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

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“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.

–“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.”

 

“. . . any recent attempts on your part To save our fellow-citizens from themselves. . .” (Carl Dennis). An open letter to my friends—all 47 of you.

The Sea of Galilee in the Occupied Territories of Palestine

The Sea of Galilee in the Occupied Territories of Palestine

Dear Friends,
If you’re anything like me—social scientists say anyone who knows me in the flesh and I are apt to be pretty much alike—

. . . Homophily—the tendency for similar individuals to associate with one another—is a widespread and well-documented social phenomenon. . . individuals who are similar with regard to race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, education, occupation, social class, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs are more likely to associate with one another than would be expected by chance. . . . (Curry, Oliver, and Robin Dunbar. “Do Birds Of A Feather Flock Together?” Human Nature 24.3 (2013): 336-347.)

Homophily. If you know me F2F, we have that going on, and if you’re reading this, we could. We have in common the level of education and class that allows us the belief that the Internet is a way to communicate. I would hope individuals whose “race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, education, [etc.]” are different from mine are reading this, but I doubt it.

You are almost certainly white, more-or-less middle-aged, more-or-less middle class, educated, kind, generous, and sensitive. You hate murder and killing (even if you—unlike most of my friends—like guns).

One of my doctors told me yesterday I have a way of putting people at ease, a charming if off-the-wall sense of humor. She said she’d bet most people who meet me like me. Our conversation centered on the amount of Prozac I might be required to take every day. I want to get “by” not “high.”

The truth is, I want much more than getting by.

I think I can say this to almost anyone reading this: It’s time for us to get off our comfortable keisters and do something to make the world a better place. Getting by is not enough.

In 2008 I had the privilege of meeting a remarkable woman who has had the courage and determination to make a difference for the better in the unbelievably difficult situation into which she was thrust in at the age of 15, and in which she has lived since then. We had an online connection and friendship well before we were able to meet in person, and we have remained friends since then. That amazes me, and that she counts me as a friend humbles me.

Hope, at the Church of the Heptagon on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories of Palestine

Hope, at the Church of the Heptagon on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories of Palestine

In 1948 Samia became a citizen of a nation that does not yet exist, a prisoner in her own land, a “freedom fighter,” an advocate for the right of her people to determine for themselves not only the government under which they live, but the future existence of their culture for her children’s children.

From April 18, 1775, to September 3, 1783, terrorists shot canons and muskets and set booby traps to terrorize the nice British soldiers in places like Massachusetts who wanted only to occupy and own 13 little countries along the Atlantic coast of North America. The British soldiers were protecting the privileges of the most modern democracy in Europe. Ultimately, the owners of the land were the King and Parliament of Britain. Taxes and other privileges of governance belonged to them. That included lining the coffers of the religious establishment of Britain, the Church of England. Colonists were allowed to practice their own religion, but they all paid taxes for the support of the Church of England.
We know how the eight years of terrorism turned out. The terrorists won, and the forced support of the King, the Parliament, and the Church of England ended.

A few days ago a friend sent me an email. He is younger than middle-age, (at least) middle-class, highly educated and way above average in intelligence. I think the world of him. He’s one of those younger people an old geezer like me counts on to carry on the highest ideals of our society. He’s probably surprised at the depth of my fondness for him. His email said, in part,

. . . [the “Holy Land”] is full of total assholes. Of course there are more than a few Palestinians who think like terrorists and regret only that their rockets aren’t enough to reduce Jerusalem to a smoldering rubble full of bodies. Of course there are Israelis who have long since forgotten the humanity of their neighbors, who arrived as a stateless nation and then callously created a stateless nation of men, women, and children who deserve self-determination and an international media that is not determined to choose sides. I trust you are much more educated about all this than I am. Animosity is a powerful thing, though, more powerful than media coverage, and I regret to say that there is probably no new perspective that will make the Holy Land a place of peace.

Above I gave a real historical example of the accomplishments of a bunch of terrorists. Here’s a make-believe example. Suppose the United Nations, urged on by the United States, declared that Mexico—because it had the first claim on Texas—would be given a swath of Texas from the Rio Grande up to and including Dallas. The Mexican army moved into Dallas, declared the people of Mexican descent and the “illegal” alien Mexicans who were already here to be the rightful owners of everything from the Myerson to the Frito Lay headquarters and all of Dallas County. They began pillaging everything in sight, ripping off the economy, not letting those of us who thought we owned property here vote, and, in fact, throwing us out of our homes—especially the ones in Southlake, University Park, and Preston Hollow—and took over the entire downtown and Galleria areas.

Would you and I, the rightful owners and residents of Dallas, be justified in fighting back? If we did, would we be terrorists who want “to reduce Dallas to a smoldering rubble full of bodies?” What recourse would we have, especially if the United States was giving the Mexican government $3,000,000,000 a year to keep us in our places?

Terrorists?
Freedom fighters?
Patriots?
Exactly what would you call us?
I’d like to hear your thoughts.

The best to you,
Harold

“Thanksgiving Letter from Harry,” Carl Dennis, 1939

I guess I have to begin by admitting
I’m thankful today I don’t reside in a country
My country has chosen to liberate,
That Bridgeport’s my home, not Baghdad.
Thankful my chances are good, when I leave
For the Super Duper, that I’ll be returning.
And I’m thankful my TV set is still broken.
No point in wasting energy feeling shame
For the havoc inflicted on others in my name
When I need all the strength I can muster
To teach my eighth-grade class in the low-rent district.
There, at least, I don’t feel powerless.
There my choices can make some difference.

This month I’d like to believe I’ve widened
My students’ choice of vocation, though the odds
My history lessons on working the land
Will inspire any of them to farm
Are almost as small as the odds
One will become a monk or nun
Trained in the Buddhist practice
We studied last month in the unit on India.
The point is to get them suspecting the world
They know firsthand isn’t the only world.

As for the calling of soldier, if it comes up in class,
It’s not because I feel obliged to include it,
As you, as a writer, may feel obliged.
A student may happen to introduce it,
As a girl did yesterday when she read her essay
About her older brother, Ramon,
Listed as “missing in action” three years ago,
And about her dad, who won’t agree with her mom
And the social worker on how small the odds are
That Ramon’s alive, a prisoner in the mountains.

I didn’t allow the discussion that followed
More time than I allowed for the other essays.
And I wouldn’t take sides: not with the group
That thought the father, having grieved enough,
Ought to move on to the life still left him;
Not with the group that was glad he hadn’t made do
With the next-to-nothing the world’s provided,
That instead he’s invested his trust in a story
That saves the world from shameful failure.

Let me know of any recent attempts on your part
To save our fellow-citizens from themselves.
In the meantime, if you want to borrow Ramon
For a narrative of your own, remember that any scene
Where he appears under guard in a mountain village
Should be confined to the realm of longing. There
His captors may leave him when they move on.
There his wounds may be healed,
His health restored. A total recovery
Except for a lingering fog of forgetfulness
A father dreams he can burn away.

Carl Dennis describes the writing of this poem.

Garden,  Church of the Loaves and Fishes, Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories, Palestine

Garden, Church of the Loaves and Fishes, Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories, Palestine