In Medias Res/2

Dianne and Hedy

This Is What I Can Do

When it comes to righteous indignation
Reshma makes Arundhati Roy seem timid

At a public reading of The Book of Mev
I made sure she went last and read aloud the last chapter

To mark the occasion of her medical school graduation
I gave her the original of Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

If I see her once every couple of years for a few hours
I consider it a very good year

For the last eighteen months she’s been working
One hundred-hour weeks

I can’t imagine one week
Of working 0ne hundred hours

My agitated mind
Generates scenarios of doom

But the Stoics advised long ago
Know what you can and can’t control

So I can buy three sheets of Harvey Milk stamps
Send her reminders of her wowzownow

Email Exchange with Ale

All my neuroses start knocking on the door as I put together a draft of Dear Love of Comrades for you —

“She’s gonna think you’re such a simpleton”

“Not a word about what Trump is destroying, what self-indulgent writing is this?”

“Why is Perry Schimmel making an appearance in this… he’s not even real!”

“You’ve wasted so much time in cafes with people half your age!”

_______________________________

I often treat such neuroses as an annoying house guest. I let them in, give them tea, open the space for them to speak their truth, and then let them out. So I welcome your neuroses with gentle hands before I send them away, because querido Marcos none of the above are true.

You are not a simpleton, you are the most brilliant person I know.

Trump gets too much attention anyway.

Perry Schimmel IS real to any of us who have lived with your writing.

Ah, I hope it didn’t feel like wasted time. You certainly never wasted my time.

I love you, I love you, I love you. Estás presente todos los días de mi vida.

This Is It/2

Sitting with Hedy
At the end

Is like sitting with Mev
At the end

Breathing in, calm
Breathing out, present

This quiet moment
This only moment

Obituary
by Dianne Lee

Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 91, died at her home in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, on May 26, 2016. An internationally renowned, respected and admired advocate for human and civil rights, Hedy was encircled by friends who lovingly cared for her at home.

Born August 15, 1924, in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany, her lifelong commitment to human rights was formed by the horrific experiences she and her family endured under the repressive Nazi regime.

Unable to secure travel documents for themselves, Hedy’s parents, Hugo and Ella (Eichel) Wachenheimer, arranged for 14-year-old Hedy to leave Germany on a Kindertransport. Hedy credited her parents with giving her life a second time when they sent her to England to live with kind-hearted strangers. Hedy’s parents, grandparents, and most of her aunts, uncles and cousins did not survive the Holocaust. Hedy remained in England until 1945 when she returned to Germany to work for the United States Civil Service. She joined the Nuremberg Doctors Trial prosecution in 1946 as a research analyst.

Hedy immigrated to the United States in 1948. She and her husband moved to St. Louis in the early 1960s, and shortly thereafter Hedy began working as a volunteer with the Freedom of Residence, Greater St. Louis Committee, a nonprofit organization dedicated to housing integration and advocacy for fair housing laws. Hedy worked for many years as a volunteer and board member, and ultimately served as the organization’s executive director during the mid-1970s.

During the 1980s, Hedy worked as a paralegal for Chackes and Hoare, a law firm that represented individuals in employment discrimination cases. As an advocate for equality and human rights, Hedy spoke out against the war in Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia, and overly restrictive U.S. immigration policies. She spoke and acted in support of the Haitian boat people and women’s reproductive rights, and, following the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, Hedy began her courageous and visionary work for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.

During her later years, Hedy continued to advocate for a more peaceful world, and in 2002 was a founding member of the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. Much of her later activism centered on efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She founded the St. Louis chapter of Women in Black and co-founded the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and the St. Louis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. She traveled to the West Bank several times, first as a volunteer with the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement and repeatedly as a witness to advocate for Palestinian human rights. She attempted several times to go to Gaza as a passenger with the Freedom Flotilla, including as a passenger on the Audacity of Hope, and once with the Gaza Freedom March. Hedy addressed numerous groups and organizations throughout Europe and returned to Germany and her native village of Kippenheim many times.

Three days after her 90th birthday, Hedy was arrested for “failure to disperse.” She was attempting to enter Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s St. Louis office to ask for de-escalation of police and National Guard tactics which had turned violent in response to protests following the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Hedy was a member of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s speakers’ bureau and gave countless talks at schools and community events. She shared her Holocaust experiences with thousands of Missouri youth as a featured speaker at the Missouri Scholars Academy for more than twenty years. She ended every talk with three requests: remember the past, don’t hate, and don’t be a bystander. Through the years, Hedy received numerous awards and honors for her compassionate service and relentless pursuit of justice.

Hedy is survived by son Howard (Terry) Epstein, and granddaughters Courtney and Kelly. She was beloved and will be truly missed by countless friends in St. Louis and around the world.

Hedy often shared her philosophy of service with these words: “If we don’t try to make a difference, if we don’t speak up, if we don’t try to right the wrong that we see, we become complicit. I don’t want to be guilty of not trying my best to make a difference.”

Hedy always did her best, and the difference she made is evident in the commitment and passion of those called to continue her work. Her friends and admirers honor and salute her deep and lifelong dedication to tikkun olam, the just re-ordering of the world and promise to remember, to stay human, and to never be bystanders.

A memorial service will be held in Forest Park at a date and time to be determined. Donations in Hedy’s name may be made to Forest Park Forever to establish a permanent tribute, 5595 Grand Drive in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO 63112; American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; American Civil Liberties Union, 125 Broad St. 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004; and/or American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, 454 Whittier St., St. Louis, MO 63108.

The Power of Hummus and Hospitality
by Lindsey Weston

November 2016

In the wake of what happened to our country on Tuesday I’ve been doing some reflecting… a lot of tears and anger and feelings of being sick … but also a lot of reflecting.

I’ve been thinking about my own job. I teach nutrition education in bodegas throughout Philly. I’ve been at some of them for 2.5 years now. I see a lot of the same people month after month when I return to check their blood pressure and give them some tips for eating healthier. I love my job. I love that it allows me to interact with so many people, to travel around the city, to speak Spanish. But sometimes I wonder if I’m really doing enough. Maybe I could do more if I were a “real social worker,” sitting in an office, scheduling meetings with clients. Especially now when the future of our country is so uncertain.

I love the store owners that welcome me into their homes (really the stores but the number of hours they spend in their stores far exceeds the hours they spend in their own homes). I love the customers who participate in my lessons, call me the fruit last, keep me updated ion their visits to the doctors or their grocery shopping. But I often wonder if they feel the same way about me. In their hectic lives, do I mean anything to them?

Wednesday morning I really struggled with whether or not I wanted to go to my scheduled lessons. I didn’t want to deal with anyone. I wanted to sit in my bed and mourn. But I decided I needed human interaction, a distraction. I didn’t know if the election would come up. I didn’t know if people would feel the same way I felt or if they would just continue on with their day. But one of my first participants heard up when I talked to her about sodium. She apologized. I was the first person, other than her children, she had interacted with since the news of the election broke. She told me she couldn’t cry in front of them but she couldn’t hold it together any longer I had this same interaction about three more times that day. Later on I watched Hilary’s concession speech abd Obama’s speech on the small TV behind the counter of another store. Myself, the owner, and two customers watched in silence—I’m sure one million thoughts racing through each of our heads. Later on the owner told me his wife signed up for English classes that morning. Despite her legal status they were afraid something terrible would happen to her if her English grammar wasn’t just right. I didn’t act with many customers that day but we all gave each other the same sad, fearful nod.

Today is Thursday, a new day. I’m a little less sad (it’s also my anniversary,,, three years.. that helps). I’m still nervous though. Still trying to process. I had big ambitions for work today but in the end I did very little on my to-do list. But I did find the answer to my question of “Do I mean anything to the bodegas, their owners, and the neighbors they serve?”

This morning I stopped by one of my favorite stores to drop off some flyers. Clara, the owner, said to me, “So, are you as sad as me?” We started talking and before I knew it she had poured me a cup of coffee (arguably, the best corner store coffee in Philly) and we wee talking about all of our hopes and our fears. She told me about what it means to be a Dominican in America, serving a largely African-American community. She trusted me wit her stories and I trusted her with mine. An hour alter I headed off to my next store, again just to drop off some flyers.

The owner, Hani, was cooking lunch and without hesitation began making me a plate. I insisted i wasn’t too hungry, but that i cold the some to go. He insisted I stay and eat lunch with him. In te tiny room in the back of the store I sat on a milk crate while he cooked a pot of lava beans and onions and spices. Next came the hummus and the richest olive oil I’ve ever tasted.

I’ve never been to Palestine but from what I know, to sit on the floor (or, in our case, milk crates) and to share a meal is one of the sincerest forms of hospitality. I’ve know Hani for two-and-a-half years. It probably took me a year-and-a-half to crack, to let his guard down. We’ve been making slow progress since then but today as we shared our meal I again realized, he trusted me. We were talking about hummus and sumac and the next thing he said is, “I hope I don’t end up on some list.” I looked at him slightly confused. He continued. “With the time I spend flying to and from Palestine, one day someone might suspect me.” hani’s whole family—his wife and children—all live in Palestine. he goes back usually twice a year. In the weeks or days leading up to his trip I can see the excitement in his eyes. When he returns, it always takes him a while to to get back in the swing of things—running his store, dealing with customers.hani lives here, he works here, he is able to provide for his family here. But he sacrifices so much to be here and not in Palestine. But still, to be told that he no longer belongs to this country would devastate him. We talked politics a little more. We didn’t come up with any answers.

But I left feeling a little better. The past two-and-a-half years at my job have not been for nothing.

My job connected me with Miguel, Ciara, Hani, Ms. Mane, and s many others. We are different n so many ways but in the midst of this not so great week they held me and I held them. Like Mev said… The struggle is one.

I think I’m going to pick up Dear Layla again. This hummus really has my heart feeling all sorts of things. Thanks always for being my compañero en la lucha.

Take care,

Lindsey

Note to Dianne alongside Copy
of Ginsberg’s 1973 Poem “Yes and It’s Hopeless”

And so, if it’s (still) hopeless,
2019,
all the more reason
to cultivate garden,
play with grandson Dominic,
work on yr Italian pronunciation,
sing aloud Carole King songs,
have CTSA reunions,
host STN skull sessions,
seek us first the Kingdom of Appreciation,
and another miraculous day may be given unto us,
so hallelujah,
om shanti shanti shanti,
make time to play Duke Ellington,
“Take the ‘A’ Train”

Another Class Is Finished

Another class is finished…the autumn one entitled
“Facing the Future: Resources for a Rebirth of Wonder”

“Rebirth of wonder” comes from lines in a Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem—
“I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder”

I’m not “awaiting” …I’ve experienced rebirth over and over
From the gathering of friends on and beyond Wise Avenue…

Dianne Lee’s commitment to “Whenever we see or think your name, you exist”
Provokes a more ardent anamnesis

Bill Quick’s ever genial receptivity
Models how to be in a learning environment

Chris Wallach’s intimate connection to Dipa Ma
Shows the way for “concentration, lovingkindness and peace”

Sarah Burkemper’s Nerudean ode to the first cucumber of the summer season
Awakens my amazement at the ordinary

Arundhati Roy’s de-mystification of corporate philanthropy
Revives the necessity of the “hermeneutics of suspicion”

J’Ann Allen’s decades-long morning practice of writing and generating poems
Rejuvenates my sense of what’s possible over a lifetime

Fatima Rhodes’ hospitalité et humaine chaleur
Wordlessly urges me to invite, host, hug, and serve likewise

Liz Burkemper’s holistic engagements at GWU
Ignite respect for the fusion of the Socratic and the prophetic

Cami Kasmerchak’s mailing seven gratitudes in seven days to Chouteau Avenue
Allows me to bask in epistolary ecstasy

Marty King’s fearlessness before suffering
Reminds me to take refuge in deep listening

Andrew Wimmer’s understanding of Dahr Jamail’s unembedded journalism during the U.S. aggression in Iraq and his hospice love for Planet Earth
Rehabilitates my sense of the “political” and the “spiritual”

All of this is why my next book has the title—
The Dear Love of Comrades

Share the Wealth with Cami:
I Know Some of the Best People…

and I want to tell you about them. There’s Buffalo Meg who is from Buffalo, New York and has a pitch to convince anyone she meets to move there. There’s Hannah Frank who is addicted to adventure and fearless in the face of the unknown. There’s  Brandon who I still don’t know what he does for a living, but our emails are a collection of the existential crises we encounter on the daily. There’s Maggie who is an expert on RuPaul’s Drag Race trivia and constantly shakes her head at the lack of pop culture I know. And there’s Laura who is writing her first book, embracing her inner quiet, and reclaiming Milwaukee as her home.

Sometimes it boggles my mind how I have crossed paths with such inspiring, compassionate, and strong individuals who I have the honor of calling friends. I love sharing stories about them, what I have learned from them, and what makes them eccentric in all the best ways. Jim Rohn says, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Even though I don’t always spend the most time with my favorite people because we live in different states (and countries sometimes), I am excited to share my reflections on what their friendships have meant to me, how friendship is an ever-evolving term for me, and hear from all of you about your friends too!

Join us
Sunday 10 June
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Cami begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Andrew Wimmer
South City Saint Louis

Invitation

Reshma: We need to plan which weekend you can come to DC …
I want to book your ticket to come here
We really want to see you

Mark: Any time after second week of March
Reshma: OK

Mark: How long can I come for?
Reshma: Forever

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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