Monday, July 21, 2014

News and Poetry

As I drive my fossil-fueled-from-who-knows-where car into work at the farm, I listen to the radio. The reports from Gaza make me cry every time.

Particularly last Thursday—the funeral for an Israeli adult civilian was contrasted with the funeral for two Palestinian boys.

When I first moved to Cambriville, I had an unpleasant temp job in the basement of the Harvard Business School doing data entry. The thin—though horrifying—saving grace was that the data was at least interesting. I was going through Federal reports and entering how much money the United States has given other countries in foreign and military aid every year since 1950.

Since its creation, Israel was consistently one of the top recipients of aid—both foreign and military. (Egypt was the other biggest recipient of both.) Palestine, by contrast, was one of the lowest recipients of any aid, and I am almost certain that they never received military aid.

I am only a tepid student of the crises in the Middle East. What I do know is that I hate to think of people being killed and fighting for a homeland. I hate worse to recognize that the government that represents me funds one side of a fight and not the other, as if Might could make Right. The prevailing myth that this is a faith-based battle and the rest of the world is uninvolved is violently inane. 

The best thing I have ever come across relating to the Israeli-Palestinian horror is from “Before There is No Where To Stand,” a book of poetry by Israelis and Palestinians. The poet Vivien Sansour was asked to write an introduction, and refused. Her refusal is beautiful.

“Please accept my sincerest apologies for being so late in responding to you. I have been reading the manuscript and really struggling with it to be honest. For the sake of full integrity I would like to share with you a couple of things. I do not feel a just representation and I am afraid that in the context of an unfortunately misunderstood political reality the anthology, although I know and trust that it is well intentioned, perpetuates an idea that I am very uncomfortable with and that is of framing the situation as two people who just need to get along and who just don’t understand each other. …The people of Gaza are imprisoned with no access to sea or land to run away to even. I do not want to focus on these details, I just want to explain why in the struggle to achieve justice, which is the only way to peace, I am growing more and more convinced alongside my Israeli and international colleagues who are also struggling for justice, that it is important for us to present the situation as it is: A military occupation and not a conflict between two people. Jews, Muslims, Christians have lived together in Palestine before 1948 and it was not until a European colonial project was started in the beginning of the 1900s that we started ‘not to get along.’”

And, for what purpose where the Colonial projects, all of them, if not to gain access to resources for countries and cultures who has outstripped what their landscapes could provide? The Colonizing powers divided, conquered, and stole the riches of the world for their own, sowing the seeds of scarcity, discontent and entitlement to boundless resources behind them. For all the horrors still lingering in the wake of Colonialism across the globe, for all the cultural scars and racism and fury and social ills and beautiful lost and broken ways of being that Colonialism engendered and fomented and normalized, the root was a few cultures needing and feeling entitled to take the resources of others. And we still live this way.

I don’t want to be angry. I know that anger without purpose, rage without empathy and proactive vision will get us nowhere good. All the same, I feel white-lipped with fury when I think that the patterns of life in my country are cluelessly part of the patterns of fear and violence ripping the world apart. It is not a matter of limply begging forgiveness as we know not what we do. In the interconnectedness of the world today, there is no excuse for ignorance, for not having even a bare grasp of understanding the ramifications of how we each live. We are frequently, violently selfish, and then wring our hands over world crises, wondering how these things keep happening, without checking ourselves first. Our “need” for resources, for cheap plentiful products, for a global variety of foods in all seasons and geographies, for cheap fuels, for constant electricity, for the ability to fly across the world on a moment’s whim, to live constantly as comfortably and cosseted as selfish despots…if anyone truly wants to bring about peace and justice in the world, we must look at ourselves and our lives, even as we work for the wider world.

And yes, I know that we live (and sometimes trap ourselves) in patterns, that people are bound by different iterations of love and hope and faith to choices and ways of being that are different from my own, that it can be suffocatingly impossible to change, to live more cleanly, even if your heart is crying out for something different than you have always been.

To begin the changes, here is my advice: make your life small, and your heart big. Turn off your phone and remove your watch. Make time, not money, your primary currency. Spend it well and freely among the people you love, and the people who love you. Listen and remember what is said. Spend equal time absorbing the news of the world and the beauty of the world. Encourage dynamism and evolution. Ask questions that lead you fumbling through life for answers. Learn and act on the difference in your heart between need and want. Use less of everything that you suspect of being uncleanly linked to the sadnesses of the world—you will disconnect from the sadness, but proactively, joyfully reconnect to the world.

This will carry you farther in the right direction than anything else I know how to say.

As much of this as I can do, it does not stop me from crying while listening to the news. I do not plateau and think that because I write and work at a farm and strive for utility and simplicity in my possessions, that I am absolved of all responsibility, or that I have ever done enough. The horrific struggles go on.

And so do the hopeful labors towards bettering the world. As Walt Whitman says, “the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

You have agency in the verse you contribute. Live into that.

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