Monday, January 26, 2009
My Dad and I talked a long time last night about the power of telling one's own story... about how he was coming to see how powerful that was, and how healing. It was a really great conversation, and I am grateful for it.
I just found out, almost 3 weeks since it happened, that a GMU student who was engaged to one of my international students committed suicide. I had heard that a student had died, but I had not heard the circumstances, and until 30 minutes ago when I saw a picture of her on Facebook, I didn't know who she was. She was from Lynchburg, VA -- 30 minutes down the road from where I grew up in Roanoke-- and she was gorgeous and bright and talented and I remember seeing her with my student and thinking they both looked incredibly happy and beautiful. My friend Ben Masters, who knew her personally, writes eloquently about his reaction to her death here.
All I can think of is this girl who gave up her struggle with depression despite all she had going for her, and of my beautiful young student from Zimbabwe, left to bear this loss.
and this is all I can think to say, again and again and again... that no matter how pointless you may feel it is, no matter how little you feel you have to give, tell your story. Tell it to somebody... PARTICULARLY if you feel that it is pointless and little, because the person who needs to hear it probably feels exactly the same way about themselves.
and that's all I've got for now. Rest in peace, Brittney Kittrell.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Too much. It is
too much. He has
reached his ultimate
limit. He will
Overwhelmed with her absurdity
walks towards the door,
ashamed of her anger,
ashamed of the
threatening to spill
over the slightly curved edge.
His. heels. make.
a clipping sound on
the tiled floor.
He crosses with purpose.
His steps echo
against empty walls.
It is too much.
He will not take it
She opens the door
to a room with empty
walls and hears
of clipping footsteps...
can feel the irritation.
Her shoulders tighten.
Her muscles clench
down her back and
even her toes
curl. just. slightly.
Too much. Too much. Too much.
It is just too much.
He has had enough.
Rounding a corner,
nearly running into
a person blocking. his. way.
He bangs the door open.
He. walks. angrily.
almost running now.
He'll show them.
Her eyes fill with
as she mounts the stairs
tightly gripping the handrail
as she goes.
the air it occupies.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Well, it's over. He did it... WE did it. The United States of America accomplished a major milestone in electing an African-American President, and he has now made it through the most expensive, most well-attended, almost coldest inauguration ceremony in history without harm (despite his nervewracking, apparently spontaneous walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade, which must have had the Secret Service peeing their pants, and prompted all the folks updating their Facebook statuses on cnn.com to more or less collectively scream "GET BACK IN THE CAR!").
I was honestly afraid this morning as I thought about MLK and JFK. A generation and a half ago, Obama wouldn't have been able to eat in most restaurants, and any possibility of a black man entering the Presidency would have incited rioting and violence in the South. I know we've come a long way, but I was still afraid that he wouldn't make it through the day...
...and now I'm afraid again, but for a different reason. I voted for Obama, and I believe him capable of the office. But he can't do what he's saying he's going to do. Even as he tamps down people's expectations in his speeches, he's still having to balance it with promises he can't keep so that he isn't seen as a giant downer. Plus I suspect he's believing some of the hype. That's the only reason I could think of that he got out of the car on Pennsylvania Ave. It was a stupid thing to do, the gesture of a beloved leader reaching out to his adoring public, giving them what they wanted... a glimpse of him up close. It was beautiful, and it was frightening.
My friend Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute and a passionate libertarian, has been very critical of what he sees as messianic overtones in the discourse that folks are using when speaking of Obama. He aimed a jab at me for some of my language on Facebook and Google chat statuses today, praising God and asking protection on Obama. He said it sounded like the words of "God Save the King". I scoffed... but did it? I don't really know. I don't know the words to "God Save the King". I've never lived through anything like this, and I don't know what falling into the trap of adoring a President while ignoring his policies would look like. Maybe J.C. has a point.
I teared up at a couple of points in today's ceremony (which I had to watch at work... grrrr... although GMU did put up a big screen in the Johnson Center so it was actually pretty cool), but I only really cried once, when they showed Obama walking all by himself inside the Capitol Building, following Nancy Pelosi, et. al. He looked like he was going to throw up, and that brought the tears. I wanted to say, I know you aren't equal to all this adoration. I know you can't do what people want you to do, and all I'm asking is that you don't totally f**k things up in your bid to be the Most Incredible President Ever. Please, just listen to the Very Smart Guys around you. You've done so much, just being elected as the first African-American President... just overcoming the prejudice you must have experienced growing up with a white Mom and a black Dad (who wasn't around). Please depend on prayer, President Obama. Please don't let all this get to you.
and really, that's what I meant in all my status messages, I think. I just want God to protect him. Because he isn't any more than a man. An amazing man and an intelligent man, but just a man... and he's carrying a lot on his shoulders.
So I'm happy and I'm frightened. and I'm praying. and I guess I hope this ambiguity on all of us, so we don't lose sight of the fact that he is, after all, just a man, and we are still looking to God for our help.
Monday, January 19, 2009
(turn down your speakers a bit before listening to this... I kind of ate the mic).
Friday, January 16, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
in my anger
at injustice and cruelty
on such a small scale...
into Your Hands I commend my spirit.
In Your mercy
hear my prayer.
Don't forget me
in my anger...
into Your Hands I commend my spirit.
In my waiting
You are present.
In my anger
breathe Your peace.
Into Your Hands I commend my spirit.
You have redeemed me,
LORD God of truth.
I am waiting
for full redemption,
to be finally cleansed
of all my sin.
But until then...
I am waiting
in this noon hour
come and calm me...
into Your Hands I commend my spirit.
(inspired by today's Concluding prayer at midday [If I'm right about what week we're in]
"God of power and love,
look kindly on the tasks we have begun,
and at this midday hour renew Your grace within us:
make good our defects
and bring our work to that fulfillment
which accords with Your will.
Through Christ our Lord")
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I have been trying to write a response
for 4 days, 4 hours, and 12 minutes.
This is what I remember.
I remember you staring into my eyes,
and me thinking of warm, melting chocolate
as I stared into yours.
I remember you and I sitting in the impossibly green grass
on the impossibly beautiful day
the day after I'd moved, and everything seemed new
I remember you felt like summer, like
the warmth of air at twilight, like
the patio in the backyard and no shoes on
and watching fireflies and maybe even
and letting them fly away.
You felt like everything slowing down
like taking a deep breath of honeysuckle
and being in love with the whole green world.
and I remember you came back into town
a week or two later and
there was that day walking in the roses
and the whole gold world and
light twinkling-spangling through all
possible spaces between the leaves
and the brook which broke up the light
and sent it chasing itself in pieces
over the small pebbles and branches and larger rocks.
and then you didn't come back.
I remember you didn't come back.
I remember crying as soon as you left,
because I knew that you wouldn't
and you didn't.
Now it is seven months, two and half seasons gone,
and you have written me a message and
I have been trying to write a response
for 4 days, 4 hours, and 12 minutes...
and it's like trying to listen to a shell for the sound of the ocean.
There's just the hollow empty sound
of a bit of hurt, a bit of loss, a bit of longing...
but pretty much nothing to say.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I've had a couple of emails --very gently worded emails, I'll add-- from folks who gave me links to news articles expressing opinions that support the current conflict in Gaza. I appreciate both the gentleness of these emails and the intent behind them.
To set the record straight, I DO NOT support Hamas, but I understand why folks who are getting the crap bombed out of them by Israel would. I can understand where Safa Joudeh's anger is coming from as she waits for a bomb to hit her house (even though I would never pretend to understand what she's going through). As I said on my blog a couple of weeks ago, I am on the side of the guy who goes out to get groceries and gets blown to pieces. I could care less where he lives or how he identifies himself culturally, religiously, etc., and this is my objection to what is going on in Gaza. I ALSO object to Hamas chucking scuds into Israel... but the response has been COMPLETELY disproportionate, and has served to destabilize an area that was already pretty beaten down.
I have a masters in Conflict Resolution, not in International Relations (not that they're necessarily opposed, but they are very different in focus), and I don't pretend to be an expert on this particular conflict. My nature is to break things down to the obvious. The best way to incite hatred and send people running into the arms of the Guys with Guns is to bomb them. Kill, or even threaten, their children, and any parent will go running to whatever source of retaliation and defense is available to them. They're not asking where the guns came from. They're not asking if this group they're running to for security is to blame for what's going on in the first place. They are in survival mode, and they are going to go with anyone who helps them survive.
Employing this sort of warfare assumes an organized government... that if you "win" in this particular leg of the conflict, the organization on the other side of the conflict will put up the white flag and agree not to bother you anymore. But that's not what this is. Bombing Gaza to get at Hamas is like setting fire to the haystack to get at the needle. It's also ensuring that there will be plenty of people with keen memories of family members bombed to pieces who will gladly sign up for leadership positions within Hamas when the "leaders" are killed. IF they are.
I do not understand why more support isn't being given to the people who have worked so hard and so long for peace in this area. I keep saying read Marc Gopin's stuff at marcgopin.com because he's representing the voice of sanity, and he has friends on both "sides" of the conflict. Who is invested in keeping the bloodshed going? WHY aren't the peacemakers' voices heard? When I think about what Rabbi Gopin is doing --has done for so many years-- I have to join him in his tears. Why isn't anyone listening? Why?? (and please, no one respond to me that this is the nature of man. True or untrue, that's an escapist B.S. argument that takes the responsibility off of people to work for the good.)
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I met Jon and his wife, Melanie, at one of the multiple little shindigs Kris and I went to at her sister Asta's apartment. They are both semi-professional singers, and we'd talked a bit about singing and the sorts of pieces he sings with his current singing group. I'd shared, you know, my singing stories... tales of past glory and what-not... so it seemed appropriate since we'd bonded over this to learn this particular phrase.
Kris' friend Gudrun had just returned that morning from a trip to New York City for New Year's Eve festivities. She expressed considerable shock at how COLD NYC was, which struck me as very funny given the fact that all Americans seem to think that Iceland is... well... Siberia in terms of cold. I figured she'd probably said this phrase a few times while in NYC, so it wouldn't be hard for her to do it now.
I was really surprised at how warm it was in Iceland comparative to the temperatures in Virginia that I'd just left. It was very very humid, rainy, foggy, etc., but not particularly cold. This particular video was shot after we'd hoofed it 10-15 minutes uphill from the center of downtown Reykjavik to a super-cosy coffee shop that we'd reached via a narrow, steep staircase. I was wearing my Foreigner-Expecting-Freezing-Temperatures outfit and so I was a steamy, disgusting mess when we got there.
I immediately took off every article of clothing that I could legally take off, starting my undress at the table we'd selected and continuing as I walked up to the counter to get some tea, shedding my sweater actually at the counter as I was ordering... very American behavior to undress so publicly in such tight quarters, and I got some interesting looks. So I decided to continue to advertise my discomfort by using this particular phrase.
This was taken on the elevator going from the entry hall at the Keflavik airport up to the security screening on the second floor on my last day. We were going to do this on the escalator, which would have been more entertaining, but I had 54,697 pounds of baggage and we were well sick of hauling it all around. Easier just to set it on the floor of the elevator and do it there.
By the way, I AM going back this summer, LORD willing, and highly encourage one and all to consider doing the same. The currency is very favorable to the dollar right now and it is just a fantastic place to visit.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Herewith the next three in the "Icelandic lessons" series... with a little more explanation...
This was done on New Year's Eve at a little shin-dig at Asta (Kris' sister's) apartment. The fellow assisting me here is Baldvin, Kris' cousin, and the phrase is a reference to Asta's not-her-boyfriend-but-might-as-well-be. Baldvin, for the information of one and all, is completely freaking hilarious, and probably knows more about American pop culture than I do... early on in the evening he let loose with phrase "Right on!!", complete with attempt at an Afro-fabulous accent (dated, yes, but still hilarious) and that became the evening's catch phrase.
This was shot, by candlelight, at a restaurant/club on the evening after we had all participated in African dance lessons. I had been saying all day that I dance like an arthritic water buffalo, so it seemed like I should know how to say that in Icelandic. This is Asta, Kris' sister, who is helping me out here. I owe my glowing opinion of what Reykjavik has to offer solely to her. The woman truly knows how to love her own life.
At Asta's apartment after dinner, Will (an American guy who is a sculptor in Iceland on a Fulbright), was asking Kris where he could take Icelandic lessons. This seemed like a very functional phrase, so I leapt in and asked Kris how one would say that.
If you are not subscribed to the rss from marcgopin.com, I would highly recommend it. And pass it on.
"Writing from Jerusalem
No one knows whether the Middle East is at the dawn of a new era with the accession of President Obama to leadership, whether between Obama, the new Saudi king’s very serious Peace Proposal, and President Assad’s keen interest in a peace process, that we are at the dawn of a strong consensus to finally resolve the central conflict of the region, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. We could also be at the beginning of a downward spiral of hatred, revenge, populist rage, military force, fanatical manipulation, and zero sum desperate final measures of power and destruction that will yield unprecedented human misery in the region. I cannot tell, honestly.
But I do know that we are all responsible for this. We are responsible in everything we say and do, and in every action that we support. The nonsense that corrupt leaders are to blame for everything is simply a way that everyone here evades responsibility for the permission they give leaders to act the way they do in the world. Every American has to take responsibility for what the American military has done, every Israeli must take responsibility for what its military does. And every Arab must take responsibility for what Arab governments and violent groups do in this region.
I am glad that there are global protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza. I like to see the practice of protest and the voice of masses being heard. I cannot agree to the rhetoric of demonization that so often characterizes such protests, however. They seem designed to isolate Israel as much as possible, further solidifying a decades’ long effort to delegitimize the state of Israel. I understand the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim desire to do so. This is a zero sum fight and they have deemed it beneficial to use hatred and demonization to push a political agenda of recapturing Palestine for the Palestinians, the Arabs, and the Muslims. This is a classic form of zero sum warfare and it has naturally created a counter-response from the pro-Israel Jews and Christians, as all zero sum warfare does. That counter-response of overwhelming political, economic and military force has been as awe-inspiring as it is destructive. This is where we stand with this endless cycle of violence, hatred and dehumanization.
This rhetorical and demonstrative effort of the Arab world to demonize Israel has worked slowly but surely. A country that in 1948 was voted by so many nations into existence, which was once considered a miracle of revival in the desert of an oppressed people is now considered by many millions of people, according to many polls, to be a war-mongering pariah state that is losing its right to existence. It is hard for Jews to imagine and absorb how many millions of people hate Israel and increasingly hate Jews for supporting Israel. They live in a different reality with a different set of facts. In fact, everyone here is living with a different set of facts.
I write from Israel and I am amazed at the sensitivity of the Jewish population when it comes to the death of each hayal, each soldier. When an eighteen year old kid in uniform gets on the bus he is addressed directly as hayal, ‘soldier!’. People pick up his cap lovingly when he drops it, and the bus driver jokes with him endearingly, as if this was his own son. He is as dear to them as the shahid, the martyr is to the average Palestinian on the street. These are our sacrificial lambs in the region. Hardly as gentle as lambs, but definitely sacrificed and beloved.
Every time the hayal dies and his biography is reported in detail in the paper, the eulogized last words of mother and father are reported in such a sober and respectful way. I ask myself what world I would live in if simply alongside the page on him there was a page on every one of his victims. I ask myself the same on suicide bomb victims in Arab papers. What if, alongside the shahid, every biography of his victims were also in the Arab papers. Who would we be? Who would we all be?
I am saddened by the outraged protests across the Middle East only because they are not for human rights, not for women and children, because they are absent when Arabs are the perpetrators, in Darfur, in Iraq, in New York, in Jerusalem.
This is a tribal war of demonstrations and deafening protests, screaming Jewish F16’s and howling Islamic missiles. The tribes are at war, but there is no conscience. And if there is a God of all humanity he must be in a state of mourning.
I wait in this region for a different kind of demonstration, for mass rallies for human life as such, for all children, for then we will see the dawn of a new age. And it will come here just as surely as it came to French and Germans in Western Europe, and to black and white in the United States and South Africa, and to the Christians of Ireland. I can see the mass gathering for humanity in the streets of the Middle East capitals but it is not here, I long for it but it does not come. I grow gray and sick and choke on the blood of the children, but still the new day is not born. I die but the dream is yet to live. This region seems alive, but it is dead, it is dead to conscience, to feeling, dead to love of all of humanity, for if you love only some then you are destined to become a murderer.
Israel is in a state of unbelievable sin that is as deep and profound as it is unconscious. But so is the Arab world that only gives a damn about Palestinians when Jews are killing them, that callously funded the deadly divisions in Palestine, and Lebanon, and Iraq, and Pakistan, but always with the face of absolute innocence and blamelessness. When I go to Syria, with the exception of my peace partners there, I never hear about the rights of Palestinians, only the scourge of the Zionists. I see hundreds of thousands on the streets of Damascus now, now that they have something really powerful to hate, the great demon of the Zionists. But where are the hundreds of thousands for peace, for building a new Middle East, for empowering the Palestinians to truly live equal and free, not die as martyrs?
Why are all my friends who are Israeli and Palestinian, who work for peace every day, becoming absolutely impoverished, why would they never get a dime from the Arab capitals? From the Arab foundations? Why all this breast beating and ringing of the hands now, all these cries of ‘holocaust’? Where were they when we needed them? Where were they when we are the only ones standing up to the militarists on all sides with a real alternative, with a moral alternative, with a spiritual alternative that was far more practical and effective than the dirty work of the hayals and shahids who kill children with such precision? Where are they all when we were doing the hard work, the impossible work of changing one soul at a time here, of softening one angry heart at a time? Where were they? For God’s sake, where are they now? We peacemakers are your only real hope, and we are dying here a slow death. I have stood with them for twenty five years in Jerusalem, year in and year out, astonished that the world ignores them.
One suspects that rage is the reason, for it is rage that moves the soul of protesters as much as it does the militarists, and that is why I do not respect their protests, from the United States, to Europe, to the Arab capitals. Ah, the righteous millions who brave the cold and rain to express hatred! If they want to be useful, if they want to leave more than a legacy of hate then let them come here. Let them support the change makers, let them stand in solidarity with the lovers. Let them come to Jerusalem, let them fund the change makers who are Palestinian, who are Jewish, who are Muslim, who are Christian, who are New Age, who are crazy, but who are all united in their unconditional love of humanity, love of all children, who love every single Palestinian and Jewish child, every single Arab and Jewish child that suffers the shock of bombs and who have been blown to little pieces here for thirty years now.
Let them come for the children. Because if they will not come here and stand with us, then hate is their essence, their state of sin, and all they want from us here is to be sacrificial lambs on the Satanic altar of their own rage, their shahids. And all the American Jews want of the Israelis is to give their children as hayal’s, to become murderers of children and be killed themselves.
This has been made into the land of hayal’s and shahids. Everyone the world over is responsible for making this a land of innocent blood-everyone except the children. Come to Jerusalem, take responsibility for your life, join with us, stop hating one side or the other, taste the coming day, and help us out of this hell."
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The first two videos were shot on my first morning in Iceland. I was there to visit my friend and former roommate, Kristveig Bjornsdottir (a.k.a "Kris) for a week and take in the sights, sounds, smells, etc. of Reykjavik. My plane touched down at 6:30am GMT, 1:30am EST. At the point this was shot, it was about 4:30am EST and I had not slept. That is why I look like hell on a cracker. Well, it's one reason, anyway...
I thought the most functional phrase I could start with was "How do you say...?", since I would need to be using that frequently. Unfortunately, it is by no means a simple phrase. I have no idea what Kris' Mom said in response.
We had just had a wonderful breakfast --fruit, cheese, and bread and pastries that we had bought fresh from a REAL BAKERY on the way home. I was really grateful to Kris' Mom for getting this together for me, and wanted to know how to say that. Unfortunately, this completely failed to stick in my memory, despite the many opportunities I had to thank her for her fantastic cooking and hospitality.
New Year's Eve dinner was a Danish ham along with a bunch of fantastic side dishes. It was really, really, REALLY good, as was absolutely everything else Kris' Mom cooked while I was there. Kris' Grandma joined us for dinner, and as is typical for folks of her generation, didn't speak any English. It was an interesting dynamic... she and I communicated by facial expressions and through Kris.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
There is absolutely no way to adequately describe New Year's Eve in Reykjavik. It's not like the pictures I've seen, and the videos I shot of it are kinda pathetic, actually.I don't really know how you WOULD capture in on film, though.
We've all seen fireworks displays. Well, I'm assuming we all have, anyway. So, imagine a fireworks display. One fireworks display. Go ahead, imagine it. I'll wait.
Ok, so you're imagining ONE fireworks display. Ooooh, aaahhh, preeeettty, spaaarrrrkly. Now, imagine that you're on the balcony of a building overlooking a city, and you're seeing that one fireworks display somewhere off in the distance. Got that? Ok, Now multiply that by a couple of hundred of those displays, in every conceivable space on the horizon... and you've got a FANTASTIC view of the city, ok? You've got a full 180 degree view in front of you, and the horizon of that is totally and completely filled with fireworks displays... and also all over the place in between, shooting off from the parking lot below you, and the neighborhoods to either side.
Next to you, a little kid and his Dad are holding sparklers. Somebody says "Welcome to New Year's Eve in Kosovo", and even though that's not really funny, you have to admit that the sound is deafening and like what you'd imagine a war zone to be like. Another guy says "now, does THIS look like a bankrupt nation? This is for Gordon Brown!" If you don't get what that means, read the article I posted from the WSJ about the financial collapse.
The thing I kept thinking --and saying, when I wasn't doing my best Southwestern Virginia Redneck "WOO-HOOO!!!" sound at all the stuff blowing up in the parking lot below us-- was what a sign of solidarity this was. I literally cannot imagine this happening in the U.S... a city of 150,000+ folks, all unified in this celebration, and a significant percentage of them actively making it happen. People kept saying to me, "Well, we buy the fireworks because the proceeds go to supporing the Rescue Teams that assist stranded hikers", as though this really explained it, but I find that even MORE difficult to process... that all the people in this city are contributing to the same CHARITY?
There had been sporadic fireworks throughout the day, but they completely stopped during a comedy show that comes on every New Year's Eve... kind of an SNL type thing that satirizes the events of the year. That also boggled my mind. Really?? EVERYONE in the city is watching this show? Apparently so... as the credits rolled, I saw the first fireworks go off across the city. I guess, in a country of about 300,000 with its own, unique language, you really can achieve a sort of unified cultural identity, a sense of oneness... and you can use that to throw one kick-ass party.