At a kick off fundraiser, Jamaica Plain, August 2008
Sages are benevolent without trying,
trusted without speaking.
They gain without seeking,
succeed without striving.
They take naturalness to heart,
preserve ultimate reality,
embrace the Way,
and promote sincerity,
so the whole world follows them as echoes
respond to sounds;
as shadows imitate forms.
What they work on is the root.
From my journals of August 16 & 31, 2008:
Walking yesterday [August 15] with Jim Harney, his life-partner, Nancy Minott, his long time friend, Carol W, my former partner, Louise D, and 2 of his friends, the bicyclist who appeared periodically, and Ray M, the former acolyte priest-in-training with Jim who was driving for the walk a short while. Jim appeared fairly healthy and strong—despite his terminal cancer—wobbling perhaps at the end of our 7 mile journey. We walked into New Bedford from the north, along route 18 or County Rd thru Lakeville, past a large lake on our left.
Jim, an activist and photographer about the Central American region for more than 30 years, is walking to attract attention to the human rights violations of undocumented immigrants in this country. On one of his most recent trips south he rode the dangerous freight trains going north, on roofs of boxcars, with folks from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and other Central American nations. Some were fleeing danger generated by their political work (for human rights in their own countries ) and seeking better economical and political conditions—as did many ancestors of those of us now born into privilege in the US, forgetting our roots in immigration. Conditions in many regions have been exacerbated by US policies, especially globalization requirements that open markets to US products while driving down prices of locally produced goods such as corn.
That was one of many trips south Jim has made, probably his last given his physical condition, and now his walk thru parts of the East Coast resonates deeply with those many trips to witness and report. He’s hoping not only to spotlight the treatment of undocumented immigrants, but to link groups working together for human rights, churches, other faith communities, and political organizations among them.
Here’s how he states his motivation in a recent letter:
For years I’ve always believed that it’s important to walk with the crucified of the planet and here in Providence I had a chance to express my solidarity with them in front of the detention center-jail. The Feds have incarcerated close to 700 undocumented people in it: the population has doubled over the last year.
I believe in posibilidad-possibility and it happens on this walk as I get a chance to meet others who decide to join me. It happens with people organizing events, maintaining a website where people can journey with us in spirit.
—From a letter Jim posted on his blog, August 26, 2008
He writes also about how healing the walk is to him personally:
A joy to be walking in solidarity with undocumented people. It’s meant so much for me: it’s a healing experience. After every five-mile walk I feel so much better. I generally experience an ache in my jaw and in my neck but that usually doesn’t happen while I walk. Six hundred mg of ibuprofen followed by a pain reliever 15 minutes later frees me from the pain.
But it’s always a challenge for me to relate my own pain to that of others. A recent event that occurred at a detention center in Providence gives me ample ground to do just that. A man by the name of Hiu Lui Ng, a 34 year-old Chinese undocumented person died of cancer and those in this privatized detention center, better put a jail, ignored his pain: they felt he was kidding.
The day was partly cloudy, cool, perfect for walking. The tone was genial, talkative. Louise brought the Japanese Buddhist drum, we offered chanting, Carol sporadically joined us after we’d attempted to teach it. Jim seemed neutral about using it, answering when Louise asked him if he wished her to continue drumming, “I don’t mind.”
With Nancy in the conversation I told old Jim stories, about him feigning drunkenness one night, fooling me, and about slowly moving out once I’d moved in. When Nancy asked him why he moved out he wasn’t clear about why or how; at least he wasn’t willing to admit this in my presence.
Nancy is a sweet soul, very attentive and loving toward Jim. They call each other honey; she looked into a possible bleeding spot on his chest which seemed to be nothing serious. Near the end of our walk which had lasted from about 10:30 to about 1:30 with a brief break for a stand up lunch (worried about deer ticks and lyme’s disease) Jim looked to Louise like he might be tiring. “Ask him if he wants you to carry his fanny pack,” she implored. I demurred. Within 10 minutes we reached the day’s stop point, a liquor store where I’d parked the car.
Along the way we broke for blueberries from a farm stand. We met the proprietor, a gracious woman interested in Jim’s walk. We told her it was for undocumented immigrant human rights. We didn’t mention that the main New Bedford site he was walking to in several days was the factory where a large number of Mayans had been arrested within the last year, many of them jailed, brutally separated from their families, some possibly deported to Guatemala—fate to me at least unknown.
We bought several boxes of berries to share along the way. Rich, lush, juicy, organic berries helped make the day. $2 per pint box, vs. $4 in stores.
As we sat exhausted on the sidewalk of the liquor store we met another woman. We told her Jim was walking all the way to DC. We didn’t mention how uncertain the planning is, that at this moment he has no point person to do the gargantuan organizing. Jim is a man of deep faith; he radiates an air of detachment from methods and results. “Way will open,” as Quakers say, might be Jim’s mantra.
I made a series of photos—at the blueberry stand, by the New Bedford sign, looking at the map, Jim from behind. Louise explained the Massachusetts state seal: sword poised over the head of an American Indian.
Jim asked me to submit photos to a friend who has reinvigorated Jim’s languishing website. When I asked Jim what he was doing about his archive, he replied, “Nancy is taking care of that.” She’d helped him organize the exhibit for the Boston party in August, sorting thru 100s of photos, selecting and matting an assortment. Other than Nancy’s shepherding of his photos and journals, I’m not sure he’s made much provision for storage and use. At the party, Larry, Carol’s partner, told me he’s working with the couple to find institutions that might have connections with some of Jim’s issues, immigrant rights and globalization the main ones. Perhaps they will organize an archive.
Driving back thru the pounding rainstorm—we pulled over to wait it out, then chose to drive thru Boston on Blue Hill Ave and the Emerald Necklace, avoiding the crowd on I-93—Louise asked me what I might do if faced with terminal illness. Maybe a walk, I replied, for Palestinian rights, drawing on my community. Maybe a long trip to the Levant (Jim told me he’d been contemplating a trip to a Mayan region where many are sick and dying from lead poisoning because of lead mining and smeltering. This reminded me of the Japanese coastal town, Minimata, which I neglected to tell Jim about. W. Eugene Smith had photographed it with his then-wife, published a book which has been highly influential among photographers and environmental activists. Jim probably won’t make this trip because he is now subject to massive headaches, caused by the cancer in his head. He’s not sure of its exact location, and doesn’t feel he needs to know. The high altitude would exacerbate headaches.) Or maybe I’d watch old films by Chaplin and Keaton. Mix in some reflective time, a retreat, maybe at Agape in the hermitage. Or possibly something thru the Quaker community.
In one way, Jim is indeed fortunate: he’s able to anticipate more vividly his own death. And bring us along with him during this extended meditation, while highlighting important issues. He talks freely about his cancer, how the pain is returning and what he does about it, indulging his passion for homemade ice cream heedless of the cholesterol, and jokes about how green tea might inhibit the cancer’s growth.
One month later the party to celebrate Jim Harney. At Ray M’s house in West Bridgewater, attended by some 30 people, mostly over the age of 50, and a handful of Hispanics (from Columbia, Guatemala, Salvador) who were most often from either churches (one) or political organizations serving the immigrant population (3), plus a bunch of kids, mostly dark skinned. Despite Jim’s malady the occasion was celebratory and festive. Food was largely ethnic (rice and beans, Indian food, my little-eaten Palestinian olive oil and zattar), Jim spoke but not with his usual humor and pizzazz. I think most of us knowing Jim might have been alarmed by his appearance.
After his 10 minute talk he held an ice pack to his left cheek; his jaw, where I think the primary cancer is situated (metastasized to lung and other parts of head), pained him. He is using morphine. He laughed but with a laugh that might have been forced.
I noted to him his resemblance in a few ways to the Dalai Lama: warmth, compassion, serving others, and most physically his laugh. The Dalai Lama laughs constantly, in the most unexpected situations, and it is a hearty, believable laugh. Yesterday, Jim’s laugh was on the edge of believability—and for good reason.
The man is suffering. I asked, “How’s the plan going for reaching DC?”
“Oh, that’s out of the question. Now I’d like nothing better than to go back to Maine and rest for one week before continuing the walk.”
The walk is exhausting, as are the presentations he gives about the plight of immigrants. He looked shaky, weak, wan. I suspect Jim is dying more rapidly than some of us including him expected.
We passed around a loaf of freshly baked olive bread. As we broke off pieces someone suggested that we speak about symbol and metaphor—what does this breaking of bread represent? I mentioned the gospel story, apostles meeting the resurrected Jesus, not recognizing him until they’d broken bread together. Jim spoke to his love for and by his partner of 19 years, Nancy. He claimed he’d been wandering when he met her, and when he announced his mission and his perhaps then hopelessness about achieving it, she said, “Go for it.” As if to say, if this is your vision, I’m with you.
Isn’t this what some of us desire: a mate who completely supports our mission (assuming we have a mission)? Then what happens when both have missions? How do missions interleaf?
Jim and Nancy seem to have worked that out brilliantly.
Simon, Jim’s young nephew, just out of high school, has stepped in as primary organizer, along with Lois from Tucson Arizona who is working with immigrants. Both of them seemed befuddled about next steps, where to find housing mainly. They are staying with friends in Providence RI, but the welcome is wearing out. Louise is hoping to join them for a day, I’m probably not, since I’ve now committed to a 2-3 day visit with my daughter Joey and family in Brooklyn. Jim hopes to reach New Haven CT for a presentation.
Shortly after the breaking of the bread, a form of liturgy, I photographed Jim and Nancy together, his head against her face, his left hand holding the ice pack to his cheek, her left hand gently rubbing his leg. The Pietà?
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
From the walk organizers:
RE: URGENT Call for assistance over the next month to help Jim Harney
complete his Walk in Solidarity with the Undocumented.
DATE: September 2, 2008
This is a request for assistance in finding shelter and venues for Jim
Harney to meet people and talk about the plight of undocumented
immigrants in the US. (See below for a brief description and links
about Jim and his Walk.) Specifically, over the next six weeks or so
Jim Harney will be walking the next leg of his Walk in Solidarity with
the Undocumented, proceeding from Providence, RI to New Haven,
Connecticut. We are seeking the help of individuals or groups who can
support his walk by assisting us to find places where Jim can speak
to people about the problems faced by migrant workers in the US, and
help finding shelter for Jim and one or two others who are assisting
him with the walk through Connecticut. He is eager to get the
message out and wants to identify opportunities to talk to people and
… from a recent press release …
The Longest Walk: Boston to New Haven in Solidarity with the Undocumented
For the past 20 years, ex-priest and photo journalist, Jim Harney has
traveled the Americas, North, Central, and South, documenting the
conditions of poverty and misery in which millions of poor peasants
and migrant workers live, sharing in story and photograph the dreams
and hopes for a dignified life. He has traveled to El Salvador,
Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and many other places, bringing
back stories and photos of people whose stories are seldom told in the
popular press, but whose stories touch the hearts of all who stop to
listen. He has traveled the paths that migrants take on their quest
to find relief from unbearable circumstances.
The Maine activist is now walking from Boston to New Haven in
solidarity with the undocumented people in our society as well as
those traveling to the United States. He has been stopping in towns
along the way, speaking to people about the global economy and why
migrants continue to make the dangerous journey north, risking life
and limb, to reach the United States.
This time, however, Harney is sharing the life-and-death drama of the
poor in a more personal way. He has been diagnosed with terminal
cancer. This walk may be his last.
Referring to the thousands of migrants who cross our southern border
daily, Harney says “Our walk tastes of paradise in comparison to those
who are uprooted from their families and are walking treacherous
trails into a world of robbery, rape and murder. U.S. economic
policies are producing the migrant flow, but we don’t see that. Once
they are here in the middle of our society, we hardly interact with
them. We don’t know their stories, hardships, anxieties and joys.
Nonetheless, the undocumented do the backbreaking work of providing
our food, keeping our infrastructure intact, cleaning our homes,
grooming our lawns. Still they are invisible.”
Harney invites churches and groups in solidarity with the
undocumented to walk with him, give hospitality or provide
opportunities to discuss this moral challenge within our society.