Wednesday, May 16, 2018

FABRIC OF LIFE


Expressions and analysis of good and evil are as old as humanity itself—evident in history, mythology, literature, philosophy, theology and the arts, yet the nature of these seemingly opposites remains a mystery. This consideration of good and evil is subjective observation, based on experience and a life-long wish to understand how the horrors of evil can exist in the world with the frequency and magnitude that it does. While good and evil are often thought of as opposites, it is not hard t believe that, fundamentally and forever, they are woven into the very fabric of life. The motivations for and actions embodying good and evil will remain a subject for further reflection of the mystery—better left to others to elaborate on.
     In thinking about the relationship of good and evil, the language and images of weaving has been helpful as a way, if not to define good or evil, at least to imagine their interconnectedness. I imagine the loom as the foundation of the human universe (we cannot think of good and evil outside the realm of humanity). Warp and weft are terms for the two basic components used in weaving to turn thread or yarn into fabric. The lengthwise or longitudinal warp yarns are held stationary in tension on a loom while the transverse weft is drawn through and inserted over-and-under the warp. 
     The warp: the steady strands held in place by the loom I imagine as comprising all that is true and beautiful: “the good”: understanding, empathy, compassion, kindness, charity and generosity—all qualities and actions which foster and support life.      The weft threads, pulled through and wrapped around the stable warp threads fill in the gaps with tension and create an intricate pattern where threads—warp and weft—intertwine, which I imagine as evil finding a way to taint or thwart the good in the most intricate ways and insidious ways: intent to undermine, betray, deceive, oppress, torture and even exterminate others.
     For me, the Holocaust stands as the event, though there are many examples of pure evil,  that has never be understood in a way that accounts for the devastation perpetrated. All such happenings are woven in and around what the perpetrators see as some version of good, to be achieved by eliminating what they see as evil, creating a hideous and shameful pattern in the fabric of humanity.
      Nevertheless, the fabric also contains those threads of goodness. I am thinking of those souls who risked (and sometimes lost) their own lives in efforts to help, save and free others from such evil—the most well known, perhaps, Miep Gies who harbored the Frank family in Amsterdam, or the German Shindler who helped Jews to avoid the inevitable threads of evil inserting themselves under, across and around the threads of humanity standing firm against them.
     As humans we have the capacity to articulate our feelings, thoughts and intentions. We are resourceful in carrying out those intentions in the most extraordinary and sometimes bizarre ways for good or evil. We are also able to develop a higher consciousness through reflection of our experiences, seeking self-knowledge and world-knowledge and through critical thinking—all of which help us to define and determine values to live by. Through our will—we can transform our lives in in order to be true to those values which can positively impact others near and far.
     This in an ideal world where one must clearly separate good from evil. Geo-political examples, aside, often our biographies, our hidden motivations, chance and subconscious urges and desires, unbeknownst to us, are interwoven into the fabric of our lives so that what we intend or perceive as good may results in, if not evil, than negative effects on ourselves and others. While our missteps, bad decisions, fortune and, if you will, fate, and at times our intent to do harm may result in positive results for others and ourselves. For example remorse for our transgresses may lead to a better understanding of ourselves and others. We may experience forgiveness and reconciliation.
     Though there has been reconciliations, both for individuals and on a global scale, such at Nuremberg and South Africa, the lessons learned, the cycles of evil, violence and extermination continue on the world loom.
     This rather brief and simple imagination focuses on the interconnectedness of good and evil, but not the “why.”  The “why” in my reductive world, has to do with freedom—move over Neitzche, Kant and all the rest. It all comes down to freedom. Freeing ourselves and leaving others free is the key to living on the side of good, rather than evil. 
     What that involves is a topic for another time. The value of the analogy of weaving in imagining the relationship of good and evil, the reader can judge, and not to harshly I would hope.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

BURDEN OF FREEDOM



That moment—the point of no return
when you know there is no one to save you
at the end of the yellow brick road—no wizard.

There is only you
the beat of your blood red heart
the pure white of your true self


The strange thing is
you knew it all along—
but everything else said: 
if you only; all you have to do is; what will people think if? 

The Upanishads speak of
“The ancient narrow path that stretches far away—
it has been touched by me, has been found by me.” 

Have compassion for yourself!
Forgive yourself, experience the grief
that made you stay so long, or finally leave—
things unimaginable or imagined 
that kept your world dim, created a void, built the wall, separated your heart from love.

Now, look around you and above
see the moon rising over the frozen fields
watch the silver grey geese landing on the river—all at once taking flight. 
feel the sun on your face
hear the ocean roll up to shore as it has for a million years.  

Turn around with courage
feel it become Light to fill the void and burn the nothing

Hear your breathe say with every heart beat:
“The wall has shattered; the distance is closed.  

I am on the ancient, narrow path."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

SYCAMORE














I want to be a Lady of the Sycamore— 
a sycamore in winter bare and luminous
white trunk standing straight—
serene among dry brown fields
branches spreading tall against the sky
misshapen into beauteous forms
unshaken against the wind

I want my ashes to rest between two sycamore
at the eastern gate of heaven-
the first rays of morning sun
greeting my grey earthly remains
warming the dark dust
beneath opulent, tormented arms 
offering sustenance to the dead.


A winter sycamore, white and luminous

Thursday, April 5, 2018

MYSTERY MEN

For two days, I saw a una-bomber look-alike in a baggy orange sweat shirt wandering around restlessly through the halls of the hospice center where we each had a friend who lay dying. When we passed each other one night, I tried to read the words on his shirt, but the letters kept folding in on themselves. His white MAGA hat, too small over his shaggy hair—reminded me of those clown hats with a wig attached to it. Around his neck was a heavy silver chain with a figure dangling from it. 
Later I learned the figure was St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. That says it all, I thought, but still haven’t figured out what the “all” was. 
Did he believe that America needed to be “great again,” but didn’t have much hope that it would happen, or was the lost cause his friend who had no options left, except waiting for the grim reaper to swing his scythe?
On the third day, at the coffee cart, I asked him, “So, who is the little shiny fella there?” pointing to the dangling man.
“It’s St. Jude,” he said in a tone of voice suggesting I should have known.
“But Judas isn’t a saint, is he?” that much I knew, but I got the wrong saint, or in this case, sinner.
“No, no, no, you are thinking of Judas Iscariot. He was the apostle who betrayed Jesus.”
“Yeah, that’s him, for thirty pieces of silver, right?” I said.
“Exactly,” he said.
Exactly thirty? I wondered. Just before I bit into my multi-grain muffin, I blurted out,
        "Well, they say no good deed goes unpunished.”
“What do you mean, good deed? His was the greatest betrayal in the history of the world.”
“You mean the greatest catch 22! I mean, if Judas didn’t turn him the Romans, Christ wouldn’t have died for our sins, which was the plan all along. So, they both end up hanging from a tree, right?”
“Yes,” he said, “but Jesus in victory and Judas in defeat.”
“But…but,” I started to say” Then I decided to put the mystery men—the una-bomber look-alike, Judas the sinner and St. Jude the saint out of my mind. it was starting to feel like a sporting event.
I poured the guy a coffee, passed him the cup, and we stood eating our muffins in silence. Then we moved on into our respective friend’s rooms—to watch and wait at the foot of their bed.
My friend died that afternoon, and I wept.  
On my way out I saw him coming down the hall. Our eyes met for a moment, then I looked down, and finally was able to make out what was on that orange shirt:

      It was the image of the blue marble Earth in darkness:  “YOU ARE HERE.

MAY YOUR HEART BE LIGHT

There would be a third grade Christmas party on Sunday, after mass. Some kids said it would be fun, but I wasn't so sure. Most mandatory events—had never felt so, held in the damp basement of the old school—a red brick building with a tall, black iron gate around it. Inside, the old wooden stairs creaked and the high-ceilinged classrooms were spartan, desks anchored to the floor in straight rows, white concrete block walls and a blackboard, the only color on statues of “The Blessed Mother” or “The Sacred Heart of Jesus.” These were more sentinels than saints, whose sole purpose seemed to be for children to kneel before, asking forgiveness for not knowing an answer, chewing gum, a sideways glance at another student,  a fidget or a whisper. Such “penance” might come only after a few swift, sharp whacks of a ruler (sometimes more than one) across the hands of the little offenders.

All those associations, and that certain smell and mood in the building were enough to make a child wonder if any activity at the school could be fun—if fun meant no worry, fear, accusations or humiliation, though I could not have exactly put it into words back then.  My experience of fun involved movement, color and light and laughter. There was never laughter, a sound heard only in the recess yard, but there was color outdoors, even in the city. A bright yellow dandelion growing up through a crack in the concrete and a blue sky and clouds above, under which we played, skipping, playing tag or jump rope—until a sister who stood watch rang the brass bell to call us into prayer before the afternoon lessons. All else was regiment and requirement—including the Christmas party to which we had to go, couldn’t leave until it was over and the children had better look like they were having a good time!

I cried on Friday afternoon when I got home, not because I had to go to the party. My mother told me I was to spend the weekend at my aunt’s house, which I also never thought of as a fun place despite their fancy furniture and bottles of 7-up in the refrigerator. Not only would I be marked absent for the party, but also for the mass, which we had to attend as a class each Sunday—and there would be blood!

“But, Mom, Sister Mary Ethel said we have to go! please, please.”  

I don’t remember what she said in response to my plea, but I would be left at my aunt’s musty smelling row house on Gratz Street in North Philadelphia. I cried all the way there, knowing there would be a reckoning on Monday in the third grade classroom. I cried again that night in the small room at the top of the stairs that doubled as a storage space of sorts. I was homesick and heartsick, surrounded by stacks of books and piles of clothes here and there. I stared at the tan wallpaper printed with red tennis rackets or the ceiling where strange shapes danced, illuminated by the streetlight shining in from the window facing the alley behind the house. 

I don’t remember what else happened that weekend or the trip back home,  but this is what happened on Monday morning:

Seated at her desk the stern Sister Mary Ethel, who at some point had grown a cold stone in place of a heart, held in one hand a list of the children who had not attended mass and/or the fun event. It was literally a “hit” list as it turned out, which became apparent when she began to call the few names of children, who (for whatever reason) did not show. In her other hand she wielded what she often referred to as her “buddy,” a yardstick. One by one, my classmates were called to her desk to stand beside her: James went first, then Ann Marie, then Rosalie—all disappeared behind the desk as she turned them over her lap and the whacks began. I knew I was next, according to alphabetical order.

As I walked up, I looked at the statue in the corner. The Blessed Mother’s face shone down in kindness. I lay across Sister Mary Ethel’s lap over her black habit face down. She lifted my uniform, pulled down my underwear and began to inflict the punishment for not having a merry time at the Christmas party.  I closed my eyes and held the image of Mary’s countenance all the while. 

With each strike I recalled one of her beautiful names chanted at the altar in honor of Mother Mary.

Tower of Ivory…pray for us
Joy of the Just…pray for us
Comforter of the Afflicted…pray for us
Mirror of Justice…pray for us
Mother of Sorrows…pray for us
Cause of Our Joy…pray for us

AMEN



ME TOO

From across the room Sarah recognized the young woman sitting with him at one of the tables in the dimly lit corner of the restaurant.  She knew she would find him here, but didn’t expect to see the girl whom she had often wondered about during her absence—wondered if she or others, known and unknown, were being controlled, as she had been. It had been two years since she had seen either one of them. He was the reason she had left town, and now, the reason she had returned, with a capacity she did not have as a child of seven years old when it all began.

She sat calmly at first, strengthened by the knowledge that something was to be done, something she had set into motion that would expose him. So many thoughts and feelings filled her. Then that old anger began to build within as she pondered the years of her despair which had finally given her motivation, then courage to take action against him, and to confront him now.

Her whole body and soul were on fire without the smallest shred of fear.  She went to the table wanting to scream, but a sense of place entered and moderated at least her voice, though the glare and heat in her eyes were at odds with her almost whispered words, spoken to the man, who was startled and did not recognize her at first.


“Are you doing the same thing to her that you did to me?” she looked to her young friend, whose expression was blank, almost trance-like. “You will be safe now, I promise.”

“Who are you?” he demanded, as if he were looking at a stranger, but his eyes and nervous gestures revealed an understanding of exactly who she was and the accusation of her question.

“Sarah, what are you doing here? Where have you been?” the younger woman seemed to awaken in that moment to her friend who had disappeared without a word of why or a goodbye.

“You’d better leave right now, or I’ll call the police,”  he demanded, but by that time the young woman had gotten up to stand beside her long-lost friend who put an arm around her shoulder as if to protect her—even if it was too late.

The two women looked at each other deep and long in quiet with the knowledge of what the other had experienced. They felt an unfamiliar strength in the invisible bond now forged between them—and a bridge to somewhere else that they would cross together. “You too?” the young woman whispered.

“Me too.” But no more!

“Sit back down,” he commanded the young woman, but already his power diminished, though the effects of what was perpetrated against the women would be with them forever.

“We are in a public place now, not like when we were kids and you could get away with it.” Sarah almost reeled back to think of how many others and for how many years.

“You have a great imagination it seems, or maybe I should say fantasy? I don’t even know who you are.” 

“Well, we know who and what you are.  No, not imagination or fantasy, but it was  a secret, and I see my friend also had the same secret. Yes, I say ‘had,”  Sarah gently pulled the young woman closer to her, guiding her away.  She turned back only to say, “It’s out now, and there will be a reckoning.” She wondered how many others would come forward with the investigation that was well underway, but she couldn’t think about that now. It was time to turn away from the past and go forward.

The younger woman began to cry, at first softly, but then more and more forcefully. When they emerged into the clear night air, her whole body convulsed in waves of cold pain and dark shame. The stars peaked through from time to time between the drifting grey clouds. At the horizon the low clouds were lined—luminous. from the bright moon below which slowing bared its face above the dark tree branches lining the street.

The sobs subsided into quiet breathing. Together, they felt a promise of a calm after a storm. In that moment—that a clarity and warmth could slowly displace the dark and cold.


Now there was something completely new—something never before known: Hope.



Thursday, February 22, 2018

SNOW

Quiet—then snow
falling from still grey skies
I watched all day
drifting, sparkling, floating
settling on black winter branches
cedar and spruce
green grass patches and spent brown fields

My father caught frozen flakes
set them under a microscope
Look! each a masterful design—no two alike, he said

Oh, I watched all day
By evening - over the earth
One velvet plane - pure white cover

But, look! closer, closer

A blanket of tiny crystal stars