Sunday, June 28, 2009

Too much to write/not to write

It's hard to know where to start, so let's start with Thursday night, after a rough day at work, when I was trying to chill by cruising around Facebook, and came across the video of Neda, the young woman shot in the heart by an Iranian military sniper while watching the protests in Tehran.

The below video isn't that one... you can find that yourself very easily by Googling Neda's name, and I know most folks who read my blog really don't want to see something that troubling. The video below I took at a candlelight vigil I attended Thursday night in Dupont Circle. The vigil was in honor of Neda and other protestors who have died over the past couple of weeks at the hands of these government killers, who wait on rooftops and cherry-pick individuals to annihilate with one bullet to the head or the heart, killing them almost instantly.

I honestly found the vigil confusing. I was there to pray. I brought a candle and I walked around, feeling out the scene, listening to the conversations and watching the faces of the folks who were there. Almost everyone appeared to be an Iranian expatriate, and they were gathered in little clumps, speaking Farsi. Most appeared quite affluent, well-dressed. Some of the girls clearly saw this as a night out, and were dressed accordingly. I hardly knew what to do with this... I was expecting a better mix of white peaceniks and internationals. Surely, people aren't so cynical that they really dismiss the issue of the corrupt elections as being merely an Iranian problem, right?

There were images everywhere of Neda right after she died, blood covering half of her face. That image had already clearly become iconic. That afternoon, after watching the video, I joined a Facebook group called "Neda, Angel of Iran". It didn't take long at all for her to represent to these folks everything they detested about the regime. But no one appeared upset. I walked around and around, unable to wrap my head around the atmosphere, which was far more like the funeral reception for a distant relative than a real protest.

I found a place to sit on the rim of the fountain, acutely aware of how conspicuous I was with my European features and small silver cross dangling from my neck. A young man came up and started talking to me... he had been walking by after attending a reception for the alumni association of his Ivy League college, and was drawn to the scene, trying to figure out what was going on . He was an interesting kid... 24 years old, Jewish, grew up in DC and worked in local politics in Maryland... and he asked me almost immediately "what is the point of all this? Do you actually think this will change anything?"

It was a rude question, but I had to give it to him that the purpose of the event wasn't clear. So I told him my reasons: Neda's death was an objective wrong. I understand that conflict dynamics are complex and there are rarely any innocent parties, but she had no role in the protests. The sniper killed this beautiful young woman because he could. So, in the same way that I attended a protest in 2007 in support of the monks who were peacefully protesting (and being arrested and beaten) in Burma, I attended this... because what was happening was an objective moral wrong and I had to do SOMETHING. Plus, I told him, I believe when two or more are gathered in the same space, praying, that God hears... and I was there because it was likely that there were at least two other people there begging God to intervene. I offered my prayers with theirs.

He heard me, and didn't totally buy it... so the conversation continued for about another half hour. It was a good conversation, and I was appreciative of it because at least there was a person from the outside trying to understand. I walked away a little bit sick, though, realizing that I very well might have been the only person praying to God, and that I actually hadn't gotten much praying done. What WAS the purpose of the vigil? Had I wasted my time? I still felt that it was better to go than to sit in my apartment and stew, but how much better?

My questions have a particular weight to me at the moment because I have some guilt associated with my new employment. The money will be nice. It is interesting to put my mind to a new task and to learn new things... but my heart is really broken right now. Why am I in this organization? What good will it do to pursue this work? I can't just have a job... I don't care how much it pays. Who will I help? How will I serve? It's all a blank to me right now as I just try to figure out what's around me and how I plug in to the massive, insanely complicated organizational structure of this project.

I miss my GMU family. I miss my students. I miss their appreciation and respect, which I honestly feel I didn't quite deserve, but which fed and nourished me, and I feel myself sorely lacking this now. I miss feeling held up by the love of others. Again, my mind tells me that I did the right thing, but my heart feels the lack, and I wonder where I will find sources of this love. I know you get back what you give, so it is up to me to put my love into other parts of my life and have faith that God will supply me with the love that I need from other places... but right now it's really hard. I feel uprooted.

Being at this vigil made me wonder about why people were there. Were they there because of passion for this cause? Were they there because their hearts were truly moved by the death of Neda? Where were the tears? Where was the visible anger? Did I not understand because I don't speak Farsi, or was it really a gathering of people there to participate coldly in the ritual, because they have no real hope that things will ever truly change for Iran?

I want to believe that God cares. God DOES care. He's set it up so that He's given us some mysterious level of agency in the world, where He won't intervene unless we do in some way. I don't know why He's done it this way, although I am aware of a line of reasoning that says that God wishes to receive our love as well as give it, and He can't do that if we're automatons. He has to give us free will. He has to give us the ability to completely fuck up this world, even if it breaks His heart. I guess this is as close to an explanation as I can come, although it still hurts to know that it really might not get better in Iran, or Zimbabwe, or Sudan, or North Korea, or Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Venezuela, Mexico, Ethiopia, Somalia, etc., etc., etc.

LORD God, what am I to do with all the suffering but open up my hands to You and say, please help me? Please guide me? Please bring the corrupt and unjust leaders to a swift end? In the end I am like the Psalmist, imploring God to "smite" those who prey upon the weak and innocent... but God, I know You want more. Show me what to DO.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Clarendon represent!!

I've lived in this neighborhood for the past 6 1/2 years, and this guy has TOTALLY pegged it. This is roll-on-the-floor funny if you live here, but even if you don't, it's worth a watch.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Happy 25th birthday, Tetris! Header image is from

I've started attending some of the free concerts held at the National Gallery of Art on Sundays( These concerts are held in the West Garden Court, which seems like the worst possible place in the entire gallery to hold a concert. There's a small courtyard surrounded by trees and a large, garish fountain in the middle with a statue of two winged babies strangling a swan (It's called "Nymphs Cavorting With a Swan" or something like that, which does nothing to mitigate the aesthetic offense of the thing). Pretty much anywhere you sit is blocked either by the trees, the garish fountain, or one of the large columns surrounding the courtyard. The acoustics are nothing to write home about, either, as sound tends to bounce around and then get swallowed up in the ceiling.

However, this week the sound was totally different. The time before when we had attended, the featured vocalist was singing at full blast but could barely be heard due to the cruddy acoustics. This time, the sound of the small chamber orchestra filled the little room, you could hear every instrument clearly, and the music was flawless. The difference? The performance this past week was by the National Gallery Chamber Orchestra. This is their standing gig, and they'd adapted to the conditions, in part by putting up temporary walls around the outside of the stage to channel the sound, in part by the way they played.

As I listened to the music with my eyes closed, being carried along by it, it hit me that this was a qualitative example of the benefits of knowing your surroundings and adapting to them... a defense of taking the shape of where you're at... which of course led me to question the areas where that was and wasn't true.

It's a constant question for me, really. There are clear benefits to "knowing yourself" and playing to one's own strengths, but there is also the constant possibility of stagnation --physically, mentally and spiritually-- if you never allow yourself to be challenged, stretched and changed. Humans are adaptable and need change, but too much change is not good. So where's the balance? I guess that varies for every person, but there's part of me that wants there to be an absolute here, some guiding principle beyond that of my own physical and emotional responses to stress and stagnation.

I've kind of been riding the wave of change that's been occurring over the past couple of months. I'm changing jobs, joined eHarmony, and signed up for a membership at LA Boxing. These are all external changes in response to perceived external and internal events and needs. I've experienced something of a cognitive "brightening" as my mind adapts to the changes, but I've also been very emotional. I have not, however, been very creative. I've written some poetry for SPARK, but not much else. It's like the parts of my brain used for creativity are being channeled towards adapting to the changes and ideas of changes, and there's not a lot left over.

Not a big deal, right? But the larger question for me is how we make decisions. An easy example is the whole eHarmony thing. You take this long questionnaire, and eHarmony matches you on 27 different attributes (I think), guides you through this "Getting to Know You" process, and then releases you to get to know the person on your own. It's structured to minimize the risk of being with someone you're "incompatible" with... but what does that mean? I mean, besides the obvious (ie. I will likely not be happy with someone who is verbally abusive or unkind to animals), how much of who we are is static? Would it be a bad thing if I were with someone very, very different than me? Perhaps I need to change some areas of my life and could be encouraged by the resistance I meet from someone different.

Is it right or wrong or neutral to make choices based on what seems to "fit" us? I'm talking about the day-to-day choices, not big choices with an obvious morality angle (ie. it doesn't matter if slapping a stranger who steps on my foot on the metro would "fit my personality" [not that it would]... moral/social concerns do not permit me to do that). I'm talking about the choices of where to work and who to be friends with and how to spend our time and money. The fact is that these choices DO have moral dimensions to them, and making decisions based on what I believe is the best "fit" could lead to a subtle deadening of my moral sense, or even of my intelligence, as I cut myself off from opportunities to adapt to something that would pose a challenge.

Maybe it's a dull, or moot, or unanswerable question, but I find myself asking it anyway. What is wisdom? To choose what fits, what matches our "calling"? or to choose what will challenge and stretch us?