew. Love, Hitler.’,” Mahler explained. “It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now. I was weak, too. Rather than tell anyone, I hid behind fear. Telling on the people who did this would only lead to consequences far worse.”

He then stated that sadly, he was not shocked by the fact that this shooting took place, mentioning today’s climate as one that “doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility… I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving,” he added. 

“ I WANTED HIM TO FEEL COMPASSION. I CHOSE TO SHOW HIM EMPATHY.”

And despite the fact that Mahler has been lauded a hero for his care of Bowers, he challenged the public sentiment who praised him because he is Jewish. 

‘I’m sure he [Bowers] had no idea I was Jewish,” he wrote. “Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?” 

HE DIDN’T SEE “EVIL”

Citing HIPPA, Mahler also added that he couldn’t reveal the specifics of his interaction with Bowers, but did say that when he looked into his eyes, he didn’t see “evil” and like the professional nurse that he is, he didn’t base his care for Bowers on who he was or what he had done. 

“I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness, my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher,” he went on to say. 

LOVE

In the comment section of his post, Mahler received an outpouring of love and support for his actions and his care of the mass murderer, including from his fellow Jewish nurses. “As a Jewish nurse I applaud you for doing the right thing,” wrote Janet. “It is what we do. We may crumble later but we do our job and do it well.” 

For those who are wondering just why Mahler acted the way he did and chose to go public with his decision to treat a murderer with any shred of kindness at all, the nurse minced no words in explaining exactly why he did what he did:

“Love,” he said. “That’s why I did it.”

“Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”

Amen. And thank you, Ari.

When Horizontal Space Disease Spreads to Your Calendar (It Isn’t Pretty)

The other day I went for a walk with a friend who has been spending time meditating and going to Buddhist retreats, and I felt a bit of envy. Inner peace? Yes, please!

(Courtesy IndiaMart.com)

But I know myself too well to think I’m going to take up any of those habits now, in middle age, when I can barely get myself to Quaker Meeting. Instead, I’m finding ways to turn my own weakness–Horizontal Space Disease–into a strength.

HSD is my #1 disorder, according to my Mate. Its symptoms: I see an empty horizontal space, and–according to him–I instantly need to cover it with something. Books. Laundry. Flowers. Little caches of rubber bands, paper clips, and batteries for guitar tuners. (Hey, that stuff is USEful.)

Over the years we’ve found a good compromise: certain areas of the house are fair game for my stuff, others are kept shipshape. So this is NOT a Wing house picture.

(…although they do have nice stuff…(Courtesy Sugar Pond, Wikimedia Commons)

But something of mine I’ve noticed is looking a lot like this photo these days: my schedule. It’s a cluttered mess.

A typical day generally involves the following:

2:30 or 3:15 a.m. rise, depending on whether I’m riding or driving to work

8 1/2 hour workday at the bakery

mini-power nap (20 minutes) before heading off to writing group, or music practice, or a meeting for some community organization

ride home, OR drive home to power-walk or do indoor workout

dinner/catch up with The Mate

study Spanish/practice music/catch up on correspondence/see how those spinning plates are doing–anything crashed yet?–good, keep spinning, and…time for bed so you can do it again tomorrow!

Understand, I am NOT complaining. Just noticing. Noticing that life feels a tad hectic these days. So the other morning, I used my starry morning bike commute to list all the ways I can keep myself feeling in charge of my schedule, instead of the other way around.

  1. Start the day with a poem, preferably about nature. It puts everything in perspective before little things start assuming too much importance.
  2. Use my drive or ride to air-journal about what’s on my mind, or to sing, or to call up memories that bring me joy.
  3. Use my power-walk to do the same, or, if I’m riding the indoor bike, listen to a thoughtful podcast like On Being.
  4. Even when I have a lot to do in a short time, I try to move my body deliberately. It’s amazing how un-rushed that makes me feel.

Could I clear my calendar, quit some groups, attend fewer meetings, do less? Absolutely! But I don’t WANT to. I like my full life. Just got to find a way to live comfortably with my “disease.”

Any HSD/Calendar fellow-sufferers out there? What are your remedies? Please share!

 

 

 

 

Celebrate America–by Remembering Philando Castile

Philando Castile died two days after Independence Day, July 6, 2016. Shot to death in his car, in a traffic stop in Minnesota, in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter, by a police officer who later swore he was in fear of his life. One year later, in July 2017, the officer was acquitted by a jury containing men and women of different races.

Courtesy Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, via Wikimedia Commons

 This is not a post about guns, shooting, police, or even Black Lives Matter. This is a post about love. This is a signpost, showing a way forward.

According to a story by Michelle Krupa of CNN in March of this year, Philando’s legacy is still alive, helping children the way he used to, when he worked as a custodian at a public school in St. Paul:

One by one.That’s how Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer during a 2016 traffic stop, used to help kids who couldn’t afford lunch. The school nutrition supervisor would dip into his pocket and pay the bill.

Now a charity run in his name has multiplied his mission by thousands, wiping out the lunch debt of every student at all 56 schools in Minnesota’s St. Paul Public Schools, where Castile worked.
“That means that no parent of the 37,000 kids who eat meals at school need worry about how to pay that overdue debt,” according to a post at the YouCaring fundraising page Philando Feeds the Children. “Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one.”
This July 4th, I’m going to celebrate my country, which I love, as much as anything, for its ability to rise from its own evil–slavery–and become better. And I’m going to remember Philando Castile, who died because the legacy of slavery has legitimized the idea of a black man being scary, even as he sits in his car with his family. I’m going to celebrate the fact that an American like Philando, held to one of the lowest jobs, chose to help children the way we all want adults to help children.
God bless America. God bless the example of Philando Castile. Let’s make ourselves and our country better.

 

Remembering An Awful Day: The Murder of Dr. King

April 4, 1968. I was six. I remember looking down from the top of the stairs to see my mother looking up. She was crying.

Courtesy Wikimedia

If you are old enough to remember the day Martin Luther King died, where were you?

If you are too young to remember…here’s a song for you. It’s about Coretta, because April 4, 1968 was worse for her than for any of us.

 

Coretta

 

Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

                        All of those years…imagine the tears.

                        Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.

 

Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

                        Sink or swim…opposition is grim.                     

                         Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.

 

 

Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail              

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

                        Stay at home, keep the children calm.                          

                        Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.

 

 

Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.           

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

                        Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies                                  

                        Best step aside, feel the power rise.

 

Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.          

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

                        Made of steel…Lord, this is real:               

                        41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.

 

So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss         

And you march and you rally and you  pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

                        Become its soul…it took its toll.    

                        But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.*

 

 

For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways      

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

       Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.                              

                        But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

                        Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

                        But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.          

 

G. Wing, March 2013

*I wrote this song in a more optimistic time. Not sure I still believe that goal’s getting any closer

White Privilege, Part…II? XVIII? Who’s Counting?

The US election of 2016 ushered me, like a lot of folks, into a new era of reading, listening, and discussion, all aimed at understanding, to paraphrase Hillary, “What the Hell Just Happened (And What Does it Mean)?”

I quickly figured out that it was mostly my fellow white people who were asking that question. People of Color (whom I’ve mostly just been reading and listening to, since leaving very-colorful Tacoma for this very-white island 7 years ago) not only sounded less surprised on the whole, but also less shook. The overall message seems to be more along the lines of, “Really? Didn’t see this coming?”

For these thinkers, Trump isn’t the blacklight lighting up the creepy-crawlies in the sofa cushions; he’s just one more creepy-crawly in a house whose infestation was built into its foundation-which some of us have been noticing only intermittently. I realized I had something to learn.

One of the most powerful passages of one of the most powerful books I’ve read this past year comes from Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between The World And Me. He writes of the Dream—NOT Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” but quite the opposite. This Dream, to Coates, is the illusion of fundamental American fairness, decency and democracy that middle class whites cling to in order to feel good about living the way we do when we know others have not been, and still are not, able to live that way.

The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge those horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown.

Coates concludes that stark paragraph with this statement:

It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind. —pp. 88-89

I think I might change that last word to “soul,” or perhaps “heart,” because I feel Coates’ challenge more there than in my mind. And for me the challenge is not to change my opinion about America so much as it is to change my focus. To think about what I haven’t had to think about. And to let new voices have my ear.

One such new voice I heard recently on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show: Grammy-winner Chance the Rapper, debuting his new song, “First World Problems,” accompanied by Daniel Caesar.

Son One likes Chance and Caesar, and urged me to listen. I now urge you to do the same. Not your style of music? It’s not mine either. But give this song—pun intended—a chance. And pay attention to the lyrics.

These lyrics especially–notice the connection with Coates’ Dream?

Now—think about what you are thinking about. And let me know. Keep the conversation going.

 

“I Do…Right?” Maybe It’s Time For An American Recommitment Ceremony

You may have noticed I have some strong opinions. But one of them, which has been gaining strength since Trump’s inauguration, is this: I don’t want my own strong opinions irrevocably dividing me from my fellow Americans.

Easier said than done, when most of what I see and hear through the media fills me with reactive rage, disgust, and sorrow. But rage, disgust and sorrow are exhausting. So the temptation is to stick with my tribe, to talk only with  people who feel the same way, and to shut out the “ugly voices.”

Problem is, we’re all in this together—”this” being This American Experiment.

All in this together. “Togetherness,” by Author Woldh, October 2015, courtesy Wikimedia

So when I venture outside my tribe, I try to connect over shared values: music. Food. Sports. Children. Animals. And when I’m alone, I make myself read articles and listen to podcasts that force me to consider the downside of my own tribalism.

Recently I was struck by this bit from an “On Being” podcast—a dual interview with an Indian-American journalist from Ohio and an activist from rural White Tennessee. Here’s the journalist, Anand Giridharadas:

…the word that comes to me is “commitment.” … You’re committed to your home… in a way that…almost sounds more like the way people talk about marriage. You’re not there because you know it’s gonna be good; you’re willing to be there even if it’s not great. And I think what’s happened to us is that we’re not committed to each other as a people, so it’s almost like we are in this kind of situation where any disappointment that we encounter in our fellow citizens is like a reason to break up, and any deviation from deeply fulfilling each other as fellow citizens is like a tragedy. And part of commitment as a citizen is embracing other people’s dysfunction, and embracing other people’s incompleteness, because you know you have your own. And we’ve ended up in resistance to each other.

Embracing other people’s dysfunction? Does that mean their racism or homophobia? I don’t want to do that. But if I do nothing but entrench myself against it, nothing changes. So if “embrace” means “engage with, talk to, try to understand…” OK. MAYBE I can do that. No promises. But I can try.

The activist in that interview, Whitney Kimball Coe, had this response:

… I’m always thinking about how do I show up? How do I show up in the world and in my community and beyond, and am I going to show up with an open mind, an open heart, and with curiosity? Or am I going to go in, guns blazing, looking for a high for my ego, and see if I can nail this interview right now…? And it’s such a freeing way to live, if you can approach all of these interactions from a more open, curious perspective. That’s where I am, these days — ‘How am I bringing myself into a space?’

The journalist replies with a suggestion I love:

We live in an age that loves the solution. One of the things you experience, when you’re a writer in this age who tries to partake in an age-old tradition of writing as criticism, as holding up a mirror…is that you get shamed for not offering solutions…When we actually relax our need for solutions, I think we create space for…curiosity, when…instead of saying, “How do you solve this?” — if you like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work or are provoked by it, instead of being like, “OK, what’s your plan?” — let’s start some curiosity. What does he make you curious about? If you’re white, what does he make you — now that you’re unsettled or angry or agreeing or whatever, what are you left curious about?

The host of “On Being,” the articulate Krista Tippett, finishes with a quote from the journalist, stating our challenge:

“It is hardly the fault of the rest of us that those wielding unearned privilege bristle at surrendering it. But it is our problem. The burden of citizenship is committing to your fellow citizens and accepting that what is not your fault may be your problem.”

And Anand Giridharadas sums up, in his response, my entire point here, using that marriage metaphor:

I think the despair is that we’ve fallen not just out of love, but out of interest with each other. I actually think more and more of us love “our” America, but don’t necessarily love America or Americans. We love the ones we love. We love the ones who love us. It’s kind of become like a bad college relationship. We’re a country peopled by these rowdy, restless gamblers who tried to make it work, and I think we have lost our way. But I think if we can remember that the whole enterprise here is simply to try to make it work — that’s the experiment. That’s it…We’re not trying to make it work to create wealth. We’re not trying to make it work to create innovation. We’re not trying to make it work to restore some illusory, lost greatness. We’re trying to make it work to make it work — and if we can make this work, it perhaps suggests that the world is not one as a world, but the world is actually one here, in America. What a great, great thing to try.

America, I want to keep trying. Let’s keep talking.

 

What If I Did? Four Words Away From Empathy

When I make my way through my American day, I don’t have to think about the way my skin color, or the style of my dress or hair, or my accent might be taken by my fellow Americans. But what if I did?

I don’t have to worry that someone’s phone call to authorities might lead to my deportation away from my family. What if I did?

I don’t have to fear for my sons that a chance encounter with law enforcement might kill them. What if I did?

I don’t have to worry that a friend or family member might succumb to addiction and death despite everything I did for them. What if I did?

I don’t have to think hard before choosing which bathroom to use, knowing the wrong choice could get me beaten up. What if I did?

I don’t have to check my wallet or the family budget before buying myself a cup of tea, or a muffin, or even dinner out, whenever the urge strikes. What if I did?

I don’t ever have to suffer from lack of natural beauty. What if I did?

In each of these scenarios, I can imagine different responses, in thought or action or both, from the ones that flow from my usual cushy oblivion. I can imagine more involvement, yes. More self-education. But most of all, I don’t have to imagine, I FEEL more empathy, both toward people I am different from, and toward people with whom I deeply disagree.

So what? Still working on that one. Stay with me.

Facing History and Ourselves, Quaker Style: Indian Boarding Schools Are Our Shame Too

Facing History and Ourselves is the title of a book and a mini-course in Holocaust Education. I took the course and used the book myself in my high school teaching.

But what about that uniquely American, slo-mo Holocaust, the attempted eradication of Native culture? In grad school I learned about the Indian boarding schools of the late 19th and early-mid 20th century: the kidnapping of entire generations from their homes, and the creation of generations of people who felt alienated from both communities, Native and white. And of course I shook my head over the terrible thinking of the past, and its terrible, long-term effects.

But I never realized that people of my own religious background, Quakers, were eager perpetrators of that shameful enterprise, until a friend sent me an article in Friends Journal, by Quaker writer Paula Palmer, entitled “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools: Facing History and Ourselves.”

What’s this? Quakers, you say? But we’re the good guys! Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape! Marching for Civil Rights! Becoming Conscientious Objectors in the Korean and Vietnam Wars! 

I may not be a very religious Quaker, but I’ve always been a very proud political Quaker, the product of Carolina Friends School, the first integrated school in North Carolina.

So, with a sense of unease, I read the article. I read this:

More than 100,000 Native children suffered the direct consequences of the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation by means of Indian boarding schools during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their bereft parents, grandparents, siblings, and entire communities also suffered. As adults, when the former boarding school students had children, their children suffered, too. Now, through painful testimony and scientific research, we know how trauma can be passed from generation to generation. The multigenerational trauma of the boarding school experience is an open wound in Native communities today.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says that for healing to occur, the full truth about the boarding schools and the policy of forced assimilation must come to light in our country, as it has in Canada. The first step in a truth, reconciliation, and healing process, they say, is truth telling. A significant piece of the truth about the boarding schools is held by the Christian churches that collaborated with the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation. Quakers were among the strongest promoters of this policy and managed over 30 schools for Indian children, most of them boarding schools, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The coalition is urging the churches to research our roles during the boarding school era, contribute this research to the truth and reconciliation process, and ask ourselves what this history means to us today.

And this:

In a letter dated May 26, 1853, teacher Susan Wood at the Quaker Tunesassa Indian Boarding School in New York, wrote:

“We are satisfied it is best to take the children when small, and then if kept several years, they would scarcely, I think, return to the indolent and untidy ways of their people.”

And this:

For a child’s view, we have The School Days of an Indian Girl, written in 1900 by Zitkala-Sa, a Lakota woman who entered White’s Institute, a Quaker Indian boarding school in Indiana, at age eight:

“I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair. I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. . . . Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards! . . . I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort me . . . for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.”

Modoc School, Indian Territory, 1877 (Courtesy Friends Journal and Haverford College Quaker Collection)

In these days of Trumpmerica, with its white supremacist marches (“some of them are good people!” said our prez), it’s easy to point fingers and say, “You are on the wrong side of history.” But, I am finding, it is even more important to look at the history of the people I most claim as “mine,” and say aloud: “We did wrong. We need to acknowledge and atone in order to help heal the damage we helped to do.”

So says Paula Palmer:

Native organizations are not asking us to judge our Quaker ancestors. They are asking, “Who are Friends today? Knowing what we know now, will Quakers join us in honest dialogue? Will they acknowledge the harm that was done? Will they seek ways to contribute toward healing processes that are desperately needed in Native communities?” These are my questions, too.

And mine.

Ottowa School, Indian Territory, 1872 (Courtesy Friends Journal and Haverford College Quaker Collection)

Was the revelation of Quaker complicity in Native boarding schools a surprise to you, as it was to me? Please consider passing this post–or better yet, Parker Palmer’s–on to someone else, or to any organization that might benefit from considering the attempt of the country’s most “politically correct” religious organization to face history, and itself.