Mark Chmiel is Made of Non-Mark Chmiel Elements

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches out of the Buddhist tradition:
There is no separate self capable of existing on its own
One thing is connected to so much else

The sheet of paper is made of non-paper elements
Like the tree, sunshine, rain, and soil
Like the logger, the logger’s parents, the wheat that fed the logger

If you look deeply, he says
You can see an ordinary sheet of paper is marvelous
It contains the universe!

In our culture we have such a strong sense of the “I”
The independent, unto itself “I”
The “I” who alone wins the academic or athletic prizes

(And who forgets the mother who drove him to countless practices and games
And who forgets the father who helped her with her studies, night after night after night)
The Buddhist teaching subverts the U.S. maxim “It’s all about me”

It’s all about us
And it’s all about the us in me
And about the us in you

Whitman was correct
We contradict ourselves
We contain multitudes

Mark Chmiel is made up of non-Mark Chmiel elements
Is there a Pentagon computer
That could identify and add up all those non-Mark Chmiel elements?

If I spent the rest of my life trying to catalogue those non-me elements
It might be a book of 23,000 pages
It could be a blog of 105, 739 entries

One non-Mark Chmiel element is the people of Palestine
Years ago I took a semester off from school
To work with an international solidarity organization

We were aware of our U.S. (or Canadian, or Swedish) privilege
And still use it to be of service to the Palestinians
So if we interposed ourselves on behalf of the Palestinians

We might give them some more space and maneuverability
Because the Israeli soldiers and settlers would think twice before harming internationals
That was the theory anyway

And was a reflection of power imbalances
That our U.S. passports
Made our lives more important than the Palestinians’ lives

Even our solidarity organization fell into this thinking
When three internationals had been killed in the months before I arrived
Our group in Gaza was to scale down our activity

From direct nonviolent confrontation with the Israeli military
To accompanying the Palestinians day to day
We weren’t supposed to take dangerous risks

But the Palestinians were still dying
And having their homes demolished
And having their greenhouses destroyed

All of which was aided, abetted, and enabled
By U.S. government arms sales
Congressional cheerleading and diplomatic strong-arming

Nevertheless we internationals learned a great deal
From accompanying the Palestinians
Who were really accompanying us and teaching us

In my novel Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine
I wrote the following lines
Inspired by several weeks in Gaza…

We do home-stays here during Ramadan
Like many before us
And some will continue when we leave
Breaking the fast at Abu Hamid’s home
On the edge of Rafah
On the border with Egypt
We show up: the Irish anarchist
The young U.S. Jew
The aging professor
We receive their hospitality
We savor their food
We listen to their silence and tales
We are not representatives of our governments
We are not officials of a  “peace process’”
We are not celebrities
We are nobodies
Visiting for a time other nobodies
Who gently or vigorously elbow us awake
To the way of the world as it is
And the way of the world
As it could be

I am made up
Of the people I met there and then
And the people I’ve met since:

Layla and Lubna
Murad and Sharif
Ahmed and Razi

Ibrahim and Nesreen
Qamar and Sharon
Mateo and Carla

Sarah and Zeina
Mazen and Ambareen
Mahmoun and Safi

Abu Ahmed and Umm Mahmoun
Clara and Nina
Nima and Sharifa

Ibtihaj and Amenah
Yael and Keren
Reema and Barakat

Fayrouz and Magan
Sandra and Steve
Hala and Bird

Romaytha and Dania
Amal and Ben
Jojo and Randa

Fatima and Mary Kate
Badia and Banan
Matt and Hedy

And so many more
So many more
So many more

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches
There are a hundred thousands of stems
Linking us to everything in the cosmos

Supporting us and making it possible for us to be
Do you see the link between you and me?
If you are not there I am not here

Gaza City


  1. Mark, I found this during my lunch break today at work. Thanks for putting into words the choque that I’ve been struggling to explain in this season of my life.

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