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Prayer is one hundred percent attention.

—Anonymous

During my first visit to Gaza in 2004, I accompanied a team of doctors and psychologists visiting hospitals. I photographed as they spoke with children wounded by Israeli soldiers. A 10-year-old boy, riding his bike in front of his house, shot in the stomach by an Israeli sniper. A 13-year-old girl, playing with her friends on her roof, her wrist shattered by a .50 caliber tank shell fired by an Israeli sniper. The doctor explained, “these wounds will heal but the trauma may never.”

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As I photographed I felt water surge behind my eyes, as if about to punch thru my eyeballs. I held the torrent back, wishing not to embarrass myself or end my photography because I couldn’t see. But when I entered the taxi to return to our office, I wept. I thought, I am so sorry, so very sorry for you. As Quakers might say, I hold you in the light—and I add—the spreading light of compassion.

Someone at my Quaker meeting had given us the profound message that tears can be regarded as prayers, a deep connection between ourselves and others who suffer, even if we do not know those people, the vast, innumerable “Other.”

Because one of my main photographic themes is depicting the suffering of others, currently mostly in Palestine and Detroit, I realize I now have secondary trauma, a mild form of PTSD. One consequence is that I weep frequently, sometimes spontaneously, often when I hear about suffering.

Currently, reading about the ongoing carnage—again—in Gaza, this time Israeli sharpshooters killing unarmed Palestinian civilians, most of them young adults, some of them children, I weep again. One may be the 12-year-old girl I photographed in 2004, now 26 years old, or the 10-year-old boy, now 24. Is the boy included in this group photo of the shaheed, or martyrs? Is a soldier who shot the children in 2004 now an officer giving orders to fire on Gazans demanding their right of return?

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Palestinian martyrs from Gaza, shot by Israeli snipers on March 30, 2018

Despite the suffering I observe and share, my tears are sometimes tears of joy. I weep when I hear good news, as when a stranger stops to help someone. At that moment I say, I am so so happy for you. The light in me greets the light in you. We are connected thru the spreading light of compassion.

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Israeli sniper

The Great March of Return (of Gazans to their villages and towns)—Israel Threatens More Force After Gaza Protests Leave Nearly 100 Dead, 12,270 Wounded

Night in Gaza 2

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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos:

Qattan Centre for the Child

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

August 7 & 11, 2009, Friday & Tuesday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

I dreamt I was to meet Alice Rothschild, the physician (and in fact I’m to meet Dr Mona al-Farra today, with Mohammed). Alice had a problem with her car; it needed a new motor or a serious repair of the motor. She told me to wait. I felt very close to her. [Later, meeting Dr. Mona, as she’s lovingly called, she told me as we hailed a taxi,  my car is being repaired, something seriously wrong with the engine. Auspicious?]

My dreams seem strangled, still born, they evaporate rapidly. I’m working with the theory that this is because life is so energized here, and unpredictable, I have so many simultaneous concerns that the leisure needed to let the dreams survive long enough once born to be remembered does not exist. Thus the feeling that I’m not dreaming.

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A fortuitous meeting yesterday when I accompanied the Popular Achievement team including Issam who I’ve not seen until yesterday and Grace to a commemoration of the life of Mahmoud darwish. He died one year ago of heart problems, and died auspiciously in a Texas hospital, the home state of GW Bush, the failed president. He was approximately my age. The meeting was in the Qattan Centre for the Child, an elegant spacious well-lighted building. After about one hour of this—poetry readings, songs and oud, discussion between audience and a poet-critic, all officiated by our own Ibrahem, and of course all in Arabic, no translation—I decided to explore the Centre. And then the 2nd meeting, with the director, the equally elegant and affecting Reem Abu Jaber. I made some photos of her and pray I’ve shown at least a hint of her goodness, generosity, energetic spirit.

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Reem Abu Jaber

The Centre looks and functions much more like a library. It is dedicated to encouraging the love of reading. And I had a sense of its effectiveness while I photographed. Ordinarily kids either hide from my camera or flock to it. In either case, they present a challenge. Here they tended to notice but not concentrate on me so I had much more latitude photographing. For instance, after showing the architecture and lighting I began showing children and parents using the facility. I discovered a boy of about 8 years old peering thru books with his mother. I placed myself opposite them and photographed thru the book stacks. This might be perfect, if it worked. No reaction from the woman who wore a headscarf.

A long tour with Reem—and I could have gone for hours with her, she is so radiant and loveable—with photos along the way. Extensive computer facility, outdoor reading area, small auditorium, sections divided by ages of children, all coordinated spatially by a long hallway connecting the sectors, arches above the corridor, everything open. Reem explained to me that this corridor is intended to mirror the old city of Jerusalem. All is light, airy, colorful.

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Entering the Centre from the cluttered, busy, chaotic, often dirty and noisy streets of the city is like passing thru Alice’s rabbit hole: another world entirely, a magical world where bombs are forbidden, rockets blocked in mid air, white phosphorus shells burst into voluminous, gorgeous cumulus clouds. Books galore, new worlds in a new world.

However I’m not sure I understand Reem’s position about controversy. The Darwish convocation itself expresses controversy, reflecting him, his positions, the fact that he loved an Israeli woman, for instance, a hot topic of discussion. But when I asked her whether they’d host a presentation that is political, using myself as an example, she seemed to say no. She explained this by focusing on how painful the discord between Fatah and Hamas is, that this colors all controversy. She seemed to tell me that the Centre removes itself entirely from anything political or religious. Which might be an error, but who am I to judge?

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After teaching the photo workshop group at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program I called Atfaluna, the center training deaf people, mostly children, in crafts production. Jan H had asked me to bring in cotton since their supply chain is virtually non-existent. They were overjoyed to receive the goods, and meet me personally. I met first Suad, the administrative manager, and then Nabil el Sharif, the executive director.  He gave me permission to tour the facilities and photograph. This might develop further or be only once.

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Nabil is short, lean, wore a white shirt with a hint of black elements in its design. He seems to have boundless energy. His smile is gracious and authentic, compassion radiates from him. He explained to me their current dilemma. During a recent period of many visitors, “war tourism” he imaginatively named it, many people came thru the center and purchased. People like Code Pink delegations. But because of the paucity of raw materials like the cotton I delivered, they are forced to curtail production. They worry that this might worsen and require staff layoffs. Likewise, usually, on the output end, there are few customers. So paradoxically the violence added to one part of their operation.

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The center is clean, well organized, and, being a center for deaf people, very very quiet. I told another staff member, Ibrahem, who toured me that Ramallah is very very noisy, all the time, so this is a sharp contrast. The hour was 3 pm, their closing time, people were preparing to leave for home, so I was not able to show all that might be shown. Whether I return or not depends on the quality of what I’ve made and my other priorities. Children are on vacation thru the end of this month so I will have to miss that aspect.

I wrote Jan later with the good news. And found a letter from her asking me to ask Amal about taxi prices, since when Jan returns in the fall she ‘d like to book Awni for an entire day of touring the strip. What a gal, I love her. And she’s Jewish, a practicing Jew.

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How can life for me ever be boring in Gaza? To the contrary, at times: too exciting, too jammed, and not with enough Skip time, my private down time—to process and use my photos. To fulfill the many promises I’ve made about emailing photos to those I’ve photographed. Like the CD Reem made me promise to send to the Centre, and the photos I’m to email to the young men I photographed on the beach. I need days, weeks, for this.

The electricity was off in my neighborhood during the day for the first time that I’d noticed. So I relied on computer battery power for a few hours of work. And I finally found a minimum quantity of toilet paper (rather than the huge packages of about 20 rolls) so I’m happy once again.

Also for the first time on this visit, the drones [that Israel uses to patrol and sometime attack from—they are a world leader in such lethal technology, soldiers in Tel Aviv targeting people who could be me]. Several of them flew overheard, out of sight, for about one hour yesterday in my neighborhood.

Today is the coolest yet. Nearly chilly, not in my flat which does not have good circulation, but out on the veranda where I presently sit writing this. Yesterday was one of the hottest, nearing 100. The air is now drier.

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LINKS:

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

Qattan Centre for the Child

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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

June 21, 2009, Sunday, Ramallah Friends School apartment—summer solstice:

Yes, how could I ignore this: summer solstice, the first time I can recall celebrating it out of country. How to celebrate here? An extra cup of coffee? Stroke my magic wand? Bed early, sleep late? Write something? Photograph something?

More and more dreams, with one recurring theme: babies and infants. For the 2nd or 3rd time I dreamt I had some responsibility for an infant. It was a girl again, about Eleanor’s age but clearly not her, I was responsible, and this time I left her alone in a large house as a group I shared the house with—a sort of commune—assembled for a party. I didn’t know the folks well, but trusted them. Does this little girl stand for the young women I find myself mentoring? Or is the girl some aspect of me, my feminine side as M might suggest?

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In a series of dreams I attended a South African film fest, with a dismal turnout of audience, talking with the organizers, mentioning what I liked and didn’t like, deciding to leave early. I had a big story to tell the organizers and then couldn’t quite recall it. I knew it was dramatic but I forgot key pieces.

With a small family, again no one I recognized but they were family, we parked in a forest and were preparing to hike when a motorcycle cop pulled in front of us and began writing a ticket. We realized we couldn’t park there.

Ah, the dreaming is picking up. Is this because I’m feeling more at home? The night was blissful: quiet, cool, peaceful and by stuffing a large pillow between my legs I’ve found a way to sleep on both sides without pain. But I continue to wonder: the pain I’m feeling in my lower right back and adjoining leg, the stiffness, especially when I get up from a chair, is this related to my mattress? The pain began yesterday morning after a back pain free cluster of days. Just began suddenly as if I’d injured my back.

Luckily once I’ve walked for a few minutes the pain is less—I loosen up, but I am not sure how I’ll carry a large load on my back. Thank god this time I thought to bring a rolling suitcase, rather than rely on backpacks.

I bumped into Salim, the IT man at the school, yesterday in the office and he explained that the Internet problem is probably about the wiring. The phone company is due here to check and repair. So at the moment I have zero Internet at home, must rely on Pronto which is not entirely a problem—I meet people there and feel more part of the Ramallah flow.

A brief walk about Ramallah yesterday, toting my large camera with its wide-angle lens. What to see, what to photograph? The peace park? Closed. The upper school campus, including the new football field? Sure, and the construction at the school, a new classroom building. The market or souk, find my old friend the young vendor? Give it a try, a few snaps, can’t find my friend, where is he? Who to ask? How to ask? I don’t even know his name. Manarah Square? Not much new here. My home? Could be, for the blog. Maybe this morning before I go out. The school grounds? Another possibility. Me at the computer? Could be fun. With or without clothes?

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Yesterday was mostly devoted to editing the Freedom and Justice Crier. Yes, I’ve brought my work with me, encouraged to do this by JVB, Rachel and others so I could finish it with due concentration. I’ve also prepared 2 more blog entries for eventual uploading. I hesitate about disclosing too much about my signing the Trader Joe’s deshelving of Israeli products and …

The shit hit the fan first with DD, the Israeli, who wrote a scalding scathing message to my Facebook page. And then comes DA. Someone in Friends Meeting-Cambridge informed him of my signature, I wonder who and how. He rightly criticized me for adding Friends Meeting Cambridge after my name, even tho I thought this was for identification purposes only, not connoting FMC participation or support. I plan to change this on the petition if possible. But the informant raised a vital question, what is FMC’s position regarding Israel-Palestine? I’ve prepared a letter to DA, I let it mellow awhile, and then when I was about to mail it from home (the Internet was working for a short period yesterday), I discovered no Internet connection.

Before the great disconnect I managed to upld my 2nd photo set, of the water tanker and intifada movie.

M wrote a copious letter, mostly about her health which continues to be a problem and a writing project. This latter is part of a workshop she had been taking upgrading her counseling skills. She also wrote to my blog. Odd how she drops in and out of my life, nothing consistent or reliable, but eventually present, and often powerfully so.

X at this moment might be facing her last week in Boston, or she might be leaving this weekend, I’m not sure about her precise schedule: her big South American summer journey, Peru hiking the Incan trail and then doctoring with NGOs in Mayan regions of Guatemala. Quite exciting, to be linked even tho tenuously, with such a daring and attractive adventurer. I continue to feel her presence thru the L. Cohen music she gave me.

I also reached the Bethlehem contact who promised to call right back with info about when and where to appear. No call back. Maybe today. I hope to join the cultural center in Aida camp either tomorrow Monday or the next day.

A few catch up notes: Frank the Frenchman I met in E. Jerusalem confided to me he is afraid going alone to the West Bank. This recalls SE’s admission that he feared a Palestinian might recognize him as a Jew and threaten him. A reasonable fear, but also perhaps that old victim mentality resurfacing. How can I convince Frank that he is probably as safe as I am wandering thru the West Bank, depending on where he is in the West Bank and what front he presents? Ramallah, no problem. Jenin, maybe another story.

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As I wrote in my updated blog about B, or think I did, because B has Israeli citizenship, derived from living in E. Jerusalem and, in his words, having it forced on him, he is free to enter not only Jerusalem but all of Israel. He also can move between different parts of the West Bank, but not Gaza. He is not the typical Palestinian, not even the typical Israeli Palestinian, since most Israeli Palestinians do not have the extra ID that allows entry into the West Bank. Very complicated, reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. How long before the authorities realize this is a stupid, self destructive, costly, and unsustainable approach to living with one’s neighbors—and cousins in the Abrahamic lineage?

C wrote that she admires me in the way I live life fully. I wonder how she feels about her sister who also lives life fully. And about herself, who might feel stuck in a dead end job?

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Mornings over breakfast I sit on the veranda; evenings during supper or later to read or use the computer I sit on the veranda. At both times it is twilight and the birds twitter madly. Ravens or crows, sparrows, and others cavort and feed among the pines. They are my friends, my companions, in this lonely setting without children.

Music at the Ramallah Cultural Palace: Shibat treats Ramallah to a Christmas concert (2007)

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At home in Cambridge Massachusetts I am now recounting my trip to southeast USA with my photographic presentations about Palestine & Israel, in 15 parts, one for each day.

Photos from the trip, In passing: the south :: February 2009

Report of the trip

Photos in this entry from Al-Kamandjati Music Center, Ramallah, Occupied Territories of Palestine

Established in 2002 by Ramzi Abu Radwan, the Center trains young music students from refugee camps in various parts of Palestine (special thanks to Margaret Hawthorn for leading me here)

Photos: Al-Kamandjati Music Center

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The boy, Ramzi Abu Radwan, at age 8, throwing a stone at Israeli soldiers during an invasion of his refugee camp in Ramallah, Amari, in the late 1980s—Ramzi later founded the Music Center

I’m in the home of K and Skip—yes, another Skip (given his name when deep sea fishing as a 4 year old, “The Little Skipper”)—near the main campus, downtown, an older section of the city, in a huge house of at least 10 rooms, housing just the two, plus their cat. They’ve recently remodeled, the kitchen is extravagant yet has little work space. The house sits on a ridge, overlooking another part of the city, not far from railroad tracks. So periodically I hear the captivating sound of a train whistle, reminding me, in 10 days or so I will be gliding home from Jacksonville on the train.

They have very fine art on their walls, and now, thanks to their taste and largesse, 2 of my 11 by 14 photos from Israel-Palestine will join that art. I offered to donate one but they insisted on purchasing them—another $40 into the kitty.

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Teacher Margaret Hawthorne with her student

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The show itself was to be part of a panel discussion organized by the heavily bearded Arnold K, arch activist locally. The other portion of the panel never showed up, a man long ago living in Gaza. The audience consisted mostly of students, some 30 of them, with a sprinkling of older folks. The show itself did not seem to radiate the energy it had the evening before in Charlotte. Always a mystery—how the same presentation can look so different each time. No spirited introduction last night, as from Said the evening before. No presence of Gazans or Palestinians, one loquacious woman from Syria. A young Jewish man who was very well spoken during the discussion but later in private conversation conveyed a strong whiff of hopelessness, despair and confusion.

A very lovely young woman asked 2 pivotal questions: why so much concentration of violence and extremism in Gaza, and the other I’ve forgotten, equally thoughtful and difficult to answer. For the first I laid out the history of the Strip, probably at too great a length, to show that at least it has had an aspect of isolation and neglect for a very long period. But this is a question I’d like to devote more attention to.

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Other questions were about Hamas, the media, rockets, etc, very few if any about my personal involvement or about photography. I opened with a query: Why be concerned about Gaza, Israel-Palestine, and the Middle East? (Answers: It’s one focal point of problems, its relationship to Abrahamic traditions, presence of luminaries, so many in such a small region, and the light)

M wrote a relatively long letter, partly about attending Bread and Puppet Theater with Mark and his family, including his wife who’d won tickets, loving the show, feeling she’s finally understood Bread and Puppet’s Cheap Art, and about her nephew who turns out to be an extraordinarily talented actor. With mention of another debilitating bout of deep insomnia and a wish to continue our friendship, a promise to occasionally check in.

A very curious absence of questions about my life on the road. As if it doesn’t occur to her to ask me how the shows are going, the south, people I meet, local politics, etc. This is a major discovery of my days with M—that apparent killing absence of empathy with me. (Which is not to claim she is without empathy. Only with me.)

I am so relieved to have detached. Now I am in equilibrium, balanced, sane, past the stage of terrorizing love, that love bug that itches incessantly, never satisfactorily scratched. Now I scratch once and the itch is gone.

A brief walk around the neighborhood yesterday as the sun set, noticing the light on the trees and buildings. A photo or two.

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David M showed up for the presentation last night, 1/2 hour late which is his pattern, a one-hour drive to his home in Aiken, and dropped me at the home of his friend, Christine, after the show. He lingered awhile for a chat and to nibble some of the Arabic sweets Mohamed had given me the evening before. The tour is mostly in place, he’s agreed to cancel the Birmingham gig, and now implores me to help find housing for my one night without, in Greenville, just prior to Atlanta. I’m to call Bert this morning and ask if he can pick me up at the train station on Sunday morning early.

This morning I have a few open hours before Dick M retrieves me for a ride to my next venue, Greenville. I’m afraid I have only a rough idea of the geography here, and really run blind. I should learn the map much better, come to visualize it without aids.

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Poster of Edward Said

Yesterday a long chat on the drive to my next venue with Frances H, maybe in her 50s, short, blond, clear spoken, sharp witted, divorced, with a few adult kids. She works with homeless folks, and does installation art. Our nearly 3-hour conversation ranged from family, art, politics, love, and the region, to hope and sorrow. In Columbia we met the tall slender white bearded Dick M who I know from the last trip, residing with him and his wife Jane, and so connections formed 2 months ago continue.

Dick treated me to lunch at Shoney’s, a second visit to this emporium of gluttony, and then a rest at his house and some email. Like last time, he is trying to reawaken his fiction writing talent.

—February 5, 2009, Thursday, Columbia, SC

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Recounting my trip to southeast USA with my photographic presentations about Palestine & Israel, in 15 parts, one for each day. All photos in this post are from my presentations.

Photos from the trip, In passing: the south :: February 2009

Report of the trip

One very powerful dream, M featured. She and I were to meet at the end of a long path thru a thickly wooded forest. I was with another woman, someone very close to me, like Louise. I forgot to turn on my cell phone to hear from M exactly where and when to meet. The other woman, Louise, and I arrived at what might have been a meeting place, deep in the forest. No M. Of course, how would she know where to meet?

I remembered, turned on the phone, saw I had 2 messages, then the phone shifted modes and I couldn’t access the messages. I was sure they were from M. Now what to do? Race back to the parking lot on my bike (why had I brought a bike?) Ok, leave Louise waiting, alone in the deep thicket, dangerous. No M in the parking lot. I kept checking my watch, saw we were now some 30 minutes from an estimated meeting time. M must be on her way home, probably furious at me.

Later, somehow I prodded the phone to produce its messages and I heard from M. She was not only furious but deeply saddened by this debacle. Maybe crying. I’d ruined everything.

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Mediterranean Sea shore, Gaza City

HIVE  (History, Information, Vision, and Exchange) is a community center in Greensboro NC—a large meeting space, adjoining offices of non-profits working with the environment, poverty, women’s rights, etc. Dave helped establish it. Since December 15, in response to shelter overflows and winter weather, they’ve opened WE, a program offering hospitality to men, mostly or entirely black men. 8 pm to 8 am. They use the central room, set up their cots and pads, store personal things in plastic bins, use the kitchen, plenty of food, maybe from Food Not Bombs, access the computers, and are tended by the facilitator, a vibrant Jonathan, ever smiling and helpful.

Dave told me the rent paid by the organizations helps sustain the center. Behind the building a bike shop has welded together pieces of old bikes to form a cage, in which they store bikes to be repaired. Someone’s been breaking the welds and stealing the defective parts, apparently unaware the parts are broken and that the shop will give away free used parts. Despite this problem, crime in the neighborhood, a mixed race zone, has decreased since the establishment of HIVE. It opened about 2 years ago.

Dave tells me it is going thru a management transformation, from relatively anarchic to more mainstream with a paid staff and board. This in answer to certain problems he did not list.

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Net fishing for sardines near a raw sewage outflow, Gaza City

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My Gaza show fit well in this space. About 20 people showed up, mostly young folks, a few elders, 2 or 3 residents of HIVE, and notably the wife of Max Carter, Jane. Also Chelsea, a young effervescent woman with pock marked face, nose ring, scraggly hair. She’s originally from Charlestown MA, her family sporadically attended Friends Meeting at Cambridge, she is now at or recently graduated from Guilford.

Maybe for the first time I showed the entirety of Gaza, some 70 minutes of it. When I asked Dave later how he thought I could improve it—always expecting the reply: shorten it, cut a lot out—he said instead the following—and here I will only mention the list I made from his suggestions.

Notes on Gaza at Greensboro, via Dave R:

Music doesn’t always match picture, sometimes seems repetitive
Add detail in history between Aphrodite
and “children of the stones”—websites that Dave might suggest
Balance between despair and hope
Ragdha first of family in Bureij
Fewer hospital photos
Bold “me” in Belal
Have someone read Obama et al?
Simplify notes
Crisp dates for recent history
“Jump to Rafah” in early slide
Add most recent Yusef?
More personal stories and experiences and people
Add candle light vigil with Ibrahem

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I can’t say the audience was fully attentive (I saw some sleeping or at least with heads bowed, maybe in reverence, I’m not sure), nor dramatically appreciative (a tinkling of applause), nor financially generous ($30), but most stayed for discussion and it was lively.

Some thoughts about Israeli accountability, about Obama, about Hamas, but nothing very personal, either about key characters in the show or about me. Which always puzzles me. More along the lines of geo politics. Jane C helped the discussion with first hand experience. Dave remained silent, looked distracted thru the show.

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Uncompleted building, waterfront, Gaza City

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Beach refugee camp, Gaza City

He is 30 years old, near graduation from University of North Carolina Greensboro in political science and history, considers a career in conflict resolution, may sign up for the grad program at the local university, knows most of the key players in the Palestinian solidarity movement, including Matan Cohen, and is a lively and gracious host.

After a 50 minute ride to Chapel Hill for my next gigs, with a discussion about HIVE, Dave himself, the solidarity movement, etc, we met my next hosts, Oscar and Marilyn E, both I believe from the elder center which is hosting one of today’s 2 shows. As on the December tour one virtue of this arrangement, handing me off from new to old hosts, is expediting people in the movement meeting each other. We dined at a cafeteria that suggested a step up from Shoney’s in quality and maybe price. I snagged too much, made a pig of myself, eating Spanish mackerel, beets, salad, baked potatoes, lima beans, and chocolate pie. What did they think of me?

At first I felt engaged by the conversation about Israel-Palestine politics, the prospect for instance outlined by Dave that Netanyahu might be useful as the next elected prime minister because he has a history of caving to strong pressures, unlike folks like Ariel Sharon, a former prime minister now in a coma. Dave claimed even Neta G feels this way, not supporting his candidacy but realizing a prospect. The conversation was notably upbeat, recognizing the possibility of a tipping point arriving sometime in the near future. And then for the second half of the dinner, attention shifted to local politics, leaving me blank. Who did what in the campaign for senator and house rep and why it mattered?

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Israel heavily attacked Beach Camp recently during the 3 weeks of heightened violence from December thru January 2009. Some of these boys may be injured or dead.

A plus about journeying as I’m now doing is poking into people’s personal lives, living as they do for short periods, probing their histories. I listen to their stories, and I attend to how they lived, their furniture, food, clothing, and pick out details on which to array conclusions.

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Beach camp, looking toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon

Yesterday morning I chose to attend, of the 3 Quaker meetings in Greensboro that I know about, First Friends Meeting (or church), programmed, pastored. Arriving early I noticed a plethora of cars in the lots, but then entering the sanctuary, large, very churchlike, all pews facing forward, a pulpit, as is the churchly Quaker way, I found very few sitting waiting. So I returned to the greeters, picked out a young woman, asked, Could I tour the building while awaiting the service? She guided me.

We first met the pastor, Deborah, a woman in her 40s perhaps, smiling, attractive, thin, married, gracious, engaging. I learned later, from Mary Ann, my escort, and from Deborah herself during her sermon, that at the end of this month the pastor will join an ecumenical tour group visiting Jerusalem and the Galilee. I didn’t hear mention of the West Bank, certainly not Gaza.

Deborah’s sermon, essentially about staying focused, one thing at a time, paying attention, began with an account of her struggle to transform her upcoming Israel-Palestine journey from what might be simply a tour into a spiritual pilgrimage. She used the word pilgrimage. She went awalking to pray about this, and concluded with the notion of attention. Every detail of the experience, noted, thought about, recorded, discussed, portrayed. Of course I resonate with this direction, hoping myself to be fully attentive to all experience.

Following her sermon, a period of open workshop, beginning with a deep silence, leading to about 4 messages, all from the heart, not always directly related to the sermon. I was impressed, loved the combo of music from a talented chorus, the congregation singing, sermon, beginning silence for open worship, public joint prayer, greeting everyone, Deborah inviting me to introduce myself, and the warmth of the assembly. All very fine, and, as I mentioned to a few, if I were living in Greensboro I might chose this church as my home.

—February 2, 2009, Monday, Chapel Hill, NC

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Amani Alfarra is from Gaza, currently studying for her PhD in hydrology in Germany. We met in May 2006, in Gaza, while she was writing a report for the United Nations about the water situation in Gaza. She needed photos so I toured the entire region with her. I’ve slightly edited her writing.

Jan 16, 2009 at 3:16 PM

We hope at the end our voices will be heard and someone will feel the people’s pain in Gaza and help them. For 2 days now I can’t speak with my boys.

Even waiting for things to be improved is quite hard, my friend.

—Amani

Jan 16 at 9:22 PM (Gaza is 7 hours ahead in time)

Oh Amani, I’m so sorry to learn that you have boys still in Gaza. I shall pray.

Love,

—Skip

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By Joe Devoir

Jan 16, 2009 at 3:32 PM, Amani Alfarra <amani.alfarra@gmail.com> wrote:

I thought you knew. Don’t worry. I am just praying to God to keep them safe until things cool down and I find a way to take them out. I am sooooooooooo unhappy, my friend.

When I called them, trust me, I hold my self hard. They have no electricity, no bread. When their father could find some wheat for bread, that was good for them. Every day they make a fire to keep warm.

I try and try to call them to find out if they are still alive. For the third day now I can’t contact them. So can you imagine how hard waiting is?

What did all these children do to deserve this life besides being born as Palestinian-Gazan?

Life is hard my friend

—Amani

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An Israeli soldier prays next to ammunition on the Israel-Gaza border, Monday Jan. 19, 2009. Israeli officials say troops will leave the Gaza Strip before Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the new U.S. president. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Jan 16 at 3:51 PM

At the beginning my ex-husband took them from me. But I had hopes that one day we might meet again. Now I am afraid the war will take them and I can’t see them at all.

Jan 19 at 12:29 PM

My Kids! I just spoke to them, el-Humdila (thanks be to god). Two days ago the Israelis pumped something into the area. During the night while my oldest son was sleeping the window broke and collapsed on his head. El-Humdila, he is ok. Some wounds but no problem, he is ok, still alive. This was God’s mercy that he doesn’t want me suffer.

Thanks for asking, my friend.

Warm Regards

—Amani

amaniboysmen7458-1

Amani Alfarra, Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, May 2006

My photos while traveling with Amani Alfarra, Gaza, May 2006

Set one

Set two

Amnesty International has accused Israel of using white phosphorus in civilian areas of the Gaza Strip.

CEASE FIRE NOW!

Large Gush Shalom ad – published in Haaretz, December 30, 2008

This war is inhuman, superfluous and harmful. Nothing good for Israel will come out of it!

The killing of hundreds of Palestinians and the destruction of the infrastructure of life in the Gaza Strip are abominable acts. Those who hope to reap electoral profits from them are greatly mistaken.

A ground invasion will cause even greater harm, destroy what is left in Gaza and cause many casualties – Israelis and Palestinians, soldiers and civilians.

If, after hard battles, the Israeli army will succeed in conquering the ruins of Gaza, the result will be, at most, to drive Hamas underground and to increase their influence both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

The attack, which has already deepened the hatred, will

AROUSE the whole civilized world against us,

RAISE all over the region a new generation that will hate the State of Israel even more,

INCREASE the impact of Hamas,

UNDERMINE even more the status of peace-seeking Palestinians,

PREVENT Palestinian unity, without which there can be no peace.

On behalf of thousands of Israelis who have demonstrated in the streets of Tel-Aviv within hours after the start of the war, we demand:

– To stop at once the attack on Gaza!

– To propose – and to maintain – a cease-fire that will include the end off all violent actions by both sides, a real opening of the border crossings and the termination of the blockade against the population of the Gaza Strip.

– To start a dialogue with Hamas. Hamas is an integral part of Palestinian society and the Palestinian political system. Without their participation, all negotiations and agreements are meaningless.

Gush Shalom

P.O.Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 — info@gush-shalom.orghttp://www.gush-shalom.org

gazamourn-1-10-08

Boston, January 10, 2009

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Written to review my experiences after New England Yearly Meeting of Friends sessions at Bryant University, Smithfield Rhode Island. NEYM sessions brings together some 800 Friends for 5 days to deliberate business, attend workshops, pray and engage in other reflective processes, meet new people and renew old friendships, and take a break from the quotidian lives most of us live.


Einstein discovered a law of physical change: the way to convert a single particle of matter into enormous physical energy. Might there not also be, as Gandhi suggested, an equally incredible and (as yet) undiscovered law of spiritual change, whereby a single person or small community of persons could be converted into an enormous spiritual energy capable of transforming a society and a world? I believe that there is, that there must be, a spiritual reality corresponding to E=mc2, because…from the standpoint of moral freedom, humankind is sentenced to extinction without it.

—James W. Douglass

Photos

MEETING FOR BUSINESS

The Friends United Meeting’s personnel topic dominated, smothered business sessions. This policy prevents homosexuals from employment or volunteer positions with the organization. The wording of the practice is round-about: sex outside marriage is prohibited, and marriage is defined as only between male and female. Thus gays and lesbians are excluded, unless apparently they are celibate. Many feel the motivation stems partly from values and partly from politics, inhibiting more conservative groups like those in Central America and Africa from bolting. Yet many in NEYM are offended at the policy and doubly so when realizing NEYM contributes significant money to FUM.

Thus, like a person with an ailing stomach or chronic arthritis, not life threatening, simply annoying, distracting, worrisome, who then dilutes focus on issues in the wider world, NEYM turns inward, year after year. Our stated theme was “War, God Help Us!” and some like Ernestine Buscemi in the keynote and Peter Crysdale in the bible half hours attempted to refer to it. Despite their attempts, little attention was directed to societal issues such as the war in Iraq, the threat of war with Iran, torture, erosion of civil liberties, environmental desecration, racism, to name a few of the pressing problems of our day. We (I say we inaccurately—I attended only one hour of one business session, not boycotting, just displeased and choosing to devote myself to other matters during that period) passed several minutes about the Iraq war and torture, but I’ve heard these were relatively weak, mostly for internal communication (other meetings and Quaker bodies), lacking substantial discussion, let alone controversy and debate which might stir the pot more, and without action components. Lo and horrors should we ever call for tax resistance or surrounding the Pentagon or joining the equivalent of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign—or freeing one’s slaves.

Ernestine Buscemi, keynote speaker

In filling out the evaluations I discovered that the authors had not provided a category for comments about business sessions. Whether oversight or deliberate I do not know. On my form I noted this, with my general remarks critical of the business practice and how deftly it served to avoid discussion of worldly matters.

Riding home with D I had an informant for business sessions. She corroborated what others had told me. Learning some of this before I met D, I extracted my evaluation from the pile of submissions and softened my language, from never discussed to barely discussed.

D also offered her usual dim view of progress in political realms and specifically about our group meeting regularly about Israel-Palestine at Friends Meeting at Cambridge. She seems a person of relatively weak faith, at least when engaging with political action. She feels our Israel-Palestine group has made no significant progress. Reminding her of eternity, which might have been the wrong response, did little. Perhaps rather than countering her and people like her I should listen, as if the person is aggrieved by some serious problem and simply needs a compassionate ear.

Little at NEYM referred to Israel-Palestine. And this is sad. This is in sharp contrast to Friends General Conference gathering in June. I’d put up a display at the Quaker Witness session that Ian and Beth organized, about our Israel-Palestine group at FMC, and about my work, but few saw or commented about it.

Skimming Henderson’s book, God’s Troublemakers, How Women of Faith are Changing the World, a book I ordered from the library when thinking my witness workshop was going to run, I found the following quote:

The research study, Missing Connections (Lynn and Wheeler, Auburn Theological Seminary), concludes that all [seminaries, religious institutions, and their leaders] were largely invisible in the public arena. Occasionally a reform rabbi or African-American clergy person would be cited for public activism, but invariably neither institution nor leader (whether liberal or conservative) was seen as an asset in their communities or beyond, but rather as inwardly focused, preoccupied with taking care of their own. They were not invited to the table where decisions of great consequence to their communities were made. [Emphasis added]

One slight example of this was no one showing up for my Hydropolitics slide show scheduled for 9 pm. Why? They were stuck in business session until about 10:30, sitting since 7, the “iron butts,” as some are joking, or the “iron bladders” as others have said, no break for this entire period. Several people mentioned to me later they’d intended to watch the show but because of the hour (I’d given up by 9:30) decided to head for bed.

On a more encouraging note which at least indicates intention, I quote our outgoing presiding clerk Christopher McCandless, his stirring opening prayer about the need for societal awareness:

GOD, HELP US: Help us to be Your people, a people of peace in a world awash in the imagery and realities of war. Forgive us our complicity, by our corporate silence and the taxes we render unto America, in our nation’s headlong prosecution of military responses to the violence in the world. As Friends, we have become embedded in a culture that has seized upon war as the dominant model for solutions to all its problems. There are wars on terror and drugs and cancer and poverty, so it has become an easy step to make wars on people, when they act or sound or worship in ways unfamiliar to us. But they are Your people, too. Lead us instead to be witnesses to the ways of peace.

GOD, HELP US: Help us forgive one another for the wars of words that arise between us when we speak or act in hurtful ways that deny the light of Your presence in the hearts of all Your children. Help us look beyond the policies and the preaching, to find strength in our corporate testimony that You are a loving and forgiving God, who gives Your gifts regardless of how our fellow beings may regard us.

GOD, HELP US: Help us, in the words of our Young Adult Friends, to face our fears and our powerlessness. Redeem us from despair at the failures of our stewardship of that small part of Your beautiful creation we call Earth. Empower us to work for Your commonwealth here in the now of our nation and culture. Yet keep us from placing too much of our trust in politics, powers and principalities. Teach us instead to have faith in You. GOD, HELP US.

Is contrition, begging forgiveness, and pleading for intercession from unknown heavenly powers sufficient?

Rather than rehash what I’ve written in this journal ad infinitum, I’ll try to summarize my interpretation of the decision making or governance problem. The practice of discussing in a large group, containing many folks few others know, even with the intent of mutual respect and deep discernment, runs off the rails too often. In point: the FUM personnel issue and how vexing and seemingly intractable this is. What models of discourse might be more appropriate? A representative model, perhaps like that in Ba’hai, the elected spiritual council. Quakers tend to eschew representative forms and voting, why exactly I’m not sure, but because of this blockage we might be choked with the possibly archaic and self-destructive model we now use.

One major issue is the Quaker culture of peace, which often manifests as conflict-avoidance, minimizing discussion let alone action about major planetary issues, especially the situation in Palestine/Israel, my main issue. This is shameful, that a religious body such as ours barely mentions these huge problems. Sure, many of us are aware, some of us are active, and some workshops addressed some of these problems but for the most part, especially in business sessions, little was done beyond minuting concern. I am amazed and awed by this lack of attention. And have to wonder, am I in the right place for me?

Why this lack?

Some feel the religious body is not the place for political discourse and evocation. The body is a “spiritual” body and by definition not suited to intertwine with worldly matters. I am here for self-nourishment, some say, to transcend the noise of the world. The last thing I need is debate about Iraq—or Israel-Palestine for God’s sake.

Some expect the issues would further divide an already fragile community. Susan F mentioned this as a reason to not bring the matter of a travel minute for me up to business meeting at FMC when I was preparing to return to the Levant.

For many, internal issues are more compelling. They are in our faces, stuck to our fingers, lodged in our craws. As with FUM: we give it money, some of us have personal associations with it, some of us are gay or lesbian, or know of the hurts of some of our homosexual friends. This is more real for many than distant issues like the occupation of Palestine, the debacle in Gaza, and even the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq.

The issues are too complicated, some claim. How can we ever know enough to make an informed decision? Several raised this in my workshop last year when I stated that one need not know everything to begin a dialog within the community about Israel-Palestine. Why outward issues are thought to be more complicated than inward ones baffles me.

And finally, many of us are too comfortable, safe, content to bother with discord. This is the Quaker culture of peace, the famed culture of so-called peace. Where, in Martin Luther King’s words, silence is betrayal.

Writing all this I continue to ponder: how long will I remain within the Quaker body? How do I manage to suffer it out and they with me?

One answer, perhaps the main one, is that Quakerdom draws me for many reasons—and I wish for the moment to not give these up—plus I participate in several other communities, refuges for this wayward stranger. Without these more politically active and courageous groups like the Catholic Worker-oriented Agape Community; the activist Japanese Buddhist order Nipponzan Myohoji, builders of peace pagodas and designers of world wide pilgrimages; and my courageous buddies in the challenge Israel movement, at home and in Israel-Palestine, I’d be lost and would feel less committed to the Religious Society of Friends.

CHILDREN

Two dreams in this continuing and blessed thick stream of dreams, during and post NEYM: with Lynn,my former wife, residing overnight in a group house that was little more than a flop house, sharing bathrooms with many others, the toilets filthy, sleeping on the floor in a crowded cubicle, someone wanting my blanket when he learns I’m leaving, eating a meal there, then, about to leave, a man who looks vaguely Arabic or southern Asian, examines a rate sheet and determines we owe $100. I’m shocked, Lynn apparently is not, I begin to protest when the dream ends.

Second, with young daughters, Katy and Joey, one of them hostile toward me, so that I come to believe I will always be estranged from this daughter. We fight. I may have hit her, which one I’m not sure, probably Joey since she is traditionally the most argumentative.

Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song.
Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song.

I will never forget you.
I will never forsake you.
I will never forget you.
I will always love you.

—sung frequently during this event

Now kids at NEYM were a focal point for me, mainly because of the possibility of my grand daughter Eleanor attending in a few years. I wished to observe the age group she’d be part of, childcare, 0 – 4 years old. And while there, I thought, for her, for Katy and Phil, her mom and dad, for others, why not photograph? Kimberly, head of that unit, graciously welcomed my presence—I even had a chance to volunteer as a kid tender when pressed into service. She put out a permission sign up sheet for parents. All agreed to having their children photographed.

I observed bountiful love flowing thru the group. Adults volunteered to help, Kimberley is skilled and extraordinarily tuned to this age group, staff promoted Quaker values such as community, they treated violence gently, I noticed a healthy balance between individual and group activity. Painting and drawing and cutting were hits, as were outside play and snacks. I didn’t see any story telling or writing but I might have missed this since I dropped in only sporadically. I am so pleased I observed, this was one of my productive substitutes for business sessions.

As usual I observe legs, women’s mostly, but men’s as well. I am an aficionado of legs, I desire legs, Lynn’s legs first attracted me to her (perhaps a fatal error of judgment), I photograph legs, I consume legs, I favor and thank my own legs for being so stout (too bad they’ve thickened). So when I learned that a young woman, a girl really, age about 17, Clara Gardner of Western Massachusetts, loved by many at NEYM, had been caught between her car as she was loading it in preparation for NEYM and a car driven by a drunk driver, losing her legs, both of them, above the knee, I with others was shocked. She may have asked for the folding of peace cranes, or maybe someone at NEYM came up with this brilliant idea. We folded cranes and made a mound, perhaps over 2000.

Once again I have a new appreciation for my legs, for my entire body.

I wonder how Clara will do, whether she’ll find a way to survive and flourish, or whether she’s fated to live a life of enhanced suffering, lacking legs. And I wonder about the driver, who now is saddled with a possibly incurable illness: guilt, regret, remorse, self-hatred. This is where forgiveness enters, where penance enters, where reconciliation enters. An emerging story and I may never hear of it again.

Along with Clara losing her legs, Greg W lost, for now at least, some of his mobility. He’d had a mild heart attack at sessions, called for an ambulance, had a stent and reaming done to more arteries (for the second time), continues to be overweight, and now rides in a wheel chair. We were all pleased he’d returned to sessions, chagrined to see him so bound and tubby.

COMMITTEE FOR RACIAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC JUSTICE—INTEREST GROUPS—WAR-PEACE VIGIL

Two contrasting dreams: in the first I was meeting with a woman friend in the midst of a sizable group, all of us preparing for some major event. She was beautiful, she and I were intimate, we both or maybe she only had another more public relationship. We kissed lightly, whispered to each other as we stood within centimeters of each other; she held her foot against mine as if to say, here, no one will notice, this is a clear and visible sign to you of my love. I felt elated, confirmed.

In the contrasting dream, again with a group, the leader was swinging playfully from some play apparatus as we awaited the start of our mission. Then a man pulled out a pistol, aimed it at another man’s chest about one meter away, fired, both men near me. Then he held the pistol against his victim’s head, paused and pulled the trigger, shot him cleanly thru the temple. He then turned the gun on himself, in the thick and bustle and fear of the crowd, and killed himself.

What a way to begin the day—or sleep the night. How does this predispose me for the day?

For the interest groups I either supported Rachel in showing Long Night’s Journey into Day, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, or ran my own slide shows from the Israel-Palestine series. Oddly enough in the discussion following showing Long Nights Journey into Day no one broached the topic of applying the Truth and Reconciliation South African model to the United States, regarding genocide of native culture and people and slavery. Did we just not have sufficient time, could we have led the discussion more fruitfully, was the topic consciously avoided, or just not thought of? Seems an opportunity missed. Maybe we can pick up this thread at our next CRSEJ meeting.

My slide show,Gaza, first night, was relatively well attended (10), good show. Bethlehem, the premiere, second night, less well attended (5), not a bad show but needs lots of work. And a revised Hydropolitics on the third night, scratched because of the late running business session. As usual I put this series on mainly for a chance to show the photos and tell the stories, and as my incentive to edit the shows. Not that I expected to draw huge crowds, or change many minds.

I had numerous slide show and computer compatibility problems. The PowerPoint files I’d made which I’d hoped would maintain my laboriously created animations failed to open. Luckily I’d also exported the Keynote files (I use Apple slide show software, same as used by Al Gore for An Inconvenient Truth) as PDFs. These opened, but lacked the clever transitions. I couldn’t play the sound for Gaza. I managed, barely, explaining to one audience this situation, and to another, for the Bethlehem show which I edited to the version I showed from one much rougher, that this was the first showing, very tentative.

Likewise with my photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to One & One-half Million Human Beings, How Do They Live?, the first time showing this in this form. A highlight connected with that experience was noticing someone intently viewing each photo. I saw this from across the atrium, photographed it with my zoom lens.

The Committee for Racial, Social and Economic Justice met 3 times, Monday thru Wednesday, mainly to plan our direct action. We’d learned our stalwart member Nan Stone had died from cancer shortly before sessions began, and Nan was the inspiration for our direct action. We’d winnowed down our burst of ideas from the September retreat to the “Bury the N word” plan, and JV brought a made-to-order casket and signs. So even tho we’d not reached concord on this plan—I still don’t favor the total prohibition of all uses of the word N… —JV, as is his penchant, plowed ahead with the thought.

Good for him. In the last phase of planning D tried to inject a cautious note by stating, you might antagonize more people than you convince by parading thru the dining hall with that casket. People might feel distracted, interrupted, put upon. I countered him with a crudely expressed quote from Frederick Douglass about rulers never voluntarily giving up power without a struggle, comparing this to those who wish to grow crops without disturbing the soil. D relented, finally decided to offer his drumming to accompany our march, and this was pivotal.

We entered thru the side door, near the tent. JV had rounded up casket bearers including Keith Harvey, executive secretary of the New England regional office of the American Friends Service Committee, and the outspoken, irascible, and highly creative John Rider. At first D wanted to drum from the dining hall balcony but at the last minute he switched to march with the casket. Smart move. As we entered, his drum attracted attention to that spot, thus, many noticed as we walked in.

A solemn procession. I photographed. People cheered, especially when JV asked who supported burying the N word? After a few transits thru the hall we parked the coffin in the small atrium near the entrance of the hall and put out our guest book and sheets of paper for folks to sign—commitments to either not themselves us the word or, more broadly, to advocate a total prohibition.

As might be true of any political action, it is small, miniscule even, and could appear trivial. What’s the point of banning the word? It’s a tiny step toward greater consciousness.

Elizabeth D later told me that her 8 year old daughter, K, asked when seeing the casket, what’s the N word? They had a discussion.

Of course there is the slight possibility that some might think the N word is nuclear. Several told us this. Maybe the cheering was for the end of nuclear power and weapons, and we were deluded. But considering the numbers of people, especially young folks, who enthusiastically signed the guest book and commitment sheets, this was not the case.

Our twice-yearly publication the Freedom and Justice Crier seemed well appreciated. We handed out about 200 copies at the keynote, and noticed the keynote theme and speaker related to the publication. I picked up discarded copies, they numbered only about 20. Not bad, a 10% refusal rate. We may never know how many people actually read the Crier.

Ernie from New York Yearly Meeting is Black. She mentioned landing on the last international flight into NYC on September 11, 2001, coming from South Africa where she’d attended a conference about racism. This confirmed a portion of her direction—her ministry to babies with HIV-AIDS. The speech, despite its prominent witness theme, did not seem to light many fires (I noticed relatively few signing up for a CD copy, which was also true for the keynote I gave a few years ago). At least she spoke to witness. And this is one of the main emphases of this issue of the Crier.

Her flawed keynote prompts me to wonder how to transcend platitudes while presenting insights and grand notions. Use examples, tell stories, minimize theories, use quotes, create images.

Click here for summer 2008 Freedom and Justice Crier

We learned because of NEYM’s budget deficit CRSEJ’s budget will be shaved, most likely, from $2200 to $1500. This might affect Crier production. Which might be to the good. I have so many extra copies lying about the house, what to do with them? How to circulate past copies of a journal?

Otherwise, our committee has few people and a promising clerk, Rachel.

This was the first year in some 3 that I’ve not led a workshop. 2 or 3 years about Israel-Palestine. This year’s witness was cancelled because of low enrollment. This may indicate a lack of interest in the topic—I titled it “Some Perils and Blessings of Bearing Witness to Social Injustice”—or it may have overlapped with similar workshops that did run. The cancellation gave me more free time, lessened my anxiety.

I interviewed JV in what may be the first of a series with folks around NEYM who might experience racism, either directed at them—JV claims others have called him n…, or he’s heard the word uttered in his presence—or witnessing such acts, possibly interrupting them. The point of this is to establish a claim that racism exists within the Society of Friends, notably in Yearly Meeting. More than that, the forms it takes. How to recognize it. What to do about it.

Preparing to meet JV for the interview, I discovered my recorder batteries were dead, I’d failed to notice when packing the gear, failed also to bring extra batteries. So I listened, asked questions, challenged JV on some points, especially about what constitutes racism, and took notes. Much as I did in the West Bank and Gaza when interviewing AFSC Popular Achievement coaches and writing their stories. I have now a growing list of folks to interview, including Shelby, Bonner’s daughter, Hal, others. Could be another life-long project. Maybe into the Freedom and Justice Crier. Could become a booklet.

Our August 6 vigil, occurring in rain and wind in a downtown Providence RI park, drew a reasonable number of Quakers, some 20. AFSC provided bright and captivating banners showing the equivalence of one day of war in Iraq with social services that could be provided otherwise. We stood across from the bus station so vehicle traffic was heavy, but sidewalk traffic was slim. A few walkers stopped to chat. A few drivers honked. Generally I think we were sporadically noticed, sometimes hailed, usually ignored.

A pity. On such a day, August 6, a sacred day. We hadn‘t emphasized the Hiroshima connection, concentrated instead on the current war. Too bad no local organizations joined us. Had it not been for Ian and his dedication and organizational skills even this might not have occurred. It is a definite improvement over the usual vigils on campus when only the mostly sympathetic see the vigil.

ALL THE REST

One potent dream: with friends, I went thru Israeli security. The main official had been a friend of mine; he measured my girth and that of another man passing thru. Something about our waist line prompted him to pull us aside, he made us strip and confiscated our clothing. Perhaps he thought we were carrying suicide bombs.

Then suddenly we were awakening from a night of sleeping. We were still nude, the two of us, but not our friends, clothed, who’d slept over with us. Someone, maybe me, had two thoughts for plans: those of us nude should wrap ourselves in our bedding and stand vigil, and all of us would design and wear signs that explained the injustice of our blockage. We did this, folks passing thru noticed us, I wondered when the official would return and how he’d deal with us.

That’s part of my life asleep. Luckily I still have sufficient faculties for recalling at least a snippet of my dream life. Had I Alzheimer’s, my brain would be absent of dreams. What a horror, among many, should I ever incur Alzheimer’s. One possible gain might be pure empty mind meditation.

The evening before the keynote, our first evening, we’d had the traditional greeting of all meetings, followed by a novel experiment. Going to small groups, then to triads, we grappled with 3 queries: our first experience with a Quaker meeting, a burden we’d like lifted, and an occasion when we acted as a peacemaker. All of us in the small group remarked that our first meeting was a surprise confirmation of the rightness of our choice of religious experience and community. We were home. My first experience with Friends was in 1980, the summer of my journey to Friends General Conference gathering in Ithaca and NEYM in southern Maine when I showed my newly edited film about my mother’s last year of life, Pearl Schiel. After meeting Quakers in those 2 contexts I decided to give a Sunday meeting a whirl. I recall feeling elated when I walked thru that first door—home.

Most burdens shared in my small group were interpersonal, sibling rivalry, problems with kids, etc. My first thought was sex and love, how I’d like to be free from this obsession. I demurred—too personal and I’m not sure I wish to have this burden lifted, if it is a burden. So I spoke about my proclivity to reach a decision quickly and surely, too quickly and too surely, with little hesitation. I should be more deliberative.

Peace making occasions were again mostly interpersonal, family oriented. Mine was about Cambodia, our workshops on the Thai-Cambodian border, me thinking I’d made the correct decision to continue, walk across Cambodia to Vietnam, next to mine fields and during artillery shelling. Then I was not able to sleep, rethinking, maybe I shouldn’t go. No, wait, I’m here to be a peacemaker, Cambodia needs me, I’ll go. And I then slept blissfully for the few remaining hours of the night.

Worship, what is it? We use the term loosely: “now let’s close with worship.” Or “after worship we’ll begin to…” Is it adoration of the divine, which is the classic meaning of the word? Is it silent meditation, which for those of us a-deists (as opposed to non-deists—i.e., for whom the term deity is irrelevant or unfathomable) is the modus operandi? Supplication and intercession for those of us who believe in prayer? Communication with the heavenly ones? Discernment of direction or leading—asking “what is god’s will for me?” which I believe is fallacious. Is uniformity of understanding and practice even necessary?

Here is relevant info from the dictionary:

noun
• the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity : the worship of God, ancestor worship.
• the acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity; a religious ceremony or ceremonies : the church was opened for public worship.
• adoration or devotion comparable to religious homage, shown toward a person or principle : Krushchev threw the worship of Stalin overboard.
• archaic honor given to someone in recognition of their merit.

verb
show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites : the Maya built jungle pyramids to worship their gods.
• treat (someone or something) with the reverence and adoration appropriate to a deity : she adores her sons and they worship her.
• take part in a religious ceremony : he went to the cathedral because he chose to worship in a spiritually inspiring building.

ORIGIN Old English weorthscipe [worthiness, acknowledgment of worth]

Thesaurus

1 the worship of idols: reverence, veneration, adoration, glorification, glory, exaltation; devotion, praise, thanksgiving, homage, honor; archaic magnification.
2 morning worship service, religious rite, prayer, praise, devotion, religious observance.
3 he contemplated her with worship: admiration, adulation, idolization, lionization, hero-worship.

verb
they worship pagan gods: revere, reverence, venerate, pay homage to, honor, adore, praise, pray to, glorify, exalt, extol; hold dear, cherish, treasure, esteem, adulate, idolize, deify, hero-worship, lionize; follow, look up to; informal put on a pedestal; formal laud; archaic magnify.

All of which suggests at least we should more carefully consider what we are connoting by this term.

This debate or question is related to “holding in the light.” What does that mean? Pray for? Think about? Ask blessing for? Praise?

Our practice is littered with ambiguity. Some may claim this is crucial for keeping us vital and open. Some may feel this is inherently weakening. I realize the group revising Faith and Practice, our guidebook, has grappled with the question of worship and has formulated a response. Which is largely quoting from different sources a variety of interpretations. And perhaps this is a core principle in Quakerism: ambiguity, multiplicity of belief. But perhaps what a fellow Friend once said is apt: those with vague beliefs have nothing to teach.

Peter Crystale’s bible half hours were stirring, entertaining, rich, and broad. He improvised, he was spirit-filled, he was zany, I’m not sure how much substance stuck with me, how elucidating he was about the bible or Christianity or the peace testimony. To ascertain this I’d have to read a transcript or take notes while listening to recordings. Perhaps he has something on-line.

The workshop I attended, Revolutionary Light with Jnana Hodson, was mixed. Day one was about light, day two about the use of metaphor by Quakers, and the last day dealt with the seed. It might have been better organized. I appreciated the range of insights and opinions offered by Jnana and the participants, I would have preferred more personal stories.

One slight insight from the Revolutionary Light workshop: the difference between light shining in, the inward light, and light emitted, shining out, the inner light. The first illuminates the hidden places within, reveals truth about the individual, shakes and disturbs, may also comfort and sustain. In contrast the inner light illumines others, the world, the universe, it is the light of Christ and Buddha shining out thru their teachings. This may be an important distinction, one worth mining further.

A second slight insight: logos. Meaning not only word but logic, point, perspective, insight, essence, meaning. In the beginning was the logos, the point.

Camping this year was more a drag than a delight. The tent leaked on the first night, as much from me forgetting to turn under the ground tarp to prevent trickling under the tent floor as from actual leaks. My heating coil for early morning hot coffee didn’t light the fire—cold morning coffee, no fun. I missed the hospitality camper that the Frechett’s traditionally provided. And there was little camaraderie among the campers, except perhaps with Paul and Martha who once again were my immediate neighbors.

2 dreams: I was watching a performance in 2 parts. After the first I was sure we were done, but no, something large and grand was coming, Bread and Puppet-like, with stilt walkers, chorus, masks, live music. I realized I was sitting to one side, not able to really see the play, altho it had been good seating for the first half. A girl was swinging at the end of a long rope or cable. I feared the cable might snap and she’d be killed. Others were with me, like Mary Hopkins.

In the 2nd dream my bike brake cable had snapped. Since I was near a bike repair shop I decided to drop it off for repair. A young man whom I knew attempted to pull the cable thru the insertion point, failed. I tried helping him, failed. Problem unresolved in the dream, as usual.

For photos I made: the funeral procession, kids a major concentration, especially in the child care unit, clouds and campus, the Iraq vigil, Ernie, peace crane folding, and a few other minor strands. Not much, but something.

One primary dream (during a stream of rich dreaming nights, thank god): I was preparing to conduct a fairly arduous photo field trip with adults. We needed to consider our water sources; some of the students seemed afraid we’d not survive, felt we should carry all our water. I retorted that for the long period we’d be gone this would be impossible. Trust me, I can find the water sources.

We also laid out our prints to examine before beginning. We had little space to do this, crammed into a sort of café or restaurant. I asked students to go on-line and research maps because mine were old. I don’t believe this generated much confidence. Because of the various dangers and trials, I suggested forming teams. Ramming into this preparation was time scarcity: we were to leave imminently and were clearly unprepared.

At sessions all week the sky transformed itself, from overcast to bulbous and back, with many stages in-between. This lent itself to photography, which I practiced when inspired. Tenting prodded me to look skyward since rain, with such a leaky tent, could mean disaster. The campus is relatively high so I could view a wide swath of sky, much like the site for Friends General Conference gathering earlier this year, ringed by mountains.


I snuck in walking whenever possible, another plus of avoiding business meetings. Once down from the camping area thru the parking lot and to the main access road, and once along the small road behind the Unistructure, my old haunt. Not quite as much as some years, or walking as far.

One accidental blessing this year, as occurred last year I believe, was the “Breakfast Club,” Patsy S, Sara Sue P, Bruce K, Fran B, Eleanor who led the aging workshop, and a few others. We headed for the dining tent (smaller than last year because of the dining hall expansion) and found ourselves gathering in the same place, at the same time. Most folks stayed indoors, which seems a lost opportunity for engaging with the earth. Our conversation ranged from business meeting (constant theme of many), aging (a natural since we’re all aged), Bruce’s sorrows (denied tenure, his physical problems), menopause (cut short perhaps out of deference to the 2 males present, tho I was tempted to raise the issue of enlarged prostate), and sundry matters. Very jolly and fun, a joy to have this little club to rely on for companionship.

The consignment store, once again, was mostly a bust for me. One panoramic photo sold, 3 Fellowship of Reconciliation booklets about Palestine/Israel , no Woolman pamphlets, and only 2 of Louise’s books. Dismal. Why do I bother? How can I better format my photos so they sell better?

After viewing numerous couples, a plethora of wedding bands, I feel one major insight I may have gained this year was the value of living a single life. There is much that is laudable about this form of existence—it is more than the absence of a partner. I reviewed the list of single historical figures: Christ, Buddha, Dorothy Day, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, W. Eugene Smith, Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Schweitzer, among them. They not only survived but did very well in their fields. Not that partnering prevents or impedes accomplishment, not that it has any significant effect, altho it can, depending on the relationship. Now I feel less saddened by my losses and disappointments, less envious of those in partnerships.

I appreciate the freedom I have to sleep alone, rise and bed down when I wish, fart and pee during the night, groan, turn over, rustle about without someone like L constantly annoyed with me. Same with eating habits. This level of minor benefits extends to tax redirection, living in relative poverty, traveling, engaging in dangerous projects, working late or early on my photos, enjoying a rich multitude of friendships, and joining or dropping from different communities. There are fewer obligations in the single life.

I miss companionship, I miss sex, deep throated sex that is a true love expression, and I miss commitment.

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress…If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

—Frederick Douglass

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