by Clara Takarabe
I’ve been ruminating on your last email.
There are a few things that come to mind really strongly when you asked that question, “what is important and what am I responsible for?”
The first word that comes to mind is “presence.” Presence to what is, especially to oneself. That means, not giving up one’s instincts, being present to one’s own health, emotional and mental, and bringing one’s most holistic self to the world. How many activists come to activism because they are simply angry people, and activism is a sanctioned way of being eternally angry and indignant? How many people show up to the table, but cannot follow through on any needed task, and hamstring a greater movement because they lack integrity? How do we move forward without a great deal of honesty, presence, and also respect and love for one another? Do we really want to move forward with righteous indignation? How much of the Left is marked by the same emotional diseases as the establishment?
I have definitely seen projects imbued with great ideas and great organization, beautiful cooperation—these projects are filled with people who are pragmatic, who possess a certain kind of emotional clarity–that is what they bring to the table. There is nothing that is hidden, there is nothing that can’t be questioned, there are no strange lacunae, no strange black holes or vacua, no glaring silences. Hope, which is important, doesn’t come from covert rage. I don’t think real hope and a path forward come from the lack of openness or from a stomach of fear.
I have sensed profound presences of individuals, you included, where there is a huge force at the table. That is the force of being, of presence. Not the presence of fear, or skepticism, or indignation. Of sheer presence, of being seen, and of seeing. Of being taken in and received and met with a whole response, coupled with respect and openness.
Bringing one’s whole presence, shed of all anxiety, even when there is war, bloodshed, poverty, hatred in this world—bringing one’s presence to the table with openness, I think, would be a new way to proceed.
I have experienced several profound friendships, open, exploratory, raw and fearless, filled with tenderness, lovingkindness, filled with mystery and discovery. And those friendships are a model to me of how I would like to proceed, individually and socially. Maybe that is not realistic, but how can we make this a better world, without these qualities? Is it possible? I don’t mean a world with more alliances of nefarious reasons, but beautiful friendships.
That’s my first thesis. I think the Left could only reject that first thesis, as totally loony and hokey and New Age.
On the Phone with Hedy
Even her detractors might agree
Two of Hedy Epstein’s characteristics
Are pertinacity and indomitability
I’ll add a third and fourth
Tenderness and compassion
As when I called her from Ramallah
To explain why I had been unable the day before
To pick up her and friends at Ben-Gurion Airport
After their long flight from Saint Louis
The IDF had detained me and friends for hours
Granting me the most infinitesimal taste
Of what Palestinians routinely undergo
Hedy took this in …
Then the tremulous softness in her voice as she asked
“Did … they … torture … you?”
In the Margins of a Book on Sri Anandamayi Ma…
I had written this on page 30:
“Reshma hoped I would look at her
So she could tell me what was on her mind.”
by Eileen McGrath Mosher
I hardly know what to write. I just finished your book (minutes ago) and was so moved by your beautiful remembrance of your wife. Through the pages of the book I fell in love with a woman I will never meet. I was inspired to live life now, to take the poor and marginalized into my community and to do it in my own quiet, reflective way. Your book at times made me envious of Mev’s extrovertedness, her ability to light up the room and touch so many people! Many times in my life I have wanted to be that person, but those are not my gifts, and that is OK. I can be an activist through my actions, so I don’t have to use my words. Thank you for encouraging such reflections. But I digress!
It was such a pleasure to be invited into your intimate relationship. I felt as if we have been spending numerous hours together discussing life and love. The reality of your relationship with Mev feels so familiar to mine and Peter’s. Peter is such a public figure, able to impress the group with amazing writing and speaking, but I see all sides of him and know the failings he hides from others. I can relate to your position in the relationship and felt a kindred spirit in so many ways. Thank you for this. Thank you for always making me feel as if I was a better person, more committed to justice and to the poor than I ever was. You expected more so I gave more. I will always have a little Mark sitting on my shoulder as I continue making life decisions. I fear I will disappoint at times but know that I will always remain committed in my own way to the call I have witnessed in you, and through your book in Mev. I pray that we will be friends for a long time to come.
Please pardon the Natalie Goldberg-esque writing style, but I feel less pressure to be brilliant when the pen can just keep going.
In peace, in struggling, and in love,
Conquering my Qualms with Starbucks
by Lindsey Weston
Yesterday I went to Starbucks to work on some homework.
I wanted to go to Hartford or maybe back to Mokabe’s where I had been earlier
Really just something more “local”
With free-range, pesticide free eggs for sale
And mismatched mugs rather than paper, logo-filled cups.
But I went because last time I was there I ran out crying
And I felt like I needed to conquer that
And somehow prove that I can be happy in places that aren’t really “me”.
I also wanted to be with my friend
Because I only have a few weeks left here
And even though I’ve become so comfortable with solitude, I really love company.
So as I’m sitting at Starbucks, sipping my coffee
Trying not to think about how it cost me a whole $1 more than the 2 cups of coffee I had earlier.
Writing my paper “The Sustainability of Global Urban Farming”
Learning about food justice, depleting tax bases, malnutrition in Ghana, and the leftist policies in Venezuela that recognize the strength of the campesinos.
People are rushing in and out, wearing their business suits and heels
But there’s also college students
And a homeless man
Who just wants some water and a warm place to rest, safe from the cold rain outside.
But they told him he can’t have any tap water because he’s not a paying customer
And he says he understands. And I know he does because I know he’s probably heard that same phrase plenty of times before.
So I’m sitting inside. And I’m cold.
And he’s outside where I’m sure it’s much colder.
So I went out there and asked him if he’d like something warm to drink.
And at first he just stared at me, raising one eyebrow.
Maybe questioning his faith in humanity?
Maybe he was just so intrigued by the way the streetlights reflected in the water?
Maybe no one had started a conversation with him in awhile?
So he came inside and got a large coffee.
And the girl behind the counter just stared.
His name was Jerry, he said he almost forgot because no one really asks him his name anymore.
I told him about my paper. He wished me good luck. Then he settled into his chair by the window, watching the cars go by.
A smile on his face.
I know in social work they always teach us we can’t just do things for people, we have to teach them how to do it themselves.
Handouts don’t solve deep-rooted problems.
Ms. Stewart taught me at Kingdom House…
“You gotta teach the people how to fish, not just throw them a fish or even a pole.”
And I believe that, I truly do.
But the reality is, Jerry knows how to order a coffee.
He knows what size he wants. He knows he doesn’t need room for cream or sugar.
He knows how to carry on a conversation.
He knows how to smile and how to express gratitude.
I didn’t need to teach him anything.
And I didn’t give him a hand out either.
I bought him a cup of coffee because it was cold, and no one deserves to sit outside in the rain.
He never asked for it, didn’t even hint at it.
I did it. Just because it felt right.
And I don’t want a pat on the back or praise for doing something so simple.
I just want people to understand that injustice exists.
That some people can easily turn their heads and see what they want to see.
And we so frequently put in our headphones, stare at our phones or computers, sip our coffee… without recognizing the people beside us.
Who maybe just need a warm cup of coffee, or a smile, or a friend.
To be reminded that they matter
and that they have a name that shouldn’t be forgotten.
This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.