“Remember the wind. . . She knows the origin of this universe.” (Joy Harjo)


“REMEMBER THE WIND.” Palestine. The Sea of Galilee. (Photo by Harold Knight, Nov. 9, 2015)

My first memory of thinking, “What if I don’t exist at all but am a figment of someone’s imagination,” was in second grade (Mrs. Hall’s class, Longfellow School, Scottsbluff, NE, 1952). I would hardly have had the vocabulary to think that sentence at that time. I was perhaps a tad precocious, but “figment” was not likely my word then. “Exist” and “imagination” were probably a little beyond me, too. I did not have the words, but I knew the concept without question

The first time I remember saying the exact words was when I was in high school. I was lying on a hill in Chadron State Park in Western Nebraska one summer night when I was participating in Far West Baptist Camp. My father established the camp when he was Minister of Christian Education of the Nebraska Baptist Convention. I was lying on the hillside with a friend, one of the first boys I was in love with. I didn’t have the vocabulary for that, either, although I had no doubt about the feeling.

The sky was absolutely clear, and there were no city lights to obscure the stars. The Milky Way on a summer’s night in Nebraska appears as a band of light virtually across the entire sky. City boys never see it. I was lying on the hillside being in love and wondering about infinity – surely there was an end to the universe I was seeing, but I knew from science classes that what I was looking into was apparently infinite. As I stared into space, the thought occurred to me that what I was seeing was simply a figment of my imagination. And then I told myself that the universe was not a figment of my imagination, but I was a figment of another person’s imagination and did not exist at all. ***

That seems an innocuous enough thought for a 16-year-old kid to have. We all think weird stuff at that age. But my thought was directly related to that day in second grade. I was experiencing derealization or depersonalization or both. Much later when I was about 37 years old, I was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Tegretol. My friend for the last 35 years. But for the 35 or so years before that, my friend was silence about my frequent experience of the world.

I don’t remember when I first read Joy Harjo’s poem, “Remember.” The lines “Remember you are this universe and this / universe is you” at moments come into my consciousness (or what I accept as consciousness), and I can’t remember where they are from. Thank goodness for Google.  Now I have them posted online forever, so I won’t lose them again.

How do I get from a childhood experience – it was a childhood-long experience that lasted well into my adulthood, yesterday while square dancing being the most recent manifestation – to the universe as myself and myself as the universe? You might think the derealization experience would mean the opposite. The universe as removed from myself and myself removed from the universe. But in those moments, the entire universe is in my mind. My mind is the universe and the universe is in my mind. None of the men I was square dancing with yesterday were in the room. More concerning was that my feet were not part of the world, only part of the universe.

I do not know if this experience is the result of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or of childhood traumas. I do not need to enumerate here, but they are real.

Perhaps it is neither. Perhaps it is a fortunate gift of seeing the world as it actually is. Perhaps it is a philosophical experience and not a physiological reality at all.

How would a second-grade boy come by such a gift? How could he possibly understand that what we all, what we each in our own mind, consider to be “real” is so amorphous and incomprehensible that the only way to endure is to build structures, to adopt ways of acting and doing, to invent strategies of thinking that preclude facing the “nothingness” of our human enterprise, to use Sartre’s convenient word. Not because I understand the existentialist strategy, but because it fits what I am trying to say.

I love the term “gaslighting.” From Wikipedia [horrors!]: “Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize . . . to sow seeds of doubt . . . hoping to make [someone] question their own memory, perception, and sanity.” On an afternoon like yesterday I have the sense that we have all been gaslighted to believe that our physical, mental, social, political, etc. structures have some kind of substance they do not have.

When I was in college (about 1965), I first talked to a doctor about my derealization experiences. His solution to the problem was simple. If I would stop being a homosexual, the problem would fix itself. You see, simply change my strategy of thinking to fit the norm, and I would be able to function clearly, (and I suppose he would have said) sanely, happily. At the very least without the persistent idea that I could, because I do not exist, walk through walls. Probably not a doctor in America, with the possible exception of Dr. Tom Price, would give me that advice today.

I wonder what my neurologist would say about all of this.

Joy Harjo admonishes us to remember the sky, sun, moon, sundown, our birth, our mother, our father, the earth, plants, animals, wind, all people. The wind. The universe.

Remember the motion growing in you . . . the dance language is, that life is. Perhaps our structures, the language of the dance, is life. I remember, though I’m not certain I ever knew the things I remember.

“Remember,” by Joy Harjo, b. 1951

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is

–“Remember.” Copyright ©1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses.

***  “It may happen when you first wake up, or while flying on an airplane or driving in your car. Suddenly, inexplicably, something changes. Common objects and familiar situations seem strange, foreign. Like you’ve just arrived on the planet, but don’t know from where. It may pass quickly, or it may linger. You close your eyes and turn inward, but the very thoughts running through your head seem different. The act of thinking itself, the stream of invisible words running through the hollow chamber of your mind, seems strange and unreal. It’s as if you have no self, no ego, no remnant of that inner strength which quietly and automatically enabled you to deal with the world around you, and the world inside you. It may settle over time, into a feeling of “nothingness”, as if you were without emotions, dead. Or the fear of it may blossom into a full-blown panic attack. But when it hits for the first time, you’re convinced that you’re going insane, and wait in a cold sweat to see when and if you finally do go over the edge.”


Jerusalem, the Golden 

If you want a jarring reminder of all of the ironies and cruelties and idiocies of history — and parenthetically of religion — follow this link to a 19th-century English hymn and consider how bizarre it would be to wake up in East Jerusalem on All Souls Day with it going through your mind.

That happened to me an hour ago.

This is my shortest blog post ever, I think. It has but one purpose: to suggest (request?) that my readers watch my other (older) blog for the next two weeks or so. I will be posting there on a somewhat regular basis about my travels — and my reactions to what I see — in Palestine.

I will write there this morning as soon as I figure out how to get a cup of coffee. You will find those musings at Sumnonrabidus’s Blog.

In the meantime, you can listen to a snippet of the call to prayer from yesterday at 4:30 PM as I taped it from my hotel window. And you can also marvvel that the old man has figure out how to do this on his iPad instead of his computer.

“Egomania coupled with an inferiority complex”

Looking toward Lebanon from an archaeological site (I don't remember the name--that's my main problem with travel pics).

Looking toward Lebanon from an archaeological site (I don’t remember the name–that’s my main problem with travel pics).

There’s nothing egocentric about me? A certain organization I’m a part of speaks of “egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.” I think if that shoe fits, I ought to wear it.

Well, it does, and I have it on. Both feet.

In a week I’m off on a visit (my third) to Palestine. The group I’m going with is made up of Christians (I assume everyone in the group although I don’t know for sure) going with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

I have been to Sabeel’s headquarters before. Samia Khoury, a member of the Center, is an acquaintance (no, a friend) whom I discovered on the Internet several years ago and had a correspondence with long before we met in Jerusalem in 2008.

A couple who will be part of the visit to Sabeel are seasoned proponents of Liberation Theology as it applies to the Palestinians, as well as political support for the Palestinians. I have known them since 1985 when he was interim rector of Grace Church in Salem, MA, where I was music director.

The first time I was in Palestine I was with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. An independent organization has been created from FOR with the purpose of leading delegations to Israel/Palestine, Interfaith Peace Builders. I count three of the people from that first trip, two of whom are now on the staff of IFPB, as friends and colleagues.

The second trip I took to Palestine was with a group mainly of members of Lutheran churches from the Dallas area. It was led by Ann Hafften, long-time advocate for peace in Palestine/Israel and member of the ELCA leadership devoted to that cause.

My first trip to Palestine was prompted in 2003 by my increasing puzzlement about the situation there as we Americans were told about it in the media. Somewhere in one of my blogs is the story of my meeting (and teaching) a Palestinian student at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston in 1987. He did more teaching of me than I of him. He told me first-hand the story of his and his family’s exile from their home. That was my first real knowledge of the “facts on the ground” in Palestine, and when we Americans began hearing the horrendous news about the First Intifada, I knew in my heart of hearts that we could not be hearing the whole truth―or even very much of it.

So I decided to go there and see for myself.

The rest, as far as my knowledge and involvement is concerned (shudder at the cliché), is history. I challenge anyone reading this to stand beside the Apartheid Wall―you don’t need to tell me I’m biased: someone has to be―in Jerusalem and not be shaken, moved, horrified, disgusted. I have no “right” word for my weeping that first day in 2003. And the wall wasn’t built yet at that particular place in Jerusalem. We stood overlooking the great miles-long gouge in the earth that would soon be the Wall.

There is nothing unbiased about my feeling, speaking, writing, acting on the situation of the Palestinian people.

On my first trip there, I had no expertise with the Internet. I came home with hundreds of pictures and no way to use them. The idea of posting online was a pipedream.

My second trip was different. These days I quite frequently post pictures I took then.

This visit will be different still. I will have both my smart phone and my iPad with me, and I will be blogging probably every day.
Here’s where my egocentricity comes in.

Where to post? Here on this blog that had its inception as a humorous look at growing old? I doubt there will be much humor to write about although I will have a good time, and I will be joyful in being with old friends.

No, the hookah did not make me hallucinate (I don't know how my friend managed this). A restaurant in Bethlehem.

No, the hookah did not make me hallucinate (I don’t know how my friend managed this). A restaurant in Bethlehem.

Should I post on the blog where every day I post news from and about Palestine, a digest of news accounts (and a poem by a Palestinian poet just because I can’t help myself)? That hardly seems sensible since my postings will be personal and immediate.

Or should I post on a blog I have kept for years, one that I have not used much since “Me senescent” began? It is much more about personal opinion and reaction to circumstances and events.

The name of the blog is my incorrect pidgin Latin (intended to be humorous, or at least tongue-in-cheek) for “I am not crazy.” Sumnonrabidus.

I’ve decided that all of you and the whole world (there’s my egomania) will want to read my personal account, so I will be blogging as “Sumnonrabidus” beginning a week from today. I am not crazy. Just a little wacky and opinionated.

My opinions, as anyone who reads this blog knows, include my agnosticism bordering on atheism. Being with a group of Christian Liberation Theologians for ten days may be as much a challenge as getting to and through Ben Gurion Airport alone (I have never left the country for any reason—ten times now—by myself). But I assume I can trust that the hotel taxi will be at the airport to fetch me to Jerusalem. And I assume that there is a place for me in a religious atmosphere. At least I can focus on the “liberation” part of the discussion and the experience.

Watch Sumnonrabidus beginning November 3.

The Fearless Bedouin, 2008.

The Fearless Bedouin, 2008.

From the foundation of the world?

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel.)

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel.)

In a little more than two weeks I will be in Jerusalem. I will spend ten nights in Palestine and Israel―in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and religiously important places in the Galilee, as well as Jerusalem. I have been to all of these places before. The first time I was in Palestine, I also had the remarkable experience of spending two days and a night in Gaza.

In the late ‘80s-early ‘90s I was in therapy with a Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA. He is about my age (we were both very young at that time). My neurologist referred me to him because he had experience working with persons with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, the condition with which the neurologists at Harvard Medical School had recently diagnosed me after I had lived with it for 40 years.

One of the presentations of TLE is a propensity for heightened religious experiences. Out-of-body experiences, strange feelings of transcendence, seeing visions. All manner of mystical experience.

I have had quite a few of those experiences, but I have never exactly attributed them to being in touch with God or the gods or the meaning of the universe as some TLEptics do. From childhood I have had what might be called a “mystical” bent―having deep experiences of connectedness to reality of some kind. I have tried to explain those experiences many times.

In a folder on my computer desk top I have a miscellaneous assortment of documents with stuff I want to be able to find if I ever need it. Somewhat like my last year’s tax return―it’s here somewhere. One of those documents is a quotation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky describing his seizures (I have no record of the article that quotes Strakhov).

Nikolay Strakhov, a philosopher and literary critic, and a friend of Dostoyevsky relates Dostoevsky’s description of the aura: ‘…Often told me that before the onset of an attack there were minutes in which he was in rapture.’ “For several moments,” he said, “I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life―such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.” Frank J. Goldstein. Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (1987).

I don’t know if the experience on the Oregon coast I linked to above was a seizure, a mystical experience, or simply the way anyone who hadn’t a care in the world for the moment would experience the ocean and the cold air and the solitude. My guess is that many (most?) people have these experiences, but they don’t feel compelled to write about them. And they don’t think of them as “religious.”

I should note here that the times I know for sure I am having a seizure are not wonderful. A month ago, for example, I was walking at the fitness center and suddenly had no idea where I was or why I was there (which is a much more frequent experience than being at one with the ocean). It’s more difficult for me to explain that kind of experience than the mystical ones (or whatever they are). Fortunately at the fitness center I was able to get to a bench and sit before I checked out completely. I came to (after probably 2 or 3 seconds) and knew someone named Chris was nearby and that I should see him.

But I had no idea where or who he was or why I needed to find him. It took me a few minutes to remember he is my trainer, and I had an appointment with him in a few minutes.

So that’s the sum total of my mystical experience.

For the most part.

Since I find it almost impossible to say I believe in God these days, it’s just as well that I don’t have experiences where I think I’ve run into her.

When I was working with the Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Massachusetts, he told me he hoped I would someday have the experience of standing at the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”) in Jerusalem. He thought anyone who had had so many “mystical” (I’ll call them that for want of a better description) experiences needed to be in that place where so much of the Western religious tradition had been centered, supposedly, for 2,500 years.

When I finally touched the Wall in 2003, I had nothing like a religious experience. Perhaps that was because on my way down into the courtyard I was greeted by a teenage girl and boy (Israeli soldiers carrying assault rifles) obviously looking everyone over with suspicion, and it was difficult to feel anything other than wariness. I was not wearing a yarmulke as the other men in our group were.

I am fairly certain that when I am in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks, I will have religious experiences. I don’t think William James would have classified them as religious, however. But it’s the only way I have of participating in or knowing or experiencing anything “transcendent” or of “God.”

The purpose of my trip is to join, as best I know how or can figure out, the cause of justice for all people. If God exists, I have only one way of knowing God. That is by doing my level best (which is pathetically inadequate and probably misinformed) to be of service to other human beings, especially in the cause of justice and mercy. It is only then―not by belief or prayer or meditation or good works―that I expect to have anything like the experience of hearing, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”―in this life or any other.

(Some of my reasons for going to Palestine/Jerusalem.)

The new

The new “Wailing Wall.” (Photo, Harold Knight, 2008.)


“. . . small nightmares that I hope will develop into great dreams. . .” (Mourid Barghouti)

Ali Hassanein, a 54-year-old oud maker works in Ramallah. Every day life in Palestine. (Photo MaanImages)

Ali Hassanein, a 54-year-old oud maker works in Ramallah. Every day life in Palestine. (Photo MaanImages)

I’m going to stop saying I’m retired except as part of my quirky attempt at a sense of humor. It’s not true.

retire v.
1. to withdraw, or go away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion
2. to go to bed

Yesterday morning I played the organ at First Presbyterian Church in Plano, TX, went to lunch at a famed Dallas barbecue spot with a friend, saw the exhibition of “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters” at the Meadows Museum in the afternoon, had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, and spent the evening packing and preparing for my week-long excursion to North Carolina with my friend.

We have movie and museum and other loosely-formed plans to spend the week “out and about.”

Because I’ll be in the Great Smoky Mountains, I will miss tutoring at the university Academic Development of Student Athletes where I do the most important teaching of my 35-year career I’ll miss my regular schedule with my trainer, and square dancing next Sunday, and my meetings of that anonymous secret society I belong to, and playing the organ next Sunday, and. . .

Hardly seems like going “away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.”

In a sense, however, in my mind I live in a place of privacy. I privately reject doing anything I don’t want to do. I’m learning to say “No” when that’s what I want to say and to say “Yes” to the activities I want to participate in.

Most of us don’t worry about leaving a “legacy.” If I had children and grandchildren, I’d have a somewhat different take on that idea. However, the legacy of family is a personal matter that has little to do with what anyone else thinks. I do have a few interesting, if not valuable, things I hope my nieces and nephews will enjoy having to remember me by, but that’s about it. I’m not the rich uncle.

Then there’s all this stuff I’ve written and posted for the past 12 years that’s floating around out there in cyberspace. I’m told it’s there forever, or at least until climate change finally does human society in.

All this stuff I’ve written is one of the most important aspects of my not going “to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.” This is, however, not as obvious a statement as it might seem. I’ve written recently about all of this and posted it in “the cloud.”

I’m 70 years old. Never in my life have I been ambitious, physically fit, “driven” accomplishing much with my time here. No, I’m basically meek and weak and (perhaps?) lazy. That I am not the rich uncle is testimony in itself to my being a part of Henry David Thoreau’s “mass of men [who] live lives of quiet desperation.” I feel desperation from time to time―but I’m too often not quiet about it.

A couple of “causes,” however, inspire me to work and participation. They keep me from going to a place of privacy and seclusion.

One of those is the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas, about which I’ve written here several times.

The Aberg Center offers ESL classes and GED preparation to adults. The Center is, I believe, the most important place where I practice being neither secluded nor desperate. I feel more joy as a volunteer teacher there than in anything else I do (with the possible exception of tutoring football players). Sentences that are not a “run-on” sentences that students from Aberg write 20 years from now are part of my “legacy.”

The stuff I’ve posted in Cyberspace is part of my legacy. That is not obvious.

Preparations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem for the holy night of Laylat al-Qader on Monday.

Preparations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem for the holy night of Laylat al-Qader on Monday.

I have other blogs than this one. One is an exercise in what might look like futility or grandiosity. Perhaps that is more than a perception.

However, I post it―almost daily―for the sole purpose of posting it. That blog is not really my own. It’s a small collection of news stories other people have written brought together in a digest often related (at least tangentially) to a poem I have discovered.

I spend the time (up to a couple of hours daily) compiling that blog simply for the sake of doing it. Simply because someone must do it.

The poems the news stories (peripherally) relate to are by writers from Palestine or who are Palestinians living in the Diaspora of displaced Palestinians.

I collect the poetry and the news stories because it has to be done. It is necessary that there is a tiny edge of Cyberspace devoted to telling daily real-life stories from the point of view of Palestinians and trying to relate them to expressions of the inner life and experience of the Palestinian people, i.e. relating news about life in Palestine to snippets of the 1,000-year literary tradition of the Palestinians.

Someone has to do this, and I have the time and skill for the job. (I hope you will check the blog, Palestine InSight .)

It does not matter if no one or one person or a thousand people read it daily. It must exist in Cyberspace. On the day someone needs it, for whatever reason, it will be there. If I do not do it, no one will. It’s that simple.

I spend a few minutes (nearly) every day not being secluded or desperate by simply giving myself to a necessary task and having no desire or belief that I am accomplishing something. I don’t know. What I do know is that it has to be done because some day in some way I can’t know, someone will need it.

“Retirement” could well be going “away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.” Or it can mean going away or apart to do one’s most important lifework.

“I Have No Problem” by Mourid Barghouti

I look at myself:
I have no problem.
I look all right
and, to some girls,
my grey hair might even be attractive;
my eyeglasses are well made,
my body temperature is precisely thirty seven,
my shirt is ironed and my shoes do not hurt.
I have no problem.
My hands are not cuffed,
my tongue has not been silenced yet,
I have not, so far, been sentenced
and I have not been fired from my work;
I am allowed to visit my relatives in jail,
I’m allowed to visit some of their graves in some countries.
I have no problem.
I am not shocked that my friend
has grown a horn on his head.
I like his cleverness in hiding the obvious tail
under his clothes, I like his calm paws.
He might kill me, but I shall forgive him
for he is my friend;
he can hurt me every now and then.
I have no problem.
The smile of the TV anchor
does not make me ill any more
and I’ve got used to the Khaki stopping my colours
night and day.
That is why
I keep my identification papers on me, even at
the swimming pool.
I have no problem.
Yesterday, my dreams took the night train
and I did not know how to say goodbye to them.
I heard the train had crashed
in a barren valley
(only the driver survived).
I thanked God, and took it easy
for I have small nightmares
that I hope will develop into great dreams.
I have no problem.
I look at myself, from the day I was born till now.
In my despair I remember
that there is life after death;
there is life after death
and I have no problem.
But I ask:
Oh my God,
is there life before death?

Translated by Radwa Ashour
From Barghouti, Mourid. MIDNIGHT AND OTHER POEMS. Trans. Radwa Ashour. Todmorden, UK: Arc Publications, 2008.
About Mourid Barghouti

Israeli forces raided Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Monday and threatened locals, witnesses said. Every Day Life in Palestine.

Israeli forces raided Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Monday and threatened locals, witnesses said. Every Day Life in Palestine.

“The olive trees are dying of embarrassment. . . “ (Lahab Assef Al-Jundi)

Tent of Nations

Tent of Nations

(Please see
Palestine InSight for background of this posting. More importantly, please see Tent of Nations website!)

On Tuesday, April 7, 2015 11:01 PM, Ann Hafften wrote on behalf of the The North Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area of the ELCA:

Dear friends,
I am sorry to report that the Daoud Nassar events in Denton, Fort Worth and Dallas have been cancelled. It is necessary for Mr. Nassar to be on hand at the family farm right now and in the days to come. Bill Plitt, Executive Director of Friends of Tent of Nations North America, writes:

“As you know, the Nassar family has been fighting in the Israeli courts since 1991 to retain their ownership of the family’s land which was originally purchased and registered in 1916. The local authorities in the Gush Etzion Settlement area, in which the Tent of Nations is located, are now requiring the land be re-registered for the fourth time, and have placed new requirements on the family to provide additional evidence in their application. The deadline for doing so is April 21st.

“Continually shortened times allowed for response to these requirements are making it more difficult for Daoud to be away from the land, and the family is fearful that some kind of unforeseen action will be taken against the land, and think this is more likely if he is out of the country.

“As you know, life under the occupation is not only oppressive, but unpredictable for Palestinians. The rules often change on the spur of the moment. It’s amazing how resilient the Palestinian people have been under such circumstances. We hope you will continue to lift up the Nassar family and all Palestinians in your prayer and action.”

Thank you for your patience and understanding. We look forward to another opportunity to hear the witness of Tent of Nations in the NT-NL mission.
Easter blessings of joy!
Ann Hafften
Weatherford, Texas

“Holy Landers,” by Lahab Assef Al-Jundi

You are fighting over a land that can fit,
with wilderness to spare,
in the Panhandle of Texas.

You are building walls to segregate,
splitting wholes till little is left,
killing and dying for pieces of sky
in the same window.

The olive trees are dying
of embarrassment.
They have enough fruits
and pits for all of you.
All they want is for you to stop
uprooting them.
Sending your children to die
in their names.

Your land is no holier than my backyard.
None of you is any more chosen
than the homeless veteran panhandling
with a God Bless cardboard sign
at the light of Mecca
and San Pedro.

Draw a borderline around the place.
Call it home for all the living,
all the dead,
all the tired exiles with its dust
gummed on their tongues.

There are no heroes left.

Lahab Assef Al-Jundi was born, and grew up, in Damascus, Syria. Attended The University of Texas in Austin, where he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Not long after graduation, he discovered his passion for writing. He published his first poetry collection, “A Long Way”, in 1985. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary publications, and many Anthologies including: “In These Latitudes, Ten Contemporary Poets”, edited by Robert Bonazzi, “Inclined to Speak, An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry”, edited by Hayan Charara, and “Between Heaven and Texas”, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

“Solitude glanced at me with its two eyes of a gazelle. . .” (Yousef Abdul-Aziz)

bird is not stoneThe tattoo ringing my right forearm spells out the Latin words

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum

They constitute the first phrase of Psalm 42,

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? (KJV)

Three months ago I wrote about this tattoo. I don’t need to explain it again, but for several days I have needed to write about solitude—loneliness—isolation again because mine has again become unbearable (this, too, shall pass). I am mystified to note that often when I am feeling most alone, I am drawn to Psalm 42. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”

Why those words come to mind when I am feeling most alone I am not sure (perhaps because of the hauntingly beautiful musical setting by Herbert Howells—about which I have also written recently). I would not say that my soul “panteth” after God. I frankly don’t know—my self-understanding for some time is that I am no longer interested in searching for God.

When I took on the tattoo, I remarked to Joe the artist that we would know how skilled he is by whether or not the eyes of the Palestinian gazelle accompanying the Psalmist’s words seem to be looking at anyone who sees them. I think he did.
As I explained in December, I make a connection in my mind between the “hart” and the gazelle that I had the gift of seeing in Palestine in August of 2008—a gift because they are so rare, so endangered that few tourists ever see them wild in the hills of The Galilee where they are native. The “hart” the psalmist knew was likely a Palestinian gazelle.

If anyone had asked me 15 or 20 years ago (or perhaps 5) if I was prepared to be alone, that is, to live alone exist alone sleep alone dine alone play alone, I would have said absolutely not. I had no intention of being alone. Solitude in the desert for a week or two at a time or on the beach at port Orford, Oregon. But not as the condition of my life.

Often on TV A real-estate company’s ad plays about finding the right house to buy. It ends with the sentence, “You are not just buying house. You are looking for the place for your life to happen.”

Somehow my apartment does not feel like the place where my life is happening. I’m not sure where I might be that would seem like that place, but it is not here. If this is where my life is happening, then I must not be one of those Homo sapiens the Nature program on PBS often indicates descended from the same ancestor gorillas came from. I do not seem to be a social creature.

Of course that’s not true. I have many friends and spend a great deal of my time with other Homo sapiens—today I will be with university student athletes for five hours, and I will be with a bank teller, a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad, and a check-out clerk at Kroger. It is, however, likely that I will not spend any time with another person simply in order to be with them, and I will most likely not touch another person all day.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself (not intentionally, at any rate). I am contemplating the reality of my “social” existence.

I recently came across a poem by the Palestinian poet Yousef Abdul-Aziz titled “The book of doubt.” Its opening image startled me.

I stumbled across Solitude in my house.
Not only wearing my best shirt
and drinking my coffee. . .

I thought, “Abdul-Aziz has written a poem for me.” The poem startled me because it is from the volume A Bird Is Not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Poetry (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Most of the work in the book is clearly about the political/social situation of the Palestinian people.

Abdul-Aziz’s poem does not seem to be. It seems to be personal. And its metaphor seems to be a metaphor for my own situation. Maya Abu Al-Hayyat writes in the introduction to the anthology,

We notice that most of the poetry particular to this generation [of Palestinians after the Oslo agreement] [is] very vague. They [use] words like “mirrors, shadows, absence, presence,” words that revealed the process of discovery and transformation from one state to another. They [deal] with viewing things in a different way, exactly parallel to the political situation. . .

Palestinian poetry became personally questioning about the poets’ place in the political realities rather than, for the most part, politically activist. The Palestinian people are living in a period of promise but uncertainty, and most of the poetry in the anthology reflects this communal uncertainty. (Of course, the situation has changed again in the short time since this poetry was written to one of the all-too-certain possibility of the destruction of Palestinian society.)

Here in the company of poetry about the enormous struggle of an entire people is a poem so personal as to be startling. And it uses one of my favorite images—one of which I am fond enough to have had it tattooed on my forearm—as a metaphor for solitude.

Perhaps I need to rethink my solitary life.

Living in a situation of political and social impossibility so different from mine that I can scarcely comprehend it is a man—a person—whose experience of being alone seems to correspond to mine. A man, a person, not a Terrorist, not a Militant, not an Arab, not a Muslim, not a Palestinian, but a person. A person with whom I feel together as we both struggle with being alone.

I stumbled across Solitude in my house.
Not only wearing my best shirt
and drinking my coffee
but also smoking my tobacco
it was thrashing about the pages
of what looked like my manuscript.
It sat in my chair like a queen
and from its hands
rose an enchanted fog. . .

Still cloaked in my dreams I stood close by
trembling like a branch of the night
raining down bitter
What is woman?
In which storm
may my heart play?
Where did I bury the fire?!

As though I were a ring on its finger
it didn’t give me much thought.
Unfazed by my stiff shadow at the door
Solitude went on
with a sneer
scrambling pages
tearing them out of the manuscript.
I saw myself cast out to blind lands
and I hollered;
I saw before me a sphere of water
rising up in the wind
and above, a cracked moon,
and slain butterflies
strewn around me.

I’m sure
you will wrap up this farce! I yelled.
Solitude glanced at me with its two eyes of a gazelle—
my own eyes.
And it handed me
the book of doubt—it was my own book.

— Translated by Juana Acock
— From A BIRD IS NOT A STONE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY PALESTINIAN POETRY (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014) –available from Amazon.com.
— Yousef Abdul-Aziz was born in Jerusalem and studied in Amman and Beirut. He is a teacher, a committee member of the online journal Awraq, and recipient of literary awards, including the (Jordanian) Arar prize.

The Sea of Galilee (Photo by Harold Knight, August 2008)

The Sea of Galilee (Photo by Harold Knight, August 2008)