“The Hopes and Fears of All the Years” (My Christmas Greeting to Friends and Family)

tree 2

My brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas tree. Yes, I do know how to have a “Merry Christmas.”

When I was a kid, my parents mimeographed a “Christmas letter” to send to friends and family across America. The letter recounted our family’s important accomplishments and activities for the year, and included “Merry Christmas” greetings. It was a substitute for writing the same message many times, once for each recipient.

For several days I have been trying to write a “Christmas Letter” to email to friends and family across America, “a substitute for writing the same message many times, once for each recipient.”

I wrote about my gratitude for the opportunity to teach a GED class at the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas, the joy I have in tutoring athletes at SMU, and other happy events and activities.

Then I wrote, “My year’s activities culminated in joining a Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Witness Visit to Palestine (November 3-11). Learning more about and advocating for the Palestinian people and the unspeakable tyranny under which they live is, as my friends know, more than an ‘interest’ or a ‘passion’ for me.”

The fact is, that Visit, and the reasons I made it are perhaps my central concern of this year (and most years since 2003).

If my life has significance, it lies in large part in my determination to do what I can to bring to my American friends and loved ones awareness of the inhumane and tyrannical reign of terror that has been visited upon the Palestinian people since 1948. Israel’s daily and unrelenting state terrorism precipitously worsened and broadened in scope in 1967 and has been progressively crushing more of the life from Palestinian society and individual Palestinians every year since then.

house me - Copy-001

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. . .

At age 70, I have little hope of living to see the end of Israel’s project of Palestinian genocide. I can, however, continue to try to help other Americans to understand the deceitfulness of our nation’s official palaver about supporting democracy and fighting “terrorism” while at the same time supporting and financing a regime and system of tyranny and state terrorism which has almost no equal in the world.

Americans (those of us from the Christian tradition) who, during these Twelve Days of Christmas, sing

O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie . . . . Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given . . . Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in . . . .

participate in a duplicity so frightening that I wonder how we collectively can sleep at night. It is no wonder we seem to have a mass psychosis about nearly every problem we face. Willful and ugly hypocrisy cannot help but destroy the hypocrite. And woefully shrugging our shoulders and saying, “But what can I do?” does not absolve us from participation in this pharisaism.

This is not an abstraction for me. In Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, my friends Samia, Nuha, Omar, Yusef, and many more live this horror every day. Samir, Waseem, Dalell, Noor, Shukri, Mufid, and many more American friends live daily with the memory and the unspeakable results of this brutality.

If I were a man of prayer and contemplation, I would be tempted to join a cloistered order of monks and live out my days praying for Palestinian liberation. If I believed unequivocally the “facts,” the particulars, of the Christmas story or any of its meaning in the lives of Christians, I would find ways to relate them to the current situation.

I know that the majority of my friends and family (and probably most readers who stumble upon this blog) believe in some way that the Biblical accounts of Christmas are true, so I ask you to consider what the words “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” pronounced to ancestors of today’s Palestinians, might mean in the context of a cruel occupation of one people by another―in exactly the place Christian tradition says those Christmas words were sung by the angels.

I have friends who will accuse me of trying to be “politically correct” by not writing “good will to men” as is traditional (See note** below). The Greek of the New Testament, however, places the responsibility on us. “Good will” is ours to live, not a sentimental gift from God. Peace comes when we live in favor with God―I would hasten to add, whoever your God is.

On October 27, in my daily blog post, I quoted Dr. Ramzy Baroud’s statement about the relationship between the situation of the Palestinians and the “terrorism” our leaders insist we should fear so much (“Palestine Remains the Core Struggle in the Middle East”). I hope you will read the article.

And I hope you will read the Christmas message from Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Center in Palestine.

A Blessed Holiday Season to Everyone!
Harold

IMG_2988-001

Lifta Village, Jerusalem. The population was driven out during the Arab-Jewish hostilities of 1947/48. Israeli neighborhoods surround the depopulated village, evidence of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. (Photo: Harold Knight, November 6, 2015)

Note**
From Wikipedia, which, of course, I would not accept as authoritative for a university course in research, but which says succinctly what I could quote pages about from scholarly sources.

“. . . most modern scholars and Bible translators accept the reading of the majority of ancient manuscripts, translating [the passage] as ‘on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’ (New International Version) or ‘on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased’ (English Standard Version).”

Note two salient features here: the “good will” becomes the attitude of human beings not a sentimental gift from God, and neither of these translations is by “liberal” scholars; on the contrary, they are from “conservative” scholars.

If you pray. . .

10-21-3-wise-men-and-a-wall2.

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Wave of Prayer: This prayer ministry enables local and international friends of Sabeel to pray over regional concerns on a weekly basis. Sent to Sabeel’s network of supporters, the prayer is used in services around the world and during Sabeel’s Thursday Communion service; as each community in its respective time zone lifts these concerns in prayer at noon every Thursday, this “wave of prayer” washes over the world.


Sabeel Wave of Prayer

for January 8, 2015

As a new year begins, we take time to remember the events of the past year. The difficulties, the tragedies, and the hardships are fresh in our minds, especially as we think of Syria, Iraq, Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Lord, please remind us of your daily mercies, your grace, and your promise of peace.  Lord in your mercy…

The 2014 year marked the United Nations “international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people”; however, it ended with the UN Security Council failing to pass a resolution to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land within two years.  Israel has now withheld millions of dollars in revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA). This is collective punishment by Israel for Palestine recently taking the non-violent, legitimate step of joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). Merciful God, we pray that the international community will truly be in solidarity with the Palestinian people by having political will, speaking truth to power, and standing up for justice and peace. Lord in your mercy…

The weather in Palestine and Israel is expected to reach very cold temperatures this week, with predictions of snow.  During this time we think of our brothers and sisters in Bedouin communities who are being displaced and are unprotected from the weather elements and those in Gaza who are displaced, homeless, and living in inadequate housing after Israel’s massive military offensive this past summer.  Lord, give them your strength and warmth to endure the storms.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for your blessing upon the celebrations of the Orthodox Christmas this week.  We also ask for your guidance in the New Year as our Sabeel programs begin anew.  We pray for inspiration and creativity in our activism and ministries.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray alongside the World Council of Churches for the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  Lord in your mercy…

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

A Christmas Greeting from Jerusalem

(My friend Samia Khoury from Jerusalem sent her greeting by email this morning.)

palestine-apartheid-wall-23One of the well-known Christmas songs “I’ll be home for Christmas” which my generation remembers for being first recorded by Bing Crosby in the forties, was on the program of the Christmas concert we attended at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies – Brigham Young University.

As I listened to the beautiful tenor singing it, I could not help but think of all those who won’t be able to make it home for Christmas, by no choice of their own. And that is when the song becomes so meaningful when you think of the many soldiers serving on foreign land, the refugees, the prisoners, and the many young Palestinians who have been denied their right to come home or be united with their families because of absurd laws under a military occupation.
Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank in the West Bank city of Bethlehem
So I hope all of you who are gathering with your families for Christmas, will indeed feel grateful for this blessing without having to worry about check points or denied entry.

Have a joyful Christmas and best wishes for peace and good health throughout the New Year.

Samia

"Home for Christmas" in Bethlehem.

“Home for Christmas” in Bethlehem.

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter. . .” (W. H. Auden)

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

With even a modest ability to consider objectively the barrage of “information” overwhelming us hour by hour by hour by minute, one can see that any media—any format—presenting information about the current attempt of Israel to obliterate Palestinian Gaza assumes a priori that Israel’s actions are justified.

The common—no the absolute overwhelming majority—wisdom is that “Israel has the right to protect itself.”

This is a “truth” so often repeated that it sounds as if it came from, Oh, I don’t know, perhaps the Holy Bible. Or the United States Constitution. Or the United Nations Charter. Or the Bhagavad Gita. Or the Qur’an. Or Shakespeare. Or SNL. It is simple truth, not to be questioned. It is as universal belief as the made-up science of economics.

Belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no less pervasive than that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”

Hardly anyone (at least hardly anyone in public) thinks about whether or not the proposition is true. And almost no one wants to hear any information that might contradict the received wisdom.

The wisdom began to be received, I would guess, during and immediately after the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have, in fact, read about the process whereby the Israeli Cabinet decided to use Madison Avenue tactics, if not a Madison Avenue firm, to begin to persuade the American people that the belief, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is simply true, is simply to be accepted without thought. I will plow through the stuff I have and find that article (or reread the book, whatever it takes).

Until then, trust me. OK, don’t trust me. There’s no reason for you to do so until I have located the evidence that I am correct.

So in lieu of trusting me, trust yourself.

Ask yourself why the massive destruction of cities, the horrifying murder of civilians Israel is perpetrating right now is in any way an expression of the “right to self-defense.”

Do you think Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an act of self-defense?
Do you think Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 was an act of self-defense?
Do you think the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus of Rwanda in 1994 was an act of self-defense?
Which side in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the Serbs or the Croats was exercising its “right of self-defense?”

Think. Simply think about it.

Defense against a child

Defense against a child

My guess is that anyone who might be reading this can quote the last sentence of

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. Socrates speaking Plato’s Apology [37 (e) to 38 (a)].

The unexamined life is not worth living.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people,” [President] Obama said.

What on earth does that phrase mean—and what are its implications? Its implications are that Israel has a right to continue the ethnic cleansing of all “Arabs” (read “Palestinians”) from the territory Israel claims as its own—the ethnic cleansing that began during the war that led up to the declaration of the founding of Israel in 1948.

The constant repetition of an idea for decades does not make it true.

Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand.

Much writing is available to anyone who wants to think about the “received wisdom” that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” One might—after reading any or all of such writing—decide that the proposition is correct.

The question remains, however, where did the idea originate, and why was it first stated? Is it, in fact, the “truth,” or is it an Ad populum logical fallacy used to justify aggression and the subjugation of one people by another?
I said above there is much writing available. My project over the next few weeks is to gather a bibliography of such material and publish it on my other blog as a resource for anyone who believes that

talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man,

and that the unexamined life is not worth living includes questioning our received beliefs about atrocity. The link to the first installment of the bibliography is below Auden’s explanation of tyrannical speech.

“Epitaph on a Tyrant,” by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

http://sumnonrabidus.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/when-he-laughed-respectable-senators-burst-with-laughter-w-h-auden/

Defense against a worker returning home

Defense against a worker returning home

 

 

“At least 10 Palestinians have been killed, including at least three children, a pregnant woman, and a mentally ill man.”

Who is in danger?

Who is in danger?

This writing has been percolating in my mind since about 2001. I have no idea how to write it. I know exactly what I want to say, but the subject is too close. It is too complex. It is too emotionally overwhelming.

For all of that, the subject is so simple I can’t comprehend it—and I certainly do not know how to write about it clearly, logically, powerfully.

My sister wrote in an email this morning,

I am convinced that unless we forgive those closest to us there will never be peace in the world. We strangle each other with hurt and sorrow until the wound is so deep that we forget how we got it. Placing band aids over spurting veins only minimizes the pain until one of us bleeds to death. The problem between Palestine and Israel . . . goes on and on until there is no blame just stupidity.

It’s partly just stupidity. But it is also injustice and oppression. If you are an Episcopalian, you likely pray every Sunday for “the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.” (Note: the article and the video are not from American sources. Such reporting never is.) Does that apply to the Palestinians living (for 47 years now) under brutal occupation with the goal of ethnic cleansing?

Kidnapping and murdering three teenage boys is wrong in any context by anyone’s reckoning. Israel’s response is—as it always is—totally irresponsible and unconscionable. And America’s support for Israel and approval of the mass punishment of all Palestinians for the actions of a few—without even knowing who the few are or why they did what they did—is evil.

Evil.

Evil.

He's only a Palestinian.

He’s only a Palestinian.

And you and I are complicit in the evil. We perpetuate it. We condone it. We pay for it. And many of our leaders praise it.

Here are links to some materials about the situation. I wish I knew you’d read at least the first four which are about the current “battles” directly:

http://www.sabeel.org/waveofprayer.php

http://www.intifada-palestine.com/2014/07/searing-hypocrisy-west/

http://fosna.org/reporting-palestine#overlay-context=user?utm_source=AAAAA+Digest+July+2%2C+2014&utm_campaign=July+2%2C+2014&utm_medium=email

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/12218-israeli-army-storms-birzeit-university-and-arrests-two-students

http://www.ifamericansknew.org/
http://blogs.elca.org/peacenotwalls/
http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/
http://972mag.com/nstt_feeditem/photos-right-wing-activists-police-clash-in-anti-arab-protest/
http://www.elcjhl.org/

Do Palestinian boys' homes count?

Do Palestinian boys’ homes count?

“The centre cannot hold.” (W.B. Yeats)

[Oh, dear me. I don’t know where this came from.]

The second coming - slouching toward Bethlehem.

The second coming – slouching toward Bethlehem.

.
In case you were wondering (wandering? pandering? laundering? sauntering? bantering? blundering? floundering? countering? countervailing? countermanding? contemplating? illuminating? ruminating? pondering? wondering?) about my prediction for the November election, I expect the election will be a watershed in the history not of American politics, but of life as we know it, simply because

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Anyone who has even a slight list to the left as they walk will stay home on November 4 for fear of falling over. It’s not that they lack all conviction, it’s that they have already decided that it’s better not to walk at all than to risk falling. That leftward list is made more pronounced because the center of gravity has moved to the right, and they think, therefore, that it cannot hold them up.

Most of my friends are fed up with the reality that President Obama landed in the viper-ridden oligarchy of special interests in Washington, D. C., in 2009, and immediately understood a) that the agenda on which he ran was dead in the water in the political reality of the Gerrymandered US Congress that cannot (now or probably ever again) represent the majority opinion on any issue facing the nation, and b) the real power in the United States lies on Wall Street and on 37th Street North in Wichita, KS, and no one can do anything against that monolith no matter what platform they ran on or what majority of votes they won.

The most dismal truth of all of this seems to be (note, I said “seems,” not “is”) that President Obama and those tens of millions of people who elected him apparently did not understand that the causes they thought he might champion could not have been successfully championed by anyone, and, in racist America, an African American President would have virtually no power to change anything.

Now I will slip into delusion. That’s OK. I’m used to it. The earliest of my own writing about the Koch Brothers I can find is from September 3, 2011. Somewhere, however, I wrote about them long before that. It was before 2003 because my late partner demanded that I prove what I said. I eventually had enough verifiable research that he began talking about the Cock Brothers as a phenomenon that could happen only in the lower Midwest, if you get his double entendre.

[I also, by the way, wrote about the “Project for a New American Century” before the 2000 election in which its horrors were institutionalized. My friends would not believe me, but we live today in the pernicious shadow of that document.]

The centre cannot hold.

The centre cannot hold.

I was wrong when I predicted Romney’s election in 2012. I still believe had it not been for his “47%” comment he would have been elected.

I’m not trying to establish my credentials as a prognosticator. I write and think with only second-hand information, and that not very clearly. But here’s what I think.

President Obama has clearly been a disappointment to anyone who would allow the word “liberal” or “radical” or even “progressive” to be said or written in any proximity to their names. You name it, he has not done what such people want him to do.

In order to accomplish those things, he would have needed a willingness (to say nothing of an ability) to act against (do herculean battle against) the powers that be in Washington. The powers of big business, bigger money, and a Congress so Gerrymandered in favor of the Koch brothers and Donald Trump and Karl Rove, and Ted Cruz that it can never again—I’m not being hyperbolic, it will take a revolution to change it—represent majority opinion.

gerrymander
1812 as both a noun and verb, American English, from Elbridge Gerry + (sala)mander. Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, was lampooned when his party redistricted the state in a blatant bid to preserve an Antifederalist majority. One Essex County district resembled a salamander, and a newspaper editor dubbed it Gerrymander. (Harper, Douglas. “Gerrymander.” Online Etymology Dictionary. 2014. Web.)

William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” describes our situation.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .

The falcon, flying farther and farther out of control cannot hear the command of the falconer. The centre cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Our anarchy is not, of course, the classical anarchy of the far-left. It is the anarchy of a government and society spinning out of control except for the unprincipled moment-to-moment decisions by the oligarchy in favor of actions and doctrines that will benefit them without any thought for what those doctrines will do to the vast majority of the population.

Yeats’s vision of the Second Coming is not comforting.

Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again. . .

The monster of the Second Coming, the “anarchy . . . loosed upon the world,” has a “gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” The Second Coming is a “rough beast . . . slouching toward Bethlehem.” Whatever we thought the “first coming” meant (wherever we thought took place), the second coming—in the same place—will mean darkness, not light.

This will happen because

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I don’t know if “progressives” are “the best.” I do know, however, that they have no conviction.

“The Second Coming,” by W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Gerrymandering to exclude progressives.

Gerrymandering to exclude progressives.

“. . . How to find my soul a home. . .” (Maya Angelou)

Maya AngelouYesterday I was hoping to come across a poem or an essay or a witty saying someone else wrote to quote as my idea for the day, so I could forget this nonsense of trying say what I need to say. (I began this writing yesterday, but I realized only this morning that I already knew the words I was looking for).

I live (we all live) in conundrums. Riddles that cannot be solved. Sometimes the riddle can be solved with a play on words. Sometimes not. Here’s my conundrum for yesterday.

If Ann and I had remained married and she had not died, today would have been our 47th wedding anniversary. We were divorced shortly after our 8th anniversary, and Ann died in 2002. I am grateful we did not divorce from our relationship, only from our marriage. In my bedroom I use the bureau she and I bought together at an antique store 45 years ago. From where I sit at my computer, I can see a box of her family’s photographs on a shelf of my roll-top desk. The desk belonged to my partner Jerry who died a year after Ann, and who had become great friends with Ann—I carried a slight resentment for a long time that in 1997 when she came to visit us in Dallas, they went off to see Titanic together while I was at choir rehearsal.

I am NOT a pack rat or a hoarder. (People with addictive personalities do not know how to sort—a little known secret about us drunks.) Even when I figure out how to sort out all the stuff in my place (I won’t say the stuff I own, simply the stuff that’s here) so that when I die my nieces and nephew won’t have to bring in a backhoe to clean the place out, I will still most likely have my little collections. A rosary Ann gave me when we were Anglo Catholics, four buttons and a broach of her grandmother’s, a pair of rings we bought for each other and a Jerusalem cross all made with jade, a Canadian $5 bill I brought home in my pocket from her funeral, her mother’s watch, a gold chain with a St. Christopher’s medal I gave her, and her wedding ring (I don’t have my own)—a tiny part of my collection. Does anyone want a cloisonné butterfly?

So yesterday we would have been married 47 years.

Apparently one way I try to hold onto the people I love is to hold onto things they owned. This is not so unusual, of course (see Tim O’Brien’s, “The Things they Carried” for a moving expression of the way “things” are important to memory).

Things

Things

As usual, my memory of one part of my life is entrée to writing about another. A couple of days ago a friend took me to dinner to propose an enormous writing project for us to work on. It has to do with memory, with our collective memory with a large community of mutual friends and acquaintances. It will be difficult and lengthy. It will entail a range of feeling and experience I almost certainly cannot express. It will involve thinking and writing about people whose lives we need to hold in the dual reality of the present and of memory. We do not have “the things they owned” to hold onto. We have only our mutual experience, both in the present and in the past.

Yesterday the poet Maya Angelou died.

When I read about her death, I posted my favorite of her poems on Facebook:

“Alone,” by Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

I am grateful to Maya Angelou for her many expressions of truth over the years, and for broadening my (our) understanding of the beauty of language and the importance of “essaying” what we think and feel.

This morning I realized what I was trying to say yesterday—to say about Ann, about Jerry, about my friends and a possible writing project, to say about my life so far and about the time I have left—Maya Angelou has already said. What I long to know is

How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone.

Maya Angelou uses Biblical imagery. The Gospel of John records Jesus saying, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” And the Gospel of Luke records his saying, “Which of you is a father whose son will ask him for bread and would hand him a stone.”

Bread and water are not “things.”

I don’t know if Maya Angelou thought of herself as a Christian. It doesn’t matter. She understood that finding “water that is not thirsty” and “bread [that] is not a stone” requires understanding

That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Happy Anniversary, Ann. And thank you to Maya Angelou, and Jerry, and YOU— everyone who has helped me to understand I cannot “make it out here alone.”

Even a country can't make it out here alone

Even a country can’t make it out here alone

“Until you speak Arabic, you will not understand pain.”

Bedouin Mother, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouin Mother, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Nearly every day I want to write about the greatest conscious mystery I’m aware of. Conscious=aware, I know. I know. That’s a sentence I would ask a student to rewrite. It’s circular reasoning with a vengeance. Of course one is “aware” of a mystery that’s “conscious.” If one were not aware, it would not be “conscious.”

However, nearly every day I want to write about this incongruity, this absolute illogical thinking, this conundrum that I cannot resolve in an attempt to make sense of it.

I often do write about it, but privately—that is, I don’t put the writing here because it is a mystery to me, a riddle I cannot solve. It is so mysterious that I can never come close even to describing my bewilderment, much less explaining it away. Other than the obvious mysteries all of us have to grapple with—why were we born; where did out “consciousness,” our “soul” come from; and what happens to our consciousness, our very being, when we die, those mysteries so few of us want to think about—it is the most inexplicable incongruity I know.

The nature of the mystery, the resolution of the logical fallacy, eludes me. I have searched for the etymology of the word mystery itself, but have found only “from Greek mysterion (usually in plural mysteria) “secret rite or doctrine,” from mystes “one who has been initiated” (The Online Etymology Dictionary). Mystery is a religious or theological idea. I cannot find a meaning that does justice to my frustration over the idea I want to think through for myself—if not explain to anyone else.

Before the US invasion of Iraq (“Shock and Awe”), I wrote somewhere—not on a blog because I wrote my first blog in about 2004, after “shock and awe”—about a photo I saw on the Internet way back before our lives were controlled by our thumbs. The photo’s caption was (is)

 Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

Rumsfeld was in Baghdad signing an agreement to provide Saddam Hussein with all the munitions he needed to fight his war against the dirty rotten Iranian Islamic fundamentalist regime. I knew about the picture from some pointy-headed, no doubt basically-unAmerican liberal organization that was asking the question (which has never been answered to my knowledge), why were we getting ready to invade Iraq because of its Weapons of Mass Destruction which, if they existed, we sold to Saddam Hussein in the first place—the agent of our sale being the same man who was then leading the push for the invasion?

I also remember being roundly criticized for writing about the “Project for the New American Century” before the invasion of Iraq—being told that I was a conspiracy theorist. That such a project, if it existed, was on the fringe and could not possibly be taken seriously. We Americans (and most of the rest of the world) still live in the monstrous shadow of that project.

Some years ago I wrote about these guys from Kansas (I had read about them on some crackpot liberal website I really should stop looking at) who seemed to be spreading their money around to the most allegedly Conservative groups in the country in order to help elect ultra-reactionaries to state legislatures and Congress. I remember being told I was an alarmist, even Chicken Little, that no one could have that kind of influence over American politics. That was, of course, before Citizens United and the flooding of the coffers of the most oligarchical “conservative” groups by the Koch Brothers of Kansas.

I’m not claiming any special position as seer or Johnny-come-early. I simply pay attention to some (popularly-thought-of-as) radical left-wing (that is to say, realistic) material when everything anyone thinks about is available at the click of a mouse on the internet. One might try clicking on James Petras instead of Molly Cyrus or Justin Bieber or Ted Cruz to learn something about left-wing conspiracy theories–so many of which have actually turned out to be true, unlike idiocy brought to us by the “swift-boaters” and the “birthers” and the “Benghazi-ists.”

The insolvable mystery about which I cannot write is a very simple question. How can Americans who are so fanatically dedicated to “rights,” to “freedom,” to “democracy,” who give constant lip-service to “the right of self-determination,” continue, after 60 years, to assume that the displaced and subjugated people of Palestine are totally at fault in the violence that continues in the land they once called their own?

Bethlehem, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bethlehem, John Singer Sargent, 1905

THIS IS NOT A RHETORICAL QUESTION! Yes, I am shouting. I want to know the answer to this question. I do not want political posturing. I do not want palaver. I do not want parroting of ideas given the prestige of “U.S. Policy.” I want to know how this can go on and on when clearly the Palestinians are a people who have been deprived of their homeland and treated with as much brutality as any other conquered people in the family of nations today. How can it be?

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University. She has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship for her several books of poetry and non-fiction. She lives in Austin, Texas.

“Arabic,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
“Once you know,” he whispered, “you can
enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard
from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger’s wedding,
well up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed.”

Outside, the snow has finally stopped.
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still.

I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit my
shame. To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging

its rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug…I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.

I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend
who only scrawled
I can’t write. What good would any grammar
have been

to her then? I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don’t do in the Middle East

and said, I’ll work on it, feeling sad

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

A BIBLIOGRPHY FOR BEGINNING UNDERSTANDING.

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

(I can provide a copy of any of the scholarly articles. If you would like one, simply let me know.)

Israeli killing of Palestinian children
Clear analysis from Rosemary Sayigh on the Nakba’s
Exclusion from the extensive writing on “Trauma Genre”
Latest killing of Palestinians
Rev. Naim Ateek’s Statement on Israeli law separating Muslim and Christian Arabs
Gaza Blockade
Olive trees
Hebron settler violence
Bin Laden’s father owned a home in Jerusalem
Right of Return

Manna, Adel. “The Palestinian Nakba and Its Continuous Repercussions.” Israel Studies 18.2 (2013): 86-99.
The article discusses the impact of the 1948 Nakba, or defeat, of the Palestinian Arabs on the collective memory and experiences of the Palestinian people. The author emphasizes that the term Nakba is used to describe the continuous experiences of Palestinians from the mid-20th century into 21st century and is viewed as a contemporary reality rather than a historical event. It is suggested that the Israeli state has rebuffed offers by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to divide Palestine into two independent states. Other topics include Palestinian nationalism, Zionism, and the social and economic conditions of Palestinian refugees.

Masalha, Nur. “Remembering the Palestinian Nakba: Commemoration, Oral History and Narratives of Memory.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 7.2 (2008): 123-156.
This year Palestinians commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba – the most traumatic catastrophe that ever befell them. The rupture of 1948 and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Nakba are central to both the Palestinian society of today and Palestinian social history and collective identity. This article explores ways of remembering and commemorating the Nakba. It deals with the issue within the context of Palestinian oral history, ‘social history from below’, narratives of memory and the formation of collective identity. With the history, rights and needs of the Palestinian refugees being excluded from recent Middle East peacemaking efforts and with the failure of both the Israeli state and the international community to acknowledge the Nakba, ‘1948’ as an ‘ethnic cleansing’ continues to underpin the Palestine-Israel conflict. This article argues that to write more truthfully about the Nakba is not just to practice a professional historiography; it is also a moral imperative of acknowledgement and redemption. The struggles of the refugees to publicize the truth about the Nakba is a vital way of protecting the refugees’ rights and keeping the hope for peace with justice alive.

Bedouin Camp, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouin Camp, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Nasrallah, Ibrahim. “Palestinian Culture before the Nakba.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics & Culture 15.1/2 (2008): 206-209.
The article focuses on the works of author Walid Khalidi in Palestine. The photographs of Khalidi’s book “Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948” depict a vital society active in all areas of life on farms, factories, and construction sites. Moreover, many renowned artists and writers of the Arab world visited or performed in pre-1948 Palestine, testament to the existence of a well-established society to a rare dynamism, in spite of the historical context and the looming disasters. The pioneering figure in Khalidi’s book was Jamil al-Bahri, a Palestinian dramatist who died in 1930 and has 12 plays in his name.

Nets-Zehngut, Rafi, and Daniel Bar-Tal. “Transformation of the Official Memory of Conflict: A Tentative Model and the Israeli Memory of the 1948 Palestinian Exodus.” International Journal of Politics, Culture & Society 27.1 (2014): 67-91.
Collective memory of an intractable conflict is an important determinant of the psychological and the behavioral dynamics of the parties involved. Typically biased, it de-legitimizes the rival and glorifies the in-group, thereby inhibiting peaceful resolution of the conflict and reconciliation of the parties. Therefore, the transformation of this memory into a less biased one is of great importance in advancing peace and reconciliation. This article introduces for the first time a tentative model of that transformation, describing the seven phases of the transformation process and the five categories of factors that influence it. Methodologically, this is done using a case study approach, based on the empirical findings regarding the Israeli official memory from 1949 to 2004 surrounding the causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus. This memory is represented by all of the publications produced during the 56-year research period of the Israeli army (IDF), the National Information Center, and the Ministry of Education. While until 1999 this inclusive memory was largely Zionist (i.e., all the Palestinian refugees left willingly in 1948), since 2000, it has become partially critical because the Ministry of Education has begun adopting the critical narrative (i.e., some left willingly while others were expelled)

RAM, URI. “Ways of Forgetting: Israel and the Obliterated Memory of the Palestinian Nakba.” Journal of Historical Sociology 22.3 (2009): 366-395.
Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6443.2009.01354.x/abstract
This study analyses national ways of forgetting. Following the eminent British Anthropologists Mary Douglas, I relate here to “forgetting” as “selective remembering, misremembering and disremembering” (Douglas 2007: 13). The case study offered here is that of the Israeli-Jewish forgetting of the uprooting of the Palestinians in the war of 1948. This paper discusses three facets of the collective forgetting: In I analyze the foundations of the Israeli regime of forgetting and discern three mechanisms of removing from memory of selected events: narrative forgetting: the formation and dissemination of an historical narrative; physical forgetting: the destruction of physical remains; and symbolic forgetting: the creation of a new symbolic geography of new places and street names. I look at the tenacious ambiguity that lies in the regime of forgetting, as it does not completely erase all the traces of the past. And finally, I discuss the growth of subversive memory and counter-memory that at least indicates the option of a future revision of the Israeli regime of forgetting.

“Auntie . . . told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died . . .”

Delores De Rio. Size 4?

Delores De Rio. Size 4?

Being eternally and overwhelmingly ignorant has compensations. For example, every time I discover a poet I whose work I didn’t know, it seems as if they wrote a poem that morning, for me alone.

Case in point. I’ve been following Sandra Alcosser’s Auntie’s advice most of my life and didn’t know it. I do travel slowly. I have not travelled the world. I suppose by most people’s reckoning I’ve done quite a bit of travel. Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, the Channel Islands, France, Spain, Brazil. Jordan, and Palestine. All 48 of the “continental” states.

But as gay men go, those who have worked all their lives and have no one to care for except themselves so they have plenty of “disposable income,” I’ve been almost nowhere. I have friends who take two or three cruises a year.

I’ve never been on a cruise. For two reasons. I can’t imagine being on a ship in the middle of the ocean and unable to get off when I wanted to. Once the idea got into my head I wanted off the ship—NOW!—they’d have to sedate me or send a helicopter to airlift me out.  

And I’ve never had the money to travel. I’m not complaining or regretting (that’s not quite true) the particulars of my life. I’m solely responsible that I was a drunk until I was 41 and never had full-time work in my profession until I was 42. Exactly what Dean Anne Minton saw in me that allowed her to hire me to teach music at Bunker Hill Community College in spite of my résumé I will always wonder and be grateful.

I have “travel[ed] slowly [and] I [have not seen] too much.” I’ve spent almost a month in Palestine (including Gaza—not many Americans can say that). I spent three weeks in Brazil (one week in the Amazon Rain Forest)—4th of July on the Beach at Ipanema. I wrote about that a year ago, so I suppose I should simply make a link to that posting and be on my way writing about something else.

However, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes.

For one thing, Sandra Alcosser wrote “Hats” for me this morning. She’s a year older than I am, and was the first Poet Laureate of the State of Montana. Anyone who lives only 481 miles from Worland, WY, the first place I remember living, has to be OK. (Driving between the two small cities, you pass within about 40 miles of Yellowstone National Park—where I have also spent some slow travel time.) Especially when she was up early enough to write a poem for me this morning.

Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan . . .
Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction
.

When I turned 30 years old, I was so cocky and pig-headed (and, well, drunk) I hardly noticed except that at some time earlier I had gotten it into my head that I’d die when I was 27, so I was surprised to be hitting 30. When I hit 40, I was in the deepest point of drinking and barely noticed—wanting to finish my PhD and have a good job like all of my friends.

I had a grand party at Jaxx Steak House in Farmers Branch, TX, for my 50th birthday, living with the man I loved, in graduate school again, this time studying writing, and playing the organ for a small church. I could hardly have imagined a better life. I had a grand party with friends for my 60th birthday under much different circumstances. I was professoring at SMU, still playing the organ for the small church, but alone because my partner had died of melanoma. It was a difficult birthday because I was lonely, not because I thought 60 was old or in any other way unpleasant.

My next birthday will be my 70th. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I won’t, most likely, be like Sandra Alcosser’s Auntie, lying in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan . . .  old and curled like [a crustacean]. No, if I follow my family’s genetic pattern, that won’t happen for about 20 more years.

I will be, however, “eternally and overwhelmingly ignorant.” By my next birthday I will have been retired for about six months. As that time approaches, it seems no matter what I do I’m travelling too fast, seeing too much before I die—but remaining ignorant of what much of it means or, more importantly, what to do about it.

Ginger Rogers in her Lilly Daché

Ginger Rogers in her Lilly Daché

It’s more important to decide what not to see than what I should see. I don’t need to see women’s health clinics in Texas closing because of the unscientific belief perpetrated on the American people about when human “life” begins. I don’t need to see the ignominy that 19% of Texans are functionally illiterate while state officials trumpet an “economic miracle.” I don’t need to see 27% of Texas children living in food insecurity while Senator Cruz rails about cutting government budgets.

I don’t need to see wars, rumors of war, and both imperialism and apartheid still (in the age of enlightenment?) basically controlling the world.

I don’t need to see climate change deniers winning seats in the US Congress.

“. . . would see too much before I died . . .” I suppose nearly everyone will. If we all see these things, why don’t they change? That’s not a “rhetorical question.” It’s the sad—and getting sadder—question of an almost-old man (Auntie will, I’m sure, share the idea with an old man) who has already, perhaps, seen too much.

“Hats,” by Sandra Alcosser

Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan, she weighs nothing, she fidgets and shakes, and all I can see are her knotted hands and the carbon facets of her eyes, she was famous for her pies and her kindness to neighbors, but if it is true that every hat exhibits a drama the psyche wishes it could perform, what was my aunt saying all the years of my childhood when she squeezed into cars with those too tall hats, those pineapples and colored cockades, my aunt who told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died, wore spires and steeples, tulled toques. The velvet inkpots of Schiaparelli, the mousseline de soie of Lilly Daché have disappeared into the world, leaving behind one flesh-colored box, Worth stenciled on the top, a coral velvet cloche inside with matching veil and drawstring bag, and what am I to make of these Dolores del Rio size 4 black satin wedgies with constellations of spangles on the bridge. Before she climbed into the white boat of the nursing home and sailed away–talking every day to family in heaven, calling them through the sprinkling system–my aunt said she was pushing her cart through the grocery when she saw young girls at the end of an aisle pointing at her, her dowager’s hump, her familial tremors. Auntie, who claimed that ninety pounds was her fighting weight, carried her head high, hooded, turbaned, jeweled, her neck straight under pounds of roots and vegetables that shimmied when she walked. Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.

Her Elsa Schiaparelli mini top

Her Elsa Schiaparelli mini top

 

I wonder what it would be like . . .

The center will not hold

The center will not hold

This morning I wrote and wrote and have a quirky little piece nearly finished but then I got caught up in trying to do something useful for the world and all of that went away but I’m not really sure I accomplished anything because it’s me against 300,000,000 Americans with guns and hubris and a lot of other stuff that makes talking to them difficult. I don’t mean that of course because I am not any better than anyone else except on this one issue where I know I am right and public opinion and political will and some twisted desire for national self-preservation or something has allowed a group of about a million Christians and another group of I’m not sure how many Jews to formulate American foreign policy as well as domestic policy and it is the most depressing reality because it is so ridiculous and so short-sighted and so, shall I say the word I don’t really believe exists, “evil?” But I got a short email note from someone whom I respect more than almost anyone else in the world, and she said to me, Thank you Harold. Yes of course we are just as concerned. And you are very right about your conclusion re US policy towards Palestine. Had our conflict been with any other people, it would have been solved a long time ago. God bless you for your support to the cause of justice and peace. And if it is true in any way to any tiny extent that I have perhaps given that one person whom I admire and, yes, in a way that has nothing to do with close friendship or intimacy of any kind, love, a reason to think even for one moment

. . . to write a poem . . .

today that she and her people are not alone and that some day justice and peace will prevail, then what do I have to worry about or be absorbed in concerning my own little world of problems? Her gratitude is for something outside of me, something for which I have allowed myself to be the messenger and have simply done what I knew to be right, and it is an overwhelmingly sad reality that some people believe that other people are expendable because their god says so.
center cannot hold

Most people probably never have themselves so wrapped up in themselves that they allow intricate, complex feelings and ideas to get tangled up in their view of reality—how on earth do I think I can know what “most people” do, think, or feel? that’s preposterous; I can’t theorize any kind of generality for “most people” based on the cluttered and unkempt nature of my own feelings and thoughts—but reality is so hard to figure out some of the time. I heard on the radio yesterday that Isaac Newton was the first “genius” to be thought of as such and canonized as a person who helped us see the face of god, at least the face of the universe, and so we think of him as something of a great 18th-century secular saint—completely secular except to fundamentalist christians who still believe god created the heavens and the earth in seven 24-hour days, and he’s not a saint secular or sacred to them—and we revere the rationality he gave us and the enlightenment (Enlightenment) he helped bring to Western thought and

. . . from which not one, but two . . .

then the saintly mantle passed to Darwin and then to Einstein and then to Edwin Hubble and all of those people in between like Marie Currie and Thomas Edison and Jonas Salk, and—you know, the scientists, the rational thinkers, the people who have made our world what it is today. And then there are the real thinkers the abstractionists Nietzsche and Heidegger and Sartre and Foucault and all of those other people whose writing is so complex we can’t comprehend it so we declare it to be brilliant. When all I really want is to be able to think simply in some way that will help me get through today without pain and suffering and crying for an hour or two—don’t go getting all concernedly on me because it’s simple depression exacerbated by foolishly allowing myself to have feelings about people and situations any rational person like Isaac Newton would never have had—do we know who he ever fell in love with or was angry at or wanted to scream at them because their political thinking was so bizarre, or do we know him only by his brain.

. . . lines famously show up as titles . . .

slouching.
.
I used to think—no, I’ve never been able to think—imagine, hypothesize, that when I got to be 69 years old if I ever did—now don’t get all concernedly on me because I am not suicidal, just trying to be realistic—think by this time I’d be all wise and contented and one of those old guys people came to for advice and help and comfort. But you would be really not very bright to come to me for any of those things because I’m only an almost-old man who longs and yearns for someone to love and be loved by in that way the psychologists but not the Buddhist monks tell us every person needs in order to be fully

. . . of someone else’s work?

human. And I’m not the Dalai Lama so I don’t have much peace and calm and joy and serenity from all of this because I don’t want to end up (as I am partially already) that little old lonely man living by himself and craving needing someone—almost anyone—to touch him now and then and know they will be together when one or the other of them shuffles off this mortal coil so it doesn’t seem like such a fucking lonely and scary thing to do.

The Second Coming, by W. B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The center has not held

The center has not held