“. . . will he remember you this ancient trail of grandmothers & deportadas . . .” (Juan Felipe Herrara)

A DACA reflection.

I am a church organist. I play the organ for weddings.

The first wedding I ever played for was at the Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana of Scottsbluff, NE, in about 1958. The bride wanted the Wagner and Mendelssohn “wedding marches” which my organ/piano teacher helped me learn on the piano for the occasion. (I still have the music volume from which I played.) The bride was the daughter of migrant workers from Mexico — probably brought here without documentation (I don’t remember the particulars of the law 60 years ago).

One of my best friends was Sammy Raymundo, son of the pastor of the Mexican Baptist Church–Sammy was born in Mexico. My father was pastor of the First Baptist Church. Those two churches eventually merged so that the one church has an “American,” that is, diverse, congregation.

Our small city in Western Nebraska was home to a large Mexican community (we’d refer to them as “Hispanic” now, of course, but those folks were virtually all from Mexico). We went to the same schools, shopped in the same stores, and — eventually — went to the same churches.

The Hispanic population of that small MIDWESTERN city is, as of 2016: Total Population, 15,039. Hispanic or Latino: 4,371 or 29%.

When I hear “conservatives” decry the “liberal” idea of “diversity” in America, when I think about the “dreamers” I have known – all my life – I am not angered, I am not politically motivated, I am not confused. I simply grieve, grieve for an ideal I was not “taught” as a child and a teenager, but, rather, LIVED as the reality of the America in which I grew up, an ideal that is being trampled upon and destroyed on a daily basis in our political life together. That ideal is not some abstraction of “diversity.” It is simply humanity.

María de la Luz Knows How to Walk

she ambles toward El Norte she remembers as she steps
wasps & spiders webbed in between the corn in Fowler
her mamá Concha’s story the fire she fanned to clear
the path through the thick burned stalks all this
she almost-touches the blueberries in Skagit Washington
& the line of men wrapped as cocoons and dark as amber
flecked honey at the line the only store in Firebaugh where
you can cash your check shirts twisted & whispered & upright
down in Illinois in Cobden you go through the back door
of Darden’s bar to buy drinks for the foreman El Cuadrado
María’s coming home after returning to Atizapán de Zaragoza
where she works at la Tortillería next to la Señora Muñóz
it is an abyss smoked & metal flat and deep with nixtamal
“Good pay in South Georgia” she says “I’ll work the
cucumbers” feet in water skin see-through peels & peels
off & off then on Saturday bussed to Walmart bussed back
to camp season after season the crossing higher alone
or with groups of three the coyote says “I am leaving you
here at the bottom of this mountain you Indians know how
to climb” she remembers Guadalupe Ríos say from the edge
of Santa María Corte in Nayarít “Nosotros los Peyoteros
sabemos caminar We know how to walk” María de la Luz
with an address in her net-bag her son who was taken many
years ago 1346 D St. San Diego will she recognize Juan
is the street still there who is he now who am I now who
will he remember you this ancient trail of grandmothers &
deportadas “I know how to walk” María de la Luz prays
as she ascends the black mountain as she moves her body
tiny as she listens to the sudden rush of things fall among
thorns & hisses María de la Luz notices a band of light

Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

“. . . for the individual has become the eternal echo of this voice. . .” (Søren Kierkegaard)

(Note: I am “out of my depth” here. I am neither theologian nor philosopher. I only read and find connections to my own experience.)

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Individual. Crowd. GED students, Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. “In vain the individual looks for the crowd.”

A few weeks ago a university student interviewed me for an assignment he needed to complete – to interview an individual working for the university and write an essay about that person. Even though, as a tutor in the athletic department, I am not technically an employee of the university, we did the interview and he wrote the essay (and earned a very good grade, I might add).

One of the questions his professor suggested the students ask was, “Do you have any regrets in your life?”

I was perplexed how to answer. I certainly have regrets, but most of them I did not want to discuss with a student. I have written here both directly and obliquely about my regrets, and about the concept concerning regrets that has been a cornerstone of my thinking for about 30 years, “We will not regret the past nor wish to close the door on it.”

The day of the interview, I began thinking about “regrets” as an abstract category.

Of course, thinking about the category has required thinking about specific regrets. I have regrets from the past. I don’t know if I have wished to close the door on them. Closing the door implies forgetting about them, perhaps even pretending I did not act in a way that I regretted.

The truth of that concept concerning regrets is that whatever I did in the past I cannot change, so I must remember my missteps without letting regret for them control my thinking about myself in the present, a common understanding.

Thinking about the student’s question took my memory to a determinative time in my life.  I did not tell the student any of this, but I have pondered it a great deal since the day he asked.

In 1968, when I was less than a year out of college, I was a gay man married to a woman who knew I was gay before we married. I was a student in seminary instead of in graduate school in my field, partly to avoid the Viet Nam draft and partly to avoid exposing myself as incompetent in my field (music, specifically organ performance). At the time, I regretted nearly every aspect of my life although I could not have articulated that. As might be expected, I sabotaged myself. I acted out in a way that resulted in my dismissal from the seminary (for which I am grateful), I began the slow process of the dissolution of my marriage (which was essential for both of us), and I entered graduate school in music – but in composition, not performance for which I feared myself unqualified.

I regretted my decision to enter seminary, but I did not regret the study itself. At the time I left the seminary, I was in a class in Existential Theology. I remember with some amusement the professor talking about Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who influenced Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). The professor spoke the name with a Texas accent. I had heard of Kierkegaard in the way all slightly educated students of theology and/or philosophy have heard, but I had no knowledge of Schleiermacher (and still don’t).

I have worked off and on since that disastrous semester to understand Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing because it captivated me and seemed to be key to some understanding of my life, especially Kierkegaard’s writing about the “individual.”

I’ve had tucked in the back of my mind for many years the notion that I would at some time need to come to terms with whether or not I am truly an individual and what that might mean for me. I have assumed that Kierkegaard was asking his questions directly of me.

Do you now live so that you are conscious of yourself as an individual; that in each of your relations in which you come into touch with the outside world, you are conscious of yourself, and that at the same time you are related to yourself as an individual? Even in these relations which we men so beautifully style the most intimate of all, do you remember that you have a still more intimate relation, namely, that in which you as an individual are related to yourself before God? (Purity of Heart, Chapter 13).

Do I live so that I am conscious of myself and relate to myself as an individual? And what can it possibly mean to be related to myself before God – a God in whom I do not believe? And if I do not believe, why cannot I not let the question go?

I can easily see that I was not living “conscious of [my]self as an individual” when I thought I needed to be married in order to be acceptable – acceptable to whom? Or when, because I thought others would find my musical abilities to be inadequate, I forsook what I really wanted to do and be. I can review over the course of my life a consistent pattern of living in ways in which I have not been conscious of myself as an individual, both in what I have done for myself and what I have done in relation to other people.

As I was in the process of undoing the deceptive life-structures I had built for myself in 1968, I discovered I needed to wrestle with Kierkegaard’s further question even though by that time I believed theological concepts such as “eternal life” only metaphorically.

. . . what is eternity’s accounting other than that the voice of conscience is forever installed with its eternal right to be the exclusive voice? What is it other than that throughout eternity an infinite stillness reigns wherein the conscience may talk with the individual about what he, as an individual, of what he has done of Good or of evil, and about the fact that during his life he did not wish to be an individual? (Purity of Heart, Chapter 13).

Consciousness of oneself as an individual allows one’s conscience to ask what the individual has “done of Good or of evil.” The Danish words do not seem to be related as the English words are: conscious – bevidst; conscience – samvittighed. I’m not a linguist, so I don’t know their roots.

It seems to me, having had one half of a semester studying Kierkegaard (and, therefore, being an authority?) he is saying that consciousness of oneself as an individual results in hearing the voice of conscience. If one does “not wish to be an individual,” but to be part of the crowd, one cannot understand what one might have “done of Good or evil.”

Being an individual is not at all about having no regrets.

Then it follows so easily that the isolated voice of conscience (as generally happens to a solitary one) becomes overruled — by the majority. But in eternity, conscience is the only voice that is heard. It must be heard by the individual, for the individual has become the eternal echo of this voice. It must be heard. There is no place to flee from it. For in the infinite there is no place, the individual is himself the place. It must be heard. In vain the individual looks about for the crowd. (Purity of Heart, Chapter 13)