Light In Action

Suffragettes, Chicks and Gitmo

Why would 100 prisoners organize a hunger strike in Guantanamo? Did our Congress answer that question adequately before an army of doctors coerced force feeding? Force feeding is not the opposite of hungering for food. Feeding tubes down the mouth are dangerously painful. Force-feeding is rape of the stomach.

Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay

It’s mutilation of the esophagus. And violation of one’s dignity.

Human life begins with eggs, seeds and then food. Food has a double oo. Food is one letter away from good. Good is one letter away from God. I’ve watched a scrawny, pinion-peppered baby robin get fed. I see that tiny dinosaur head  with saucer eyes and huge mouth gaping wildly towards the mother. That robin chick clamors for food. It chirps vigorously before, during and after being fed. From mom’s beak, down mom’s throat and then regurgitation into chick’s mouth. Gulp, yum. Food.

But food is something we decide we want. Birds would never feed chicks against their will. Even a severe parent can’t force their child to eat those smelly foods, moving the jaw up and down.

Hunger strikes are often related to prisoners struggling for human rights. In England and the US women fighting the right to vote decided to stop eating about 1910. Pankhurst described the suffragettes’ ordeal, “[the prison Holloway] became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office.” When the prison guards opened her cell door, Pankhurst raised a clay jug over her head, to avoid the force-feeding proclaiming, “If any of you dares so much as

Alice-Paul
Alice-Paul

to take one step inside this cell, I shall defend myself.”

Why does the US think that force-feeding is helping humans on the path of sanity and justice? Morally, only the very sick or wounded should be force-fed. Can we learn from the past, or will we veer towards extinction? Alice Paul, who more than Lucretia Mott or Susan B. Anthony, ushered into the White House the right to vote, was force-fed along with other women. Remember by 1913, the campaign for females sufferage (started in 1848), was floating like a dead fish in oily Potomac. In March of 1913 Paul had organized a march of 8,000 women which upstaged Wilson’s inauguration. Later, they organized a sustained picket (first group to wage civil disobedience) in front of the White House, called the Silent Sentinels. In 1916 hundreds of women were arrested for obstructing sidewalk traffic. In jail our foremothers, Lucy Burns, Dora Lewis, and others were beaten, hurled against walls, choked, and kicked. But the worst punishment was being force-fed.

At Guantanamo approximately 100 of the 166 detained prisoners are refusing food. Of those, 29 were being force-fed, shackled to a chair, fitted with a mask with tubes inserted through their nose for up to two hours at a time. Over 130 have joined the hunger strike that began February 2013. Force-feeding is considered torture by the United Nations and condemned by the American Medical Association. One prisoner described force-feeding by saying it felt like, a "razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat.

Is the treatment in Gitmo racist? The US treats immigrants as guilty, inhumanely, without evidence. A recent letter from a prisoner says, “I do not wish to die, but I am prepared to run the risk that I may end up doing so, because I am protesting the fact that I have been locked up for more than a decade, without a trial, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and denied access to justice. I have no other way to get my message across…”

Why would so many men and women go on a hunger strike, knowing they will receive the extra torture of force-feeding? They must be fighting for their lives. In 1917 finally Woodrow Wilson persuaded Congress to put the 23rd Amendment to vote. He had promised 5 years earlier in 1911 when first elected that he would defend women’s rights. Only after hundreds of women had suffered in prison was Wilson persuaded to act. Aleluja. Now for 93 years women have reaped the benefit. Suffragists risked their Lives, willing to die, so that we their grandchildren can Live.

What will we say in 90 years about the 30 Guantanamo prisoners asking Obama & Congress for their civil rights? These people, most are innocent, are choosing the torture of force-feeding instead of the long languishing torture of prison without cause.

Jewish scriptures proclaim, “Choose Life so that you and your children can live.” The baby birds that flap and tumble and chirp outside my window eat ravenously. They have their answer. The summer winds blow hot this year. Cuba is far away, and Guantanamo is a nightmare that I choose to ignore. “What does our God require of me?”

Gitmo in Severe Weather
Gitmo in Severe Weather

The Boston Bomber & Mother Bears

Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School

Whatever was Djhokhar Tsarnaev thinking-- accused of setting off homemade bombs on April 15? It’s baffling. Here is a teenager, deeply wounded, isolated from all he knew, and now in police lock-down. I did meet him a few times when he was 16 at the Cambridge high school. Djhokhar grew up in Massachusetts where “all the kids are above average.” (as said by Garrison Keillor). His fate is wrapped up with the fate of hundreds of injured people. I do not excuse what he did.

When my curious sons entered high school, I was shocked at the danger exposed to them: the hazing, the used needles, the assaults. In 2005 I woke up from a daydream that the US is a safe and law-abiding society. Like ice cubes down a sweaty back I realized our cities can be a war zone for teenagers. My son was harassed by gangs after school: he was intimidated and paralyzed. He escaped physically in one piece, but his inner landscape was scarred.

Now after Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT an epiphany strikes me. A major problem of our culture is that Americans murder one another as much as we kill “enemies” overseas. An armed police officer is employed at the high school, where students have been removed for

Boston in Mourning
Boston in Mourning

carrying switchblades. After Kennedy’s assassination Malcolm X famously said, “The chickens have come back to roost.”

You know what I’m saying? These massacres, by and for Americans, show how our young men are addicted to violence. It’s not criminals pulling the trigger-- it’s not the drug dealers, nor the crazies, nor the sociopaths. It’s our children, growing up under the opium of the gun. By 10 years old, Americans learn that problems will get solved if you carry a gun. Our boys are executing the values promoted by the NRA and allowed by the media (TV, games, CDs). It’s Djohkar this time, next time it could be your nephew. Kids have access to guns, and access to making bombs. The hard truth of the Boston bombings is this: we are all complicit.

The effect of mass violence is a people in trauma. Our haunting fear is that our children are at risk in schools, on buses, huge concerts, and now at large sports events. Where is the fierce mother bear icon to protect the defenseless? Imagine a grizzly hunting for berries, and finds her cubs in danger? See her stand rising up on hind legs, bobbing her head-- doing anything to keep her cubs safe.

Christians wait piously inside church, praying for their salvation. At night Godly people lock their cars with a McFlurry shake in hand, hoping not to hear gunfire outside. Will salvation come in church, in the courts, or in the jailhouse? Where can we reverse the gang-busting, trigger-happy attitudes of our young people?

My sons are excelling in college, but did not escape unscathed the initiation rites of teenage cruelty. My sons grew up happily engaging with people like George Zimmerman and Djhokhar Tsarnaev. My sons are constantly living out the question: how can you be a respectful, strong man without being violent or revengeful.

How  can we stop accepting violence?

We will talk for months about the Marathon bombings in Cambridge where the two Tsarnaev brothers grew up. Djzokhar, the 19 year old, was a year behind my son in high school. They played volleyball together, my son was the team captain. My older son worked for at a summer job for 3 years with Krystal Campbell whose body was blown up by the bombing. One son knows the accused, the other one knows

Asking for Guidance
Asking for Guidance

the victim killed. If you didn’t know someone who was injured, you probably know someone one step removed.

Our family is struggling, the same as most of us are trying to make sense of it all. Let’s not just continue work as usual. We do not have to accept the use of violence when our cubs get as big as we are. Mother bears can do more than growl.

The Jewish scriptures provide understanding for Boston’s tragedy and the culture of violence:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

mourning and great weeping,

Rachel weeping for her children…, because they are no more.”

This is what the LORD says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded…” (Jer. 31)     Let’s get to work.

Statue in Harvard Yard
Statue in Harvard Yard

Our Beloved Boston Marathon

Not the Boston marathon. OMG. Not 2 explosions during the marathon. This is worse than a Hitchcock nightmare. Oh Holy God. 4 people dead and countless injured. Here, in my cheerful cocky energetic hometown. And the Marathon, started in 1897 with 18 runners, is emblematic of savvy Boston. Now I know the violence in the US is a run-away train. Now I know we Americans are over the top. So. Help. God. So help me God.

Don’t call me naïve if I chortle that Boston is a wonderful city. The health fairs, the new city-wide bicycles, the parks used for skating, baseball, picnics, dogs and Frisbees. We don’t even call it Boston central park: instead it is Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons, because the land is commonwealth to us all. That’s all 4.5 million of us packed into a peninsula beside the Atlantic Ocean.

We have public transit that works dependably; the universities attract a UN rainbow of people; we have specialty health centers like and Dana Farber for cancer. Our exquisite health care system is aided by an amazing high Tech industry, employing lots of software engineers after graduating from a prestigious school like MIT. Tufts, UMass, BU, and Harvard all have strong undergraduate programs and medical/dental schools. We are replete with young people, artsy folks and street jugglers. Mayor Menimo budgets lots of money for youth summer jobs, and with the same fervor doffed to our beloved Bruins/Pats/Celtics, Boston has built up a hefty police force. The Red Sox nation is a unique phenomenon--winning the World Series in 2004 and in 2007-- we are proud, wielding our economic hammer with a Bossypants attitude. But we, like other places-- Newtown CT; Aurora CO; Virginia Tech and the Twin Towers in NYC—don’t tolerate senseless violence. We are vulnerable now and in tragic mourning. Our town with its Yankee ingenuity has just taken a whuppin’. So we put down the brass and show our tender side: the side that loves Jack/Bobbie/Ted Kennedy, the side that lets OccupyBoston camp out in the middle of the commercial district, the side that treats children suffering from severe burns and cancer, has Spring races for the hungry, for those raped, for our Vets, for AIDS survivors, and for the healthy. We embrace them all.

Boston is in Recovery.

I’m a nonviolence trainer and a trauma crisis counselor. Please hear our agony-a pain only us who love our Marathon can feel. If you aren’t from Boston, the Marathon is not just a race—it’s a cherished symbol. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, with over 500,000 spectators. Amateur and professionals run it, with about 27,000 runners. Massachusetts official nomenclature for this Monday in April is Patriots’ Day, a state holiday so school age children can view the marathon along Commonwealth Ave.

The response to the violence is more telling than the hateful crime. Boston’s real marathon is the healing. Our recovery from fear and reconciling ourselves to each other will take a Herculean effort. Pray for the victims, and pray that our love grows even deeper of this place, for all of us-even the criminals. It’s the legacy of Boston. We will be proud of this Marathon too.


Poems Arch Across a Wet Sky

 

The Walk

Each step a word

May Day 2009

Each toe a pupil

Each pilgrim a sapling

Big toes flex, then probe, and grab

Groping over earthflesh.

Callouses reach blindly for a vista of mountains.

Underfoot

The arch tenderly curves around a root

Prayer is never stagnant

Grace wraps between skin and grist

After decades of walking

The heel grinds a stone

The rough edges carve out decay

Pebbles grown round with sinew and service

Arms ventilate the stuffed cage,.

Moving hands release a closed heart

Arms swing slow beside tree branches

The narrow voice box floats a bit higher.

Worship whispers in your gait.

Each step an answer

Each answer a gift

Each gift a nod

Receiving God. March 2013

 

Midori’s Dilemma

The mold is creeping. Here we do not hide the truth.

The portrait of John Woolman can’t disguise the black spoors.

A coffee cup is picked up delicately by an arthritic hand.

Watch the coffee gyrate when she takes a tentative step.

Lentil soup steams as Tom’s ladle salutes a hungry stranger.

A toddler forgets her Spiderman beside the compost bin.

Pink worms ooze inside the black belching box.

 

Do not expect to see the infinite love of God tumbling from the high hills.

After the prayer undresses you, pick up the shovel and join the worms.

Outside a sparrow sings amidst the greying sun all of the divine’s mysteries.

Seek justice between bites of stew.

 

Chew up hate; tweet cheerfulness; climb the ladder slowly.

Even Lucretia Mott had manacles muffling her clarion words.

 

What is home? Where can I find love?

Somewhere between the mold and the Bible. 4/15/13

GS graduation

Guancascos in Honduras

In Honduras I pick up bits of the culture. I eat an empanada, and the memory is stored on my tongue. I see a boy riding bareback downhill to the bridge, and my calf muscles contract as if trotting along. I'm amazed at the bromeliads growing like spikey lily pads, the branches filled with orange flowers. One tree can host a botanical garden. Thus after a 3 day visit to Honduras, a bouquet of sweetness fills my sensations.

We walked from 'el castillo', the castle, to the Central Park planted snug against the Iglesia de San Marco. I was prejudiced without cause hearing the story of Honduran President Juan Lindo (1850c.) and his invasion of Guatemala. The Castillo was a bit somniforic until I read that Lindo said the future of the country depended on breaking forth and educating the people.

We met many Honduran Quaker leaders (Martha learned all the gossip). We visited in colonial Spanish-built houses with tile floors and a style of ceramic roof that lets in air, but not raindrops. We couldn't resist a trip to the thermal pools: hot springs that flow down from the amazing rainforest of the Celaque summit. My image of Honduras as a poor downtrodden country without much culture to mention was completely overturned.

One of the most intriguing parts of my education was learning about a PreColumbian peace process among the Lenca people here called guancascos. The Lencan Indians are bereft of their language and religion, but guancascos is alive and well carving a peace between communities. This unique tradition can instruct our flailing peace efforts. Guancascos is a bilateral peace treaty between two competing groups fighting over territory. It involves days of dance, ceremonies, a change of local leaders in office, and sometimes weddings and baptisms. Both towns attend the process. It's the biggest event of the year.

Guancascos begins with the Traida de Polvora, the bringing of gunpowder. At this time the leaders from both sides meet: the costs of the fireworks are negotiated. Every peace summit needs a divvying up of fireworks to whet the whistle for larger conflicts. Then the two communities often have a Broom Dance, where the newly elected leader hands a flowered broom to the outgoing village leader and in turn a Tall Staff is given to the outgoing leader. There's ofcourse lengthy greetings punctuated by fireworks and music. The parade starts in one town, and then heads to the outskirts, and ends in the second town. The two groups sachet towards the main Catholic Church, over a floor covered with pine needles, and decorated copiously. The climax is the Danza de Gorrobo, the Dance of the Black Iguana, with elaborate costumes and native musical instruments. Don't these dances sound better than signing a written contract, costly and ponderous?

Guancasco is used in a few dozen villages around Gracias a Dios, and Santa Rosa de Copan. I wonder what ways the Guancasco can instruct Quakers who are a bit stiff around peace initiatives.

It offers formal ways to connect with potential enemies or former enemies. It is renewed every year or every other year. This style of waging peace has happened for 500 years. Ah yea, sounds like a tried and true process to me.


El Cristo Negro de Eschipulas

The terrain going southeast from Chiquimula is a mix of chaparral with valleys of cultivated fields. Guatemalans here dress in western style, with a Butch Cassidy swing. The harvest is good here with melons, watermelons, fruit trees, honey, and ofcourse lots of maize. I certainly have had some excellent dishes in the form of stuffed eggplant, cinnamon porridges, and nutritious caldos (soups). Chefs here have an original way of making empanadas. I was served an appetizer of a fritatas, complete with a bit of corn husk, wrapped around the fritata like a ribbon. They have a technique of growing melons in rows, and then covering the entire row in plastic, to protect it from predators, including the penetrating sun rays. The temperature is hot now, reaching a high of 75 degrees but in July the heat is truly suffocating. Rains come in May which they call winter.

Martha and I went on Jan 15 to visit the festival of El Cristo Negro in Esquipulas, about 40 kilometers south of Chiquimula. The Central Park is huge, with whitewashed walls and wide sidewalks. And there were pilgrims parked everywhere, many with traditional dress: satin skirts and tassles hanging from straw hats. Believe it or not, the entire park looked like Occupy Wall Street. Canvas and industrial plastic hitched up in makeshift tents covered the park. Women had small fires going out on the sidewalks, heating a pot of coffee, or toasting small tortillas on a flat pan. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves with little alchohol.

The ornate basilica with walls like a fortress, dominated the park. On one side of the basilica was a courtyard, where a priest sprinkled and blessed the line of pilgrims. The other side had a line of people waiting hours to get a upclose viewing of the Cristo Negro, a statue at the altar. On the other side was a enclosed place to light candles, and there were thousands of candles. The pavement of rounded stones was slick with wax. The small chapel held the wishes of so many people: those hoping for a new life, for a miracle, even for a loaf of bread. The smoke and the incense were intoxicating: I floated through the aisles of candles as if breathing on another planet. Some say the original christ in the chapel was not so dark-skinned, but after time being exposed to the resin and smoke of such offerings, the statue was black-ened. El Cristo Negro is attributed to have cured many supplicants: the poor, the sick, the desperate. Even an archbishop was cured of cancer here. The story of the Black Jesus orginated 400 years ago.

Before the conquest of the Conquis-tadors, the town of Esquipulas, located near the crux of El Salvador and Honduras, was inhabited with about 300 Indians. The missionaries who arrived in town were “very aggressive”, according to Abbot Gregory Robeau. They persuaded many locals to convert to Catholicism: conversion being another form of conquest. Anthropologists have found that when an indigenous group looses its religion, the loss slices through its culture, and within a few generation its language is lost. Sometime soon before the turn of the 16th century, converts asked for a crucifix of Jesus for their prayers. And so a petition was made to the Bishop in the capital Antigua, for a crucifix. An artist, Quirio Catahyo in Antigua was approached about the need of the Indians of Esquipulas. In 1594 Catahyo sculpted a crucifix in memory of Saint Francis. To pay for the cost of the project, the locals of Esquipulas planted and sold cotton.

Indians then traveled by foot from Esquipulas to Antigua to carry Jesus back to their town. They were amazed at the beauty of their new possession. Along the way home, the group passed through various towns, people everywhere were awestruck by the image’s charisma. As a result, the crucifix spent time in each village, prolonging the trip until March 5, 1595. Since then there' s been many cures from the faithful who visit El Cristo Negro, including Pope John Paul II who came to ask for a cure for the suffering of many. If healing is happening with smoke and wax and travelling to a shrine, who am I to dispute it?


Navigating, WWII & My Dad

My father risked his life several times as a pilot in WW II. I think of him often now that he has left me, left this earth. My father traveled to see the marvels of the world, and loved returning to his home town where he lived for 85 years. My father loved wild goose, venison and raw oysters. He was an armchair environmentalist, so dogs became his devoted companions.

My father was an athlete, a conversationalist, with a laugh that shook his whole torso. He thought of himself as a genius- telling me that he was off the charts when he was given an IQ test in school. When his Quaker friend, John Hawkinson entered the living room wearing tangerine slacks, Dad eyed him dubiously, and with aplomb pulled out a pair of sunglasses to inspect him with. Dad was a lot of fun. But today I’m reflecting on the contradiction of being a committed Quaker and joining the army in wartime.

Dad never talked much about his service in the war. He enlisted at age 20 and trained to be a pilot. I didn’t even realize he was responsible for bombing much of Germany. Soon after the war he let his pilot license expire, maybe the war tainted the joy of flying. He told me that being a pilot came in handy to impress popular women. He once did a loop in a two-seater plane, taking Louise out for a spin. When he pulled the plane leveling it out, he noticed that Louise wasn’t in her seat at all. Instinctively he glanced down, out the side window, just in case. In case what? Louise had jumped? Soon Dad found her curled up underneath the cockpit. He was a daredevil.

The earliest memory I have of Dad speaking about being a pilot, I was 10 or maybe 9. We were driving home from school out in the fields of harvested corn near the Chesapeake tributaries. The air was crisp, I was sullen about increasing demands that I help do housework with 3 younger sisters underfoot. The clouds were slung low. The air was full of Canadian geese honking in the distance. Dad slowed the car and pulled to the side of the road. I looked for danger. The wind had picked up and buffeted a trash bag in front of the car.

“Look at ‘em,” Dad said. With a glint in his eyes, he motioned.
There a flock of 15 geese were descending into the field, the field that last summer was stitched in corn. These geese slowly circled down, their mighty wings hooking the air.

“I love to see how they bank against the wind. Watch them pull the throttle. Webbed feet stretch down to brake. Now they flutter just a few feet above the ground.” I watched as one group after another landed just a few feet from each other. Maybe when they were just learning to fly they did some crash landings. Maybe brothers would misjudge and land on top of one another.

“They know how to work the slats. Watch that one.”
“Yea.” Their agility for a fat goose was amazing.
“What slats?” I asked.
“Slats are extensions of the airplane wings. They increase the drag. You pitch the nose of the airplane up to slow down. Landing was always the best part of the flight. The problem was in the war, I was so dag tired at the end of the day. I had to rally all my energy to land smoothly.”
He gave a nod of admiration to the geese. He mentioned briefly that he had flown many flights (20? 30?) over Europe in WW II. He knew he was Quaker, that Hitler was an enemy to the free, that he was fighting violence with violence. He was reconciled to participating in the war: he was just 20 years old. He didn’t fly much after his discharge in 1945. He came home in uniform, a war hero, and got a lot of free drinks. He never untangled the lessons of war for a disgruntled 10 year old. But he admired the savvy of the wild geese: who fly in formation, who travel thousands of miles, who wheel gracefully through the December skies, who descend and land with their sophisticated navigation. I got it: he passed it on. We both shared recurring dreams of flying off the ground.

My Dad was smart and cocky and a good pilot. He loved learning from animals. He loved to move through space. He loved me. The geese are a testimony to lifting off the constraints of the earth; of the extraordinary feeling of going beyond what is earthly possible, and then using all your powers to land safely after flight. What deeper mysteries are there?