Volume 8 Waging Peace Issue 2
Volume 8 June 15, 2021 Issue 2
Cover art: Still Life with Goldfish and Lotus
The theme for the summer issue of 2021 is Waging Peace through Common Ground. To wage peace by common ground, we must develop empathy. We must learn to see each other, hear our words, and feel our emotions. This is the work of us as individuals. And we have to then find the links that would allow us to work together on common ground for the common good. And among the pressing common goods that need working, next to and intertwined with social justice and climate change, is peace.
In the past weeks war broke out again here in Israel. While the leaders of Israel and Hammas may demonstrate little empathy for the other side, the people do feel empathy—especially for the children killed, for the children hiding in shelters in fear on both sides. For children missing childhood. Ameen al-Bayed, a Palestinian, and Ester Karen Aida, an Israeli Jew, contribute essays that demonstrate and call for empathy. Both do work in Non-Violent Communication. Other contributors address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well. And still other contributors address a range of topics related to waging peace—from mental well-being to social justice to the environment and more—and the need for common ground.
Finding common ground does not mean agreeing with objectionable, unethical, or criminal ideas and behavior. For me, it means using empathy to understand another person or group of people where possible, and recognizing what beliefs, experiences, and goals we have in common (among other possible commonalities). Before the the war here in Israel a group of political party leaders with seemingly little common ground began forming a coalition, which they completed after the ceasefire. This week a new government was sworn in to replace Benjamin Netanyahu, after 12 years.
For the first time an Israeli-Arab party has joined an Israel government, with a cabinet ministerial post as part of the deal. A far-right religious party leader will have the first term as prime minister in a power-sharing agreement and a centrist party leader the second. The party has left-wing Meretz and centrist-left Labor parties, a strong secularist party and the far-right religious party. This is also the most diverse cabinet in history. Besides unseating Netanyahu, which they succeeded in doing, what could they have in common?
Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and now a columnist for The New York Times, suggests today (15 June) that they have formed a truly democratic coalition built on creating a functioning government that will work together to run the state. They have chosen a pragmatic solution to assure that the government of Israel can move on from a divisive politics headed by Netanyahu to a pragmatic politics. Each party had to let go of platform planks and ideological values while negotiating core issues of the most immediate concern. This is finding common ground.
The government hasn’t been sworn in for even 48 hours as I write this. Its experiment may not work. Possibly, though, this historic government will help a divisive, “blood sport,” politics move into a more inclusive and practical politics that can compromise in the areas we don’t have in common while focusing on moving forward on those areas in most need—our urgent common ground:
May peace prevail on earth.
—Michael Dickel, Editor
With the first issue of our eighth volume (year), you may have noticed some changes. Most of the changes are tweaks here and there to the visible look of the pages. One very visible change is the Table of Contents below. Using a technical, behind-the-scenes tool of WordPress, the entries in our ToC are now automatically generated. As we learn to use the tool better, we will refine the formatting.
Also new since last issue, there is a button at the top of the ToC for browsing the whole issue. If you click on that, you will arrive at the “Cover.” As you scroll down, you will see this Intro and ToC again. However, keep on scrolling and you will be able to see all of the pages of the journal. Just keep scrolling to keep reading.
And, in case you want to come back to the ToC, you will find a button to do just that at the bottom of each content page—it is a small version of Kat Patton’s wonderful cover art.
During this year we will continue to work on the look, feel, and design of The BeZine. This is how we are working to sustain the Zine, in hopes that this will make a better experience for you, our readers.
Table of Contents
Be Inspired…Be Creative…Be Peace…Be
- Beguine Again, a community of Like-Minded People
- The Bardo Group Beguines, Page
- The BeZine 100TPC, Group – Featuring Best Practices
- The BeZine Arts and Humanities, Group – not just for poetry
Art: The Duality of Zen, Kat Patton ©2020
Since this iconic song was written and introduced to the world by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel on their album of the same name, which received the award of Album of the Year in 1971, I cannot think of any point during the fifty years that followed, when it wasn’t making an important contribution to our feelings of wellbeing and solace. Goodness me, what a life this song has had and what service it has done!
My own chorus, the Sheffield based Hallmark of Harmony have, like many musical ensembles, endured this last year of lockdown doing ‘virtual’ rehearsals and occasional recorded performances. Last month, as if tentatively to begin celebrating the gradual lifting of our confinement, we produced our fourth on line project and there was no other song we could choose to represent what we all need in these times than this one. Something that we all need sometimes to get us across troubled waters. We first performed this song nearly three years ago at our 40th anniversary concert at the Sheffield Octagon Theatre with guest quartet, international champions, Instant Classic, who flew across the Atlantic for the weekend of the show to perform it with us. They generously reprised their part for this our, hopefully final virtual offering to the World and of course our very own Tim Briggs consummately provides the solo …
For the sake of humanity, may there always be a bridge for us to cross over and, for goodness sake, let there be peace in this troubled world of ours.
Text ©2021 John Anstie
Performance ©2021 Hallmark of Harmony
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Favorite fish market is again closed.
I can exercise alone in the courtyard.
.שוק הדגים האהוב שוב נסגר
.אני יכולה להתאמן לבד בחצר
©2021 Bob Aron
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Life with hands in pockets, half a pack of cigarettes in them! And with thought in chaos invented by my mind. Walked the road like a body abandoned by itself!
Rising earlier than usual Roosters peck the sunlight Dogs howl like the wolves Crows unsettle the sky. What kind of day is this The one I have to live in?!
My promises All are gone, gone. The memories stay In an empty chair On the terrace of the old house!
©2021 Faruk Buzhala
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If you know who first defined beauty then place it in a poem—plainspeak is too full of fear to be clearly heard.
Tiamat is a figure symbolic of the chaos of primordial creation in the Babylonian creation story.
Jehovah or Not
forgive us for the vowels and consonants we drop in search of shorter words to not trouble us too much, for the daily bread we scatter and our love of sundry illusions that only (and inevitably) shatter the fragile peace between us. Your stones have gathered a reputation for rolling of their own accord—the sand and grit and lime and slate and mud, the crystalline and pressed and baked and cooled are moved by their memories of when you roamed the Earth. Would you sediment in our oceans, accrue beneath our seas, harden as our bedrock so that we may have a better future?
©2021 Roger Hare
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a pulchritudinous sonnet
I am through a superb window—looking. An angel of feeling awakes in me. The dreamy oak-trees stand alway leafless. The native auspicious cue is just large. My scenery—the enchanted verdure. The moony old barn of Ted my dear nuncle. I am looking at a proud throng of crows. They belong to the whiff of every times. The springtide looks so meek-beauteous-fair, first and foremost Morningstar—at night. I daydream springwards window-view withal of a dreamy Ovidian summer gale. Homelike herbage that seems to bewitch all. My cats want to enchant the fantasy. Dreamed subtle morn withal notably.
The spring awakening
The springtide wakes up not only in dreams. The snowdrops blooming in the moony garths. One listens to propitious paradise. The dearest graylag geese coming in flocks. I think of genus Primula from afar. The wild boar piglets were born in a grove. I feel springwards the warmness of a soul. Native dreameries are fulfilled galore. Springtide be primeval home of Naiads! I taste the verdure of some climes. You are dreamy like fairylike bouts. The friends of springy morn—are tender owls. I can praise, bewitch Ovidianly. Thus, I am able to enchant peaceably.
You hound are a starry night over fog, fallen in love with the Epiphany. The moon may be mine! Told the moony dog. With you tender garden—is so dreamy. Bewitchment of stars, your ability. Your hunting is dearer observation. A moonlit night is your eternity. May the soft ghost be in adoration! Roses awoken in glory—starlet. You can taste, listen and feel them galore. Enchant the nectar like druidic glade! It was drunk from Ovidian amphorae. Be, you dog, a heart-shaped meek poet! Broken wings of loneliness are dead.
Lunar time feeling—coll, blackish dreams stealing—light of the moonlets. Caressing dreamery—lies even, blink-sea, weird fell down. The poignant dire deceased became drab comet—sphere have picked warmness. Several she-wolves made terrestrial grave-stones killed the fay? Endlessly nostalgic being—the grief-pang. Hades was followed. Heavenly moony lure become noir. Dream-ethics flies off! However your worm bawls after all. Death-men blubbing so withal. Just the grim Reapers, cold-blooded praise wind-breeze of gone time. The tearful- invincible Goblinlets stars-thieves coming right galore. Sensing the moonylike demise cool-blue song will be free.
The Sonnet of Dreams
Heavenly sailorling spy out the wan light-sheen of star. Baffling unearthly time: weird having just thieved by elves. One of pale mornings longs for some meek fulfillment of night. Moony and nostalgic chums – comets are upon the skies. Lonely dreamery—lying just blink-sea, weird above. Endless nostalgia is being of pang. Hades is fay. Heavenly moony lure, beings seem dark, Ethics fly off! Poignant decease has become drab black, comet has picked rain. The glow, which is deathless, at length in the sadness full bane. Grim Reaper loves more than You dream—a bit lights of the worms. Marvel of starlit night: I have found a little of my name. Starry night—dreamy glow are only in the tender souls. Sensing the moonlet, demise of cool-blue song will be free. Your worm bawls after all certainly. Death blubbing like me.
alway – archaic: always
bout – dance
cue – archaic: mood
garth – archaic: garden
nuncle – archaic: uncle
pulchritudinous – beautiful
©2021 Paweł Markiewicz
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Art: Peace, Kat Patton ©2021
Musings Of A Mental Asylum
I stand tall but not proud Since people look at me with awe Those who cross my gates Considered insane Silence has no say here Only the dead can stay Long in silence But tell me Who might need the dead more Than the newly built coffins? I am not a coffin, but a cocoon from which new butterflies Find strength to fly out. I long for their groans, growls Cries and talks Full of life and thoughts Many here live, but considered dead Even by their kith and kin I never care for they are mine My walls ever longing for their voices Even the soft creepy whispers Can bounce on my walls To ease their solitary fears A heartbroken teenager with love more Precious than life Whose act of bravery Brought him to me Romeo can give up His life to applause Only on a man-built stage Not the ones set by God An employee who finds it Monotonous to follow Routine Who despised patterns Of no meaning Perhaps it might have been better Had the sane men Stayed the same in life Without changes Just like those patterns. An old man in grey hairs Just gave up on by his heirs With shattered memories Try to build the jigsaw of the past Beautiful moments when His heirs were young Only to pain him again That they were his kids once. Even little cute kids Come nowadays Who refused to wear glasses And constantly stare at iPad lessons They asked what, why, when And paused for an answer While in a rat race Curiosity never took them to Mars But for an occasional visit to me There once was a man Who liked to see and talk to men But none had time nor ears He claimed he saw God And heard Him talk Once within my comfort zone He could talk to real men And slowly God left him Tell me one moment Of civil war that broke out From an asylum ever. Real wars start (In)sane world out my walls Empathy, sympathy, compassion and care Takes humanity out on a tour Men who progressed Owned them in the past Now Reduced to caretakers alone It is still better for me to be an asylum For Far more insane are those who stay out
Thoughts like soldiers marching Over my neurons Thoughts of fear, worry and what not else Dancing inside my head Telling me to die off I try to laugh away and smile on To live, if not for me For those bugging thoughts Need a head to be alive If I just give up, They'd be wandering Down the streets To find a new abode, like soldiers marching Over my neurons Thoughts of fear, worry and what not else Dancing inside my head Telling me to die off I try to laugh away and smile on To live, if not for me For those bugging thoughts Need a head to be alive If I just give up, They'd be wandering Down the streets To find a new abode.
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What do you do when a hopeful dream begins to fray and leaves you wanting more than all the things that thrill heart-warming, precious moments that may not overspill beyond the passing of another, special day. So drink to life as if it has a happy end share it even if it were not yours to share and then, if you don’t have enough of it to spare of fortune’s favours to reach out to a special friend ... Sing riffle, ruffle, shuffle, muffle and divide bobble, bubble, babble, rabble, don’t be terse ripple, topple, tipple and tumble into verse ... a place where harmony and dissonance collide. The air now full of music, of tales that soon unfold the gasping tortured spirits, grasping at their last soul raking and heart breaking tales of one life past and stories that would otherwise ... remain untold. Then how do we narrate the things that burst the soul these uncontainable urges, are they all for you or are they all for me, or both? So what’s to do ... let’s dance together, do all the things that make us whole.
©2021 John Anstie
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Who prefers the spring
likens winter to the dark
autumn to passing
Kicking leaves and brash
a winter walk in the woods
cleansing the spirit
Listening to birds
heralds of summer spawning
©2021 John Anstie
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How to make sense of it? I will try. But this we know at least 45 dead, children too all trampled, crushed suffocated in a stampede in a narrow corridor on Mount Meron where 100,000 Haredi Jews, those who tremble at the word of God, came to commemorate at his supposed tomb the assumed anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai mystic of the 2nd century of whom it is told that his criticism of Roman rule marked him for execution, and forced him to hide in a cavern for thirteen years surviving on only dates and carob fruit and that finally one day seeing a bird flying free from a net set by a hunter Shimon took the bird’s escape as an omen that God would not forsake him and he too made his escape. The great sage died it is said On the 33rd day of the counting Of the Omer, that time between The holiday of Passover and The Feast of Weeks, a harvest festival, when according to tradition Moses brought down from Mount Sinai the Word of God to The Children of Israel, and this 33rd day is called Lag B’Omer a day to rejoice, as all petitions shall be answered as it is believed on that very day of his death bar Yochai revealed the secrets of the mystical Kabbalah, bringing light into the world for which the fervent set bonfires, dancing, singing chanting ecstatically through the night remembering the words he uttered that anyone who sees Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is certain that he will be in the World to Come.
It is difficult to understand another’s passion for their beliefs which leads them to do that which appears so foreign to so many. We need to focus on that which binds us as humans. We need to reconsider viewing others solely as to their difference. This poem attempts to view the matter with an appreciation for the depth of belief which leads to such a strong commitment to act in a certain way, even to the point of discounting potential untoward consequences.
©2021 Howard Richard Debs
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I heard tomorrow and felt today. —William Staff Willows breathe the slow release of winter quietly speaking to each other. Time, stillness, movement high— soundless. Today tastes ever-smooth as restless birds glide taming waves of wind. Tomorrow is coming… or is already around.
For Later—For Later
old friends—before and after comings–partings words leave as if nothing has happened most of my life ago calm, flowing, feeding and feeling with some grace in the changes towards these I move and falter bending much—yielding less a surprise in knowing that yes, elsewhere is waiting echoing the days far away sometimes I look up with questions into this tall world with anchors tethered to the next
“…who, in their eagerness to embrace spring, have mistaken hope for a promise—Pat Janus The old pond restores again and geese vee in return. Just now, as a promising breeze lifts, the naked woods begin to green. And, I too go on as twilight lengthens lit and listening.
©2021 Judy DeCroce
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Shall we learn the lessons of chlorophyll? How it holds the hands of fire and water, combines their incompatible tempers for a weight of photosynthesis heavy enough to turn the Earth? Will we engage the sensibility of those who can compose a tune? Set alongside each other notes of different strength and tone that for the sake of the stave will work together and not apart? Adversarial breaths that ventilate around a task in common demonstrate they dissipate their rage better side-by-side than face-to-face.
The B Side
Brutality and bias both begin with the letter b, like banner, bigot, baton, bled, bleed, bleeding red on the pavement again, bent by beliefs of the unbending. Hear the blue blues butterfly-heartache of those names stained without cause, bone-weary with building bridges brought to nothing over rivers every bit as bright as any other body. Allow their breeze to fill your sails, to carry us together to the other side; a place we cannot reach a- part.
Adaptation of a poem that first appeared in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ anthology published 2020 by Civic Leicester.
©2021 Roger Hare
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I’m told there will come a time when all will be revealed, that moment just before you leave where the Universe gives it up to your virgin consciousness and you go, ahhhhh…. And as great as that sounds, you’ll note that your expression of finally acquiring that enlightenment comes in an exhalation, more than likely your last. I know that doesn’t sound fair, but once you discover what all this back-breaking, toil and trouble life was for, let alone about, what else is there but to sound a short A? Unless it’s a long ohhhhhh. I suppose that’s why I intend to hold my breath like a five-year-old who won’t eat his Brussels sprouts on that day when the Universe comes a’knocking with my serving of The Way, as the Buddhists might intone. They call it nirvāṇa, which is Sanskrit for “blowing out.” That’s kind of what I’ve been saying, only with an ahhhhh rather than an ohmmm. Another translation is “liberation,” which sounds so much better, because I’d rather be freed from this troubled coil, than blown out again like a rotten basketball team, or permanently, like a candle. Ohm, shanti, shanti, shanti, y’all. (Just in case.)
For those of us who don’t know Sanskrit, and I only know enough to get through a beginner’s yoga practice video, “Shanti” means “Peace.” So, I bid you all peace because we sure as hell need it. And so do I. So do I.
©2021 Joseph Hesch
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Sometimes I wonder if I ever actually felt her warmth, sensed her, breathed her in. I look back and question any place in my life where I stood in her presence, held her, or she held me. I wonder if she was nothing more than a dream I had, when I still had dreams, an ideal that kept me on a path to be the nice polite boy and good strong man, since that was the way they said one took to win her favor. But I never did experience her love and, like most sore losers, I have doubts now she even exists. Perhaps, in this, my last dream, if I stopped searching so hard, one day Peace will find me.
©2021 Joseph Hesch
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you have sworn to cut us asunder and scoop out a nation flowing with milk and honey circumcise the hearts of our sons they are no longer led by drunks they are now old enough to withstand costly battles to drag their father’s ghost by it’s collar men who willfully wasted away in this wilderness let your love fall like rain from the heavens let your harvest bring forth tender vine roll away their shame of enslavement scrape from the bosom of their rot tyranny that will accompany withered desire become again manna, appearing from dew, upon the roofs of our palette.
i once came across an unusual apparition whose hair strands were made of chrome it was filled to its brim measure with mangroves of dishevel thistle and torn and definitely weighed a hefty tonne she painfully crawled towards me shedding profuse tears from the corner of her brow high-jacked with the broadest of resilient candor i couldn't believe my whole eyes her laughter in its midst had an effervescent effect on my entire life's perspective i raised her up till her lifeless feet dangled lazily it infused more seriousness to the texture in her tone she gave me a gentle peck on my right cheek and whispered into my left english speaking ears "Life is whatever you decide of it…" i tried to comprehend..but it was too late i never even had the chance to say goodbye she had already permeated inside every iota of me leaving her monstrous baggage astride the foot of the Cross…
©2017–2021 Chinedu Jonathan
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‘a holy whirlpool spins in your river’ —Enheduanna
I enlist this river's mineral bed; whose damp air manipulates bone-body shape, whose discharged oracle once roughly bled a shrieking carpet of dust, rolled swiftly out, reconfiguring motes its water-shade laid in fire-glyphs seared on the river's parched mud. When Alexander sucked the poison root, pleading to know if his tongue wrinkled stone, sweating in semi-precious types of light, he faced the whirlpool's voice-clot - found it mute; circling earthy patterns of thoughtful doubt, looping the river's underwritten knot. How brightly the dust-wet whirlpool flares, half-immersed in halo-bone. Many faces drawn, disperse, whose deeds of kindness, are water-written. I lift the river to my mouth—find it bitter— I weep, rivers dry: when I rise, rivers rise, their fierce burns refreshing my flame-filled eyes. Astonishments of fire, astonishments of blood. Where Woolf's softening skull blunders dim rock thud; turning on her shoeless heel, dead Li Po, whose eyes roll black to blue, staring in moon-sunk glow: self-possessed of sleep in flame, river-thrown in burning water, where all poets drown.
Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 The Verb in 2019 for programme ‘Along the River’ and subsequently published in Blackwell’s Poetry No. 1, 2020.
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the circle sings a round of protest marchers crash through the square but my heart thumps its own protest signs on for love to an open-ended slog my masked mummer of doubt riots through gardens of deception knocks down arrogant losers posers without shame slashes sloganed preconceptions and my iconolatry falls riddled with pangs racking enough to put my passive life at risk forcing me to tuck this unfathomable world tightly inside my once restricted embrace
©2021 Jane Kennedy Mitchell
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no matter how much rain falls
you will be all right recall spring while nature whispers to a waiting field all those secrets soaked faithfully nudging a belief in growth in peace, sowing trust leaning forward; like a monk dropping seed keeping that final vow Published first by The Remnant Archive, September 2020
If There’s a Better Tomorrow
If we count back to zero, if we call to the spaces beyond, and trek the stars that follow. Which of our dreams, should we offer— to a long winter’s night? Let’s remember… “what (was) usual is not what is always.” —Jane Hirshfield Published first by Green Ink Poetry, December 2020
Waiting Out the Storm
My friends afford me the comfort of their absence. Sometimes a week or months go by. Then when I feel alone, I remember somewhere out there, in that other place, someone still cares. This was a time of need and fear, divisiveness and protests. It was a time of followers, idiots, leaders believing their own lies and doubling down. It was ridiculous. It was a time for waiting with little space for hope. I worried and felt shame. In other years— at lunches among old friends I’d nod, seemingly attentive, listening to past cons, a rant, some rehashed excuses, as misguided comments circled the table. Opinions simmered— but not mine. When finished everyone leaned back eyes checking for approval. And I sat silent, knowing less, about whom, I thought I knew most. In that breather, I took stock of the present. The unending fires, super hurricanes and floods, oceans choking in plastic, desperate cities looking out of war, and ice shelves becoming history. (Yes, all that.) My mind is too small to hold without a pause button. It’s easier remembering how rain quenches, restores. But winter, (Oh God!) winter has no time for old men. Wait we must, then shovel our penances. In a storm, the world disappears, and in spring, with enough faith, we’ll find it again. Published first by The Confessionalist Zine, November, 2020
©2021 Antonio Ooto
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I Along the Douro toward Salamanca, faces rise from books, tables are pushed together, destinations are forgotten and new conversations begin - in a rush at first - as the daylight dies. Across Hangzhou Bay the bridge rises and dips, breezes murmur with relaxed laughter; children greet elders in low voices and begin musing together about changes they'll make. Over dunes, vines, and bush to the southern Cape, friends shake their heads while strolling quietly together; their quick eyes glow with joy in the charged air as they reveal their hidden ideas. Down the Cordillera Central into its vast basin, the infirm rise in their beds on thin arms and smile, glad in the end to know the rhythm of peace in their own limbs and in others’ talk. From the Gulf’s warm waters to windswept tundra, we’ll walk toward each other, leaving our doors open on meetings that grow animated with voices over food provided for the common cause. II Even now, we hear of suicides foregoing their sacrifices. Even the victimizers have let themselves be led beyond harm. Even the wealthy turn from their tragic course in good faith. Worship begins anew, awkwardly at first, among total strangers. Work slows into worship as neighbors relinquish their silence. War blooms into work as everyone’s speeches are heard through. III The winds of common love blow warmly from the pages of the books we open to new convictions. We awake crowded into others’ lives, into the honeyed rising of complex harmonies in our own voices, like nothing we have ever heard so close. The ends of days leave room for us to go rummaging through old, native inflections to forge a useful past, attentive to accidental insults we may offer, and ready for correction. The lakes of our hearts are now joined in trust and we embark safely, even if at times the waters toss and our oars miss. We can hardly believe that we used to call other people “total strangers”; we turn from the past in the weariness we shake from our hearts and hands, always eager to get to preliminaries, like those first long looks into the eyes of those who’ve wronged us, or devising lists on how to prepare old homes for new guests. Having surveyed our outworn furnishings, once dear to us, we prepare to remake them entirely as we put up new calendars, though phrases including the word “repair” seem to creep more often into our talk. Likewise, the news from elsewhere sounds just like our own, playing lightly over the meals we prepare together but might take alone, whichever mood strikes us, remarking to those at hand, especially ourselves, how many days we’ve spent at the peripheries of others’ lives, with friends, friends of friends, in melting crowds, during single encounters and on chance convergences, as in plans laid to fill an afternoon, trading current references for an hour, or even some of our better stories if the visit lasted the better part of a day, in homes we've entered exactly once, hellos we never followed up on or renewed, but that wander now back into our thoughts, like the slower- moving distances in a view gliding out beyond the nearer, racing verge even as we travel toward similar outings right in the midst of the vastness we used to call “a race,” outings with the once-met who think of us too and who, we hear, are going to join us in nursing back to health the rooms we all love but that still stand empty for most of each day. Someone mentions “heaven” and we all laugh, then go our ways. IV The rules, if you can call them that, for our conduct are self- evident: axioms for good conversation and intelligent means for spotting a good plan: one from which we can extricate what matters most, if need be. You may have to tilt your head just so to understand how all this works; it's easier if you assume the posture you were in when you first realized you were “growing up,” even if this seems like a story you’ve only overheard somewhere. They are as easy to attend to as one’s breathing, so it takes practice. Now and then a fear might grip you; shudder, if you must, then resume. V Most at stake, of course, are the children, all around us as we work. We don’t want to destroy them in our embrace, like the angels hovering at the opening of Rilke’s First Elegy, but how can we preserve these new insights even as we shed habits that still lie about the grounds now like snares, and to keep them from the fates we would otherwise rush toward headlong in self-sacrifice? As though we had a choice! But we can absorb these questions later. Let’s walk together a little further as we talk. The children can mind themselves, and the lowering light will just now be catching the bluebells in the beech groves. It’s really as though some music were playing at the shore of a bay that leads to broad, open waters beyond. Here - here’s the way.
©2021 Stuart Patterson
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Peace is an action word. The yogi lying in savasana, the meditater, the worshiper, the nature lover know quietude, but theirs is imperfect peace. In our world of countries saddled with bitterness and hate, imperfect peace is the best peaceable countries can know. Peace is an action word calming others’ fears, seeking solutions to strife, furthering the common good. Only by peacing together our one human family can we finally say peace nears, peace is at hand.
Like the Willow
What must be done when venomous discord coils about the branches of one’s family tree? Little help perjuring belief, insisting it’s merely wind’s hiss or leafy innuendos we hear, not contention’s noxious voice. And what good pruning limbs? Discord’s poison planted, all limbs are stricken: the whole tree suffers. Look to love, most patient love, that chemistry of shared blood, to reclaim lost harmonies, grant the tree its growth— Like the willow, family is resilient: its members may toss and weep, assailed by stormy weather, yet love’s roots will to prevail.
Why Had We Fought?
My enemy and I, grappling among weeds, failed to see a pit into which we plunged. Hurting from our fall, we kept to opposite sides in that dark, dank hole, glaring hatefully at each other. Overhead, the surface loomed beyond our combined height. Beside us lay the remains of a deer that must have crashed through the pit’s flimsy cover rotting in pieces about us. Our breaths returning, we called out. No one answered. Our only hope rested with each other.
The pit likely had served as an ancient cistern. Eroded bricks jutted from its sides. Seeing the task before us, we began sullenly to fashion a platform from which one of us might loft the other skyward. Unspoken went the question: who would be lofted? We worked with distrust, checking our anger.
As the first day passed into the second, and our bodies weakened from lack of food or water, we began guardedly to speak—first, how best to bolster our crude platform, then about our families. Time and our waning strength worked against us as we clawed bricks from the cistern wall and mounded them with dirt to increase our platform’s height. Even in the night’s darkness, we worked by feel, our bodies bumping against each other as we furthered our plan.
On the third day we made our attempt. The question weighed heavily between us: who first would rise toward freedom? We sat quietly, staring in the gloom at each other. Finally, we drew a circle in the dirt. My enemy’s pebble landed closest to the center. I would do the lifting. He vowed to return.
I knelt on our makeshift platform, and he climbed atop my shoulders. Slowly I struggled to standing, raising him up. Though I couldn’t see his progress, I heard him straining to reach a handhold, felt his weight slowly lift from my shoulders—and I knew he’d gone over the top.
I waited, fearing I’d been left to die. Would I have returned? But at last a knotted rope trailed down to me—he’d kept his word
Once we stood together at the surface, we peered down into the prison from which we’d raised each other. We shook hands, our eyes meeting. Why had we fought? Parting without rancor, we returned to our families, never to fight again.
©2021 Darrell Petska
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Once The Leader Leaves
The leader has left. The pennon withers With the ebbing wind. Flowers beneath our shoes, Sandwiches served on paper-plates So thin that even My untrimmed nail Can slash through their truths, And I ask where we stand Now that the words are gone, And the oration is silent. My friend munches on. A dragonfly thins out Into the space where our eyes go, Seek nothing but find peace.
“Any man’s death diminishes me”- John Donne
In our springtime amble We see a dule of peace-birds Wash the strip of the sky Between two in-between places – Their burial ground, and our Cremation pier. The vesper left some fragrance. I love it, albeit it makes me sneeze. “Look,” I show my daughter Those shadows that follow us, “we are so small to own those.” She shivers, remembers The latest death amongst our kin, And because she has been Watching TV series she imagines The glacial metalline trays our niece Might have slept before they decide Her flesh can be cremated. A few feathers swirl en arriére. Silence is the common ground We stroll, shaken and sad as only Human can be, and yet peaceful, Perturbed, thinking about our race Growing and diminishing – a paradox.
Time Has It Hands In The Fire and On The Frost
The bird, I imagine, asks how long the bard'll go on scrivening about those stolen kisses he missed as a young man. From the street beneath my verandah, a vagrant upturns his palms. Money? No, he shows his scald. Time has touched both the fire and the frost; does the man feel the veins swelled with the pride for his battle marks? Almost spring, the bipolar wind inoculates two minds I think with, and I think about the bird of the morning and the man without a home, and those two minds fight against the starry starry night and chasing crows inside. Time feeds two serpents. Some rumours of the summer lure you to open the curtains. A flyer flies in. Don't pick up. I scream. We didn't discover any vaccine for belief.
©2021 Kushal Poddar
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Wishes Too, Are Protests
On the day following the National Military Pride Day, the dead men and women reincarnate, some as the crows on the yellow painted barricades, and some as scavengers cleaning the meat they were, but that day, when the tanks and bayonets march like strange phallus cairns from a tribe soon some other will replace, they have more than flesh on their piths – those dreams and dreads unfulfilled they carried are reborn too. Beware of those. Billows whisper.
Spring Morning, 2021
The morning sun, if you play with words and whisper with still-life lips, 'Golden shower.' swishes through your arm hair, and inside, an unreal siren shrieks and squeals - Tide is coming albeit, too late, you wreck and sink. I hold you, also feeling erotic. Morning, and yet the cats caterwaul. Either they're mating or have seen what no mortal should see. Below, in our weeds bed, dandelions burst like suicide bombers. Someone sneezes in our plain.
On the unfading pillow we lie; hands, my hands, now bark at the night spread across the walls of this room; my daughter holds the torch; now my hands fly to join the folk it will miss - it always will. What should my hands do? My daughter moulds those into the rugged back of a crocodile, and or time that devours the mountains, or the mountains that swells out of the sea depths.
Full Moon, Springtime 2021
The reflection of the moon at its peak looks like a before & after photography, not a pair of fake shots used for selling something, but one real you stumble upon in a spring cleaning. The water seems more smoke and less mirror one moment, and more mirror and less smoke the next. Anyway, you would have thought the scene fake, and yet loved to show the same to your best friend. You cannot do so in this virus outbreak, but that doesn’t explain why you do not call him, why sometimes coming out and staring at the lake is the only thing you do other than washing hands.
©2021 Kushal Poddar
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If you knew Your whole family would die tomorrow, From a senseless war not of your making, Would you wage peace, For just one day, To keep your heart, From needlessly breaking? If I knew Next week would poison rivers, the air, Turned toxic by corporate dumping, pollution, Would I wage peace, For just one week, Use my money instead, For a “Greener” solution? If we knew Plants and animals would die next month, Climate Change pushing them past the brink, Would we wage peace, For just one month, Wage peace for the planet, Could we do it, you think? You, I, We, Us, What will it take to make us care? A day? A week? A month? A year? Whole continents burning, unbreathable air, Fishless oceans, concrete leaving all lands bereft, Endless bodies, choked rubble from War’s bloody fare, By the time we wage peace, who and what will be left?
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Come in. My door is open The windows uncovered Be you friend or stranger The enemy of ignorance My table, round A circle of friends and strangers Enemies breaking bread I´ll pour you Italian espresso You bring the baclava from Beirut We will discuss the differences Of olives Big and small Green and black Let us chew on the options You be the Muslim I´ll be the Jew I´ll poem, you sing We shall dance before an open window For all the world to know That we can I shall follow you To your city To your house I carry flowers A curious manner A wish to know Your tastes, the aromas of your kitchen The chatter of children The photos you hang Faces of they whom you carry In your heart An old man dies A child is born You tell me stories I tell mine Both of us discharging the shit Of our lives in a world gone mad with itself Spilling our laughter and pain When evening descends We find ourselves Alone in the still ambiance Of a solitude shared When I take my leave of you I will carry your voice Your soft eyes Landing in mine My breath in halt In that moment of Wordless silence Of discovery We share the grace Night birds call To waxing stars All the world around The grace of peace I will carry your city On the map of my memory Carry your voice In conversations on the bus I will carry your smile As a work of art We shall both Be changed For the rest of time From my grave to yours We shall rise in the heat of battle To run on the waters Fly on the winds To the heat of battles Angels of deliverance Summoning our descendants To lay down the fear Pick up the torch That lights the way The way we had trod To the crossroad of Fulfillment Complete and calling All the children home
from We Want Everything, Onslaught Press, 2016
©2021 Moe Seager
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The Irony of Plowshares
In the Middle East If you want to prepare for peace You must first prepare for war Because peace must be waged With the same seriousness of intent as war And there are as many obstacles and pitfalls On the path to peace as there are along the path to war. A weak man cannot forge peace because His weakness tempts his enemies to attack And weak are the sabre rattlers Hoping to frighten their enemies With simulations of disproportionate force. Their fears and uncertainties blind them To the path of peace. Only a strong man is confident and sees clearly. He walks calmly along the path Narrow as the razor's edge. The path to peace meanders through Gaza Where we've been eyeless and Our plow shares will be made out of swords, Neither flowers Nor gentle breezes. September 28, 2016
Ode to the Common Man
This is not a tale that Homer’d tell of Achilles, hero of the Achaean army, Paris, jack of hearts and Troy’s downfall, Or Odysseus, errant lord of Ithaca, No, this is an ode to common men On whose backs history marches But of whom little or nothing is recorded, Who follow heroes to untimely deaths, Who mimic their brave gestures and rousing phrases Until a roar rises up from countless throats To cow those who would think more rationally, Common men who stand against uncommon men, Common men who march stridently in endless waves Toward the future facing backward, Common men who’d be their heroes If only they were common too. December 30, 2019
In the Valley of Elah
In the Valley of Elah, not far from Gat A young Philistine puts a smooth stone In the pouch of his sling with one hand, Pulls the leather thongs taut with his other hand, And swings the stone over his head, Releasing its lethal trajectory At a squad of helmeted shielded soldiers Patrolling the rocky hills. It is always the same play – Sometimes we are David and Sometimes we are Goliath. February 12, 2021
©2021 Mike Stone
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What’s a Generation?
Twenty years 325,980 bombs Sent away From these United States. But sent towards? Towards a bigger empire, A wealthier portfolio, Another generation Trained to defend A cruel nation.
Song of the Living Dead
The living Bury ourselves in shame Of pipeline trenches dug. The living are ripped Jaggedly, lengthwise; symmetry undone By fracking. The salt of the living Bleeds, nuclear waste Leaking into ocean waters. The living mourn the loss Of nature’s bountiful song, Supplanted by the drone strikes of the dead.
Remind me, Your anger Is fear. It will Help me Read Unarticulated words on The page of your Heart, pore over Them as I would my own, To set aside ugly faces, Translate Them into vulnerability; Vulnerability Into tenderness; Tenderness, relatability – Where we are one – Where we know Each other’s words so well we can, finally, grow.
©2021 Samantha Terrell
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My peace plant has Two American flags stuck in. I like to imagine One flag for peace abroad, The other – peace at home. But imaginations are A dangerous thing, Causing us to look for answers. And, much to my chagrin, Sometimes reality Is scarier than pretend.
Skin color, Gender, Size up my bank account. Weed-smoker, Ex-offender, Size up his bank account. Drifters, Loners, Size up their bank accounts. Pedophile? Peacemaker? Equals in eyes Who size up where power lies.
I’m Not Qualified to Pray for Peace
Maybe To pray for peace Is too bold and ambitious, When we know not what it means. Maybe instead, The prayers and hopes to offer Would be for the wealthy To be generous with their coffers; For the injured and diseased To find relief from their pain; Or, for drought-laden countries To get their share of rain. Maybe we should pray for safety For the world’s children, Instead of praying for peace To do a magic-trick in volatile regions. Or, we could pray for cooperation Amongst all cultures, nations and religions, Rather than generic peace treaties Which become tools of derision. And, if we pray for fewer Loaded guns, less animosity, We might begin to understand this Loaded word called peace.
©2021 Samantha Terrell
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Solar fairy lights are draped over bean poles scattered in bushes, hang from trees Small children snuggle in huge sleeping bags are tucked into tiny pop-up tents, cocooned in strollers Mums and Mums, Mums and Dads, Dads and Dads relax together By the trees, Ska is playing on a bluetooth speaker while a Steel Band sets up with the Rock Choir Someone somewhere being is burning the Jerk Chicken Nan Breads steam on tables people sit on blankets swapping delicacies, favourite snacks spices pervade the air Morris dancing is being committed, I hear the tinkle of bells my wife goes to find them, laughing Several Turkish families munching kebabs are encircling two wrestlers covered in olive oil who slip and slide on the grass, struggling to grip as a wider audience gathers Solar streetlights proclaim party, the Mosque draped them in thin scarves to colour our night We are reconnecting, reclaiming the night and ourselves while older kids are transfixed by all the moths most of the local wildlife is probably putting paws over furry ears, heads under wings and muttering sod off The Banghra dancers are warming up to the booming dollop dollop of their large drums The local likely lads, all ready to strut their stuff to rhyme and patter at the microphone are laughing hard at something. I go over to see what's up It's all a Rap they tell me can't you see? Raucous all-night picnic.
Love Thy Neighbour
"We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside" Amanda Gorman It’s hard, he doesn't like people my colour but we have all been through hard times we are now waiting for the future wanting it to be good, we all need care, attention. I've been shopping for him since the virus first came been trying to prize him from his flat all that stuff piled high can't be healthy. Today the lifts work since the community maintenance, they been good. Today I got him to the park, reckon he needs fresh air. And he came alive, started walking faster went up to the trees, saying robin blackbird, well I misunderstood at first racist begger I muttered. Then, he turned, pointed up at some bird hovering said Kestrel, and I realised he knows this nature stuff. Suddenly he was naming butterflies hey, bloody butterflies have names that are as beautiful as they are. And I realised when you name them, they are more real. We spent a sunny afternoon wandering me learning so much. Then the kids came out of school flooded through, stopped, actually listened began repeating the names. He goes to all the local schools now tells everyone about birds, butterflies, moths, worms. God, worms are important really they are we need them to grow food. He calls me his Princess these days, old devil, says I gave him a new life. Well, that's what we all want.
The other friend I told you about
He can show me which doorway to sleep in and where the bins have good eating. I have that little place I know where they do the best Takoyaki. He tells me the names of all the constellations and the stars within them, I explain how solar panels can be made so thin and he understands. He’s seen stuff well I have too, but he can’t see that yet. I’m afraid to touch him in case I catch something, he’s afraid I’ll call the Police. We often meet in the beer garden sip lemonade “Yeah, I got lemons, didn’t I?” he says ruefully. His eyes can glitter with assumptions resentments. Our thoughts about each other dance round and round and round. I took him to the theatre he knew the names of the lights in the rig above us, could quote the play. He took me to gospel choir got me to sing, I knew the words. We talk about how we met, by the canal, feeding ducks. He told me off for giving them bread. We found we had lots in common all those things we are interested in. He tells me a lot, perhaps everything, whether I believe him is immaterial. I talk about family and he walks away. We miss each other after a while, meet up again.
©2021 Kim Whysall-Hammond
All rights reserved
Art: Pines, Ester Karen Aida ©2021
A Letter to an American Friend
originally written in 2017
In January 2017 I went to Beit Jala, a Palestinian town close to Bethlehem, for an International Intensive Training of nine days, to study Non-Violent Communication. NVC, the brain-child of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, is known as a ‘language of the heart’ which enables compassionate connection with oneself and others.
It’s also a set of skills including both careful listening, and advocacy for one’s own needs. The training session I attended was designed as an experiment in living and working together, and I’ve wanted to recount to you a few of the moments during that time that stuck with me, from nightmarish—in prolonged awareness of suffering and bloodshed—to inspiring.
I’ve been thinking of the painful social rifts both here in Israel and in the US. The problems can feel hopelessly complex when considered strategically, even as a lot of people are working very hard to solve them. And yet it seems strange now in the telling: I confess to feeling low because this international group I only just met has dispersed. We flocked and clumped at the coffee urn or on the stairs, padding out of our rooms of a morning in the guest house together. We challenged one another to expand our minds and hearts- not self-consciously, it happened simply, moved by one another’s stories and the practice of active listening. Given the reality you report, this sense seems—with a rush—all the sweeter.
I need so much to try to understand what has made our close group connection possible.
Given that I’m a woman close to 50, pushing a walker, I was oddly at an advantage in a group of strangers who want to begin to understand each other- for the part of our group under the age of 30, they must know I won’t actually tell them they should wear shoes on the cold tile– but I wanted to. It was easy to connect with the middle-aged Palestinians, some of whom are community leaders, and many of whom are not new to Non-Violent Communication. When I asked how their neighbors take to their chatting up Israelis, several replied, I am respected within my community.
Our informal conversations take place in Hebrew. Not my native tongue, not usually theirs. It’s amusing and frustrating by turns. And in that initial brokenness there is less of the extraneous. Like having a speech impediment, the only thing worth the effort, at length, is to speak one’s truth. If our conversations are a walk together along a path, we are three faces with one seeing heart between us, we’re the lame, ancient ones of Rabbi Nachman’s Tales.
“ —Is that what you mean?” The careful attention and constant feedback required just to get my friend’s literal meaning straight proves a good model: I am also learning to check whether I accurately get what she feels underlying her words.
My question as to how others will be received at home is also background to something I don’t completely understand yet for myself. I made a choice as to how to present myself which I had not thought out carefully before arriving at the conference.
I am part of a small minority of relative liberals in my neighborhood, a National-Religious community within a more-traditional area of Jerusalem. When I voice views that are inclusive towards Arabs, neighbors often want to re-direct me into awareness that it’s a harsh reality: they want to kill us. Or, the ‘silent majority,’ they’ll say, if it exists, has no power over the brainwashing of Hamas. As voiced on my street these are not usually angry messages, nor vengeant. I too, do not want to perpetuate these images by stating them—it’s that it is crucially important to hear in them real fear, and concern for safety. Possibly there’s a subtext too of despair expressed as cynicism? What’s going on with those people on the other side? There is no one to talk to.
It’s both their steadfast hope in some unknown other ‘to talk to’- a commitment to the human spirit, together with the vulnerability of this position; and the taking up of individual power by no longer being silent, that causes me to feel that I’ve stumbled upon a cadre of heroes in the Palestinian women and men clustered in stuffed chairs in the Talitha Kumi hotel lobby.
Well, there I was, at a training group of roughly 100 people. And while in my daily life I’m humored by my community of religious zionists, here I was part of an even mix of Palestinians and Israelis, plus some who are neither, some who are both- with two other observant Jews. And there were a few Israeli settlers. I was one of the closest, for having spent seven years in Tekoa, and in belonging to a community which believes that God, through history, having returned the Jewish people to our homeland, is the beginnings of an eschatological shift toward humanity’s redemption. (Does it need saying? —there is no Jewish scriptural source and no commandment which requires excluding groups other than Jews from living in modern Israel.) The only voice in the room courageous enough to speak for the Jewish ancient love for the Land of Israel, and their right to belong here, came from a liberal Jew from Australia; how could I Iet him unpopularly represent us, alone?
After he had led the way I told our group, I expect that the Palestinians did not come to a non-violent communication session to speak only to those who agree with them- what kind of training would that be?
Later I learned that there is a phrase, “eating humus together,” which the activists-among-activists use for a sort of complacency that can develop among left-wing Israelis and Arabs.
The skills that we have been learning do not focus on debating our ideologies. I think you got it: a path of the heart—in any case I would be at a loss in trying to think my way out of this wet paper bag! How remarkable that these same Palestinian friends, some of whom have spent years in Israeli prisons, are still talking to me at the line-up to the coffee urn.
I feel confused because while my religious lifestyle may look outwardly extreme or dogmatic, I don’t resonate to those descriptions, but to the ethical concern I have seen in Jewish tradition, and the spiritual wisdom of rabbinic tradition. And now I have a bunch of people who may think I’m a radical ideologue of the right, yet I spend most of my time when the Arab-Israeli conflict hits the news, debriefing my children in the face of strong judgements they hear around them.
As I say, many of the senior Palestinians who attended, are focused, committed to using NVC in communal life. Economic factors and peer pressure can both be prohibitive. Some of the Arabic-speakers already use NVC regularly and teach regional workshops in the skills—in Mazen’s case, also from his home. He and one school principal—whom I admire for her measured words—have been involved in NVC for some  years.
If the factors stacked against them for the Palestinian participants cause them to be present in a more concrete way, for other participants, the deeper needs that brought them here vary. There were Jews from around the world, and very altruistic Americans and Europeans—8 individuals who were not Muslim, nor Jewish—these people often brought the particularly calm wisdom of distance. Many Israelis hoped to use NVC to enrich their personal lives, make like-minded connections, even as they too feel the day-to-day pain of the conflict here.
You may be wondering at this point about something that made me uneasy—it does seem a tremendous luxury that there were folks, I for one—who do experience NVC as personal enrichment rubbing shoulders with people who came here out of a sense of emergency conditions in the streets. A Palestinian community worker remarked, in our closing session, on this gap that we all had simply lived with until then without comment. In NVC form, he looked deeper into this potential grievance to see a need, and express his hope: that there will be a time when bloodshed is not a topic of discussion at such meetings, and Palestinian villagers too will have the relaxation of mind required to nurture the self.
I feel I’ve given you mostly lite sociology, not the personal stories that make people real to each other. I haven’t yet adequately conveyed a few of the human stories that, by the workshop’s end, would fill me till I felt I would brim over.
One of the first days of the Training. I meet Ayat, a self-possessed woman in jeans, a hjiab, blue eyeliner. We’ve broken into smaller discussion groups; our prompt is “Trust and Creativity.” She begins, “there is deep trust among my family. They trust me to travel to this conference, far from our very traditional village.” As I unpack all that this may imply, I wonder, is Ayat married? Does that figure in?
In this group of eight women, Ayat and I seem to be the most traditionally religious. In a sense the odd ones out. I decide to tell the group how my 13-yr-old was invited to the writing workshop her instructor now gives for adults, an hour across Jerusalem by bus. I tell them how I’m so careful to explain (when the time comes for parent-teacher meetings) that I went in person to check out the other students. That I insist my daughter calls me when she gets on the bus, each direction.
Yet, still, I see something draw back in her teacher’s face. We don’t do this in my community.
What precautions do we take to protect children, and which to protect the needs of women? Which needs of women?
When I was growing up on the East Coast of the US, when you confessed your challenges or fragilities among other women (or at least commiserated), you bonded. As our session comes to a close, I raise my eyes to those of Ayat, who does not see me. If you recall your honky-tonk—this is what’s running through my mind: “everybody loves me, baby/ what’s the matter with you?/ What did I do/ to offend you?”
I want to mention the Bereaved Families organization.
It was shared, life-shattering pain- not a pissing contest, not comparing Nakba vs Holocaust- that Rami and Bassam were there to communicate. Shared pain brought them to the conclusion that violence must not continue.
As a parent, coach or teacher, and any who devote themselves to nurture minds and hearts—there’s a certain maturity of perspective that one may find unfolding within. It’s something like this that had entered the room. Rami Elhanan’s 14-year old daughter was killed in a cafe bombing, but he wants to offer a message that it’s not anti-semitic to disagree with policies of the Israeli government. He describes that it’s his very Jewish upbringing that prompts him: Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
For Bassam, just as he fights now to create something positive of the memory of his 10 yr-old daughter, killed by a stray Israeli bullet, he is equally fighting this new path of peace for the lives of his five remaining children.
Many of the questions from listeners related to the personal conversion for each, as individuals, of anger and pain, at once private and collective, to a constructive driving force to end war. A movement of hope, when after losing a child, we wondered whether it would be possible to get out of bed in the morning.
On his virtually alchemical conversion, he says, My hatred would have destroyed me. I do this foremost for myself.
It wasn’t the first thing that came up, but in the course of conversation with our group, Bassam told us that after ‘graduating from prison’ he went on to a Master’s degree in Holocaust Studies; he visited the camps in Europe and wept there. He had wanted to understand the enemy so as to ‘conquer the enemy within.’ To be clear about this, We are doing this work to have a reason to get out of mourning. We are doing this to give meaning to meaningless killing. Not to hug each other and eat humus together. This he asserted before an audience half of which reclined on mattresses and reed mats, one striped shawl nestled upon another like a pack of drowsing puppies.
Bassam told us, it’s not a selfless love of the other that motivates him. I won’t offer you a blow-by-blow of the ten minutes of what I would have to call respectful tension when the discussion did turn directly to the political, to atrocities; there were queries and perspectives by Israelis and Jews from around the world—the 60-person group was able to maintain order and desire to hear out all sentiments until Bassam clarified that it was not his intention to compare our suffering. All this was going on in English with simultaneous translation to Arabic. It was indeed easy to become momentarily confused. If it had been the orientation of the group to take offense, we would have found a way.
Ayat spoke, and I had it in me to listen. Yet, later my mind- dull- refuses to recall her precise words. I think I hear: ‘The horrors the Israelis have inflicted and still inflict on the Arabs are incomprehensible. It is not possible to compare any other suffering to that which Palestinian mothers have experienced.’
Such bald judgements are rarely articulated in the environment of NVC, and my mind feels like I’ve walked into a tree. I turn to the person next to me. I briefly mime a hammer-blow to my brain, and then a forward movement of my heart. He is another new friend, a middle-aged Palestinian; just now he’s returning a look as if his understanding includes me, then splashes outward to every tile of the floor.
Our facilitator, a senior NVC trainer from Seattle, had asked the group beforehand to be mindful of the tools of NVC throughout the talk. We are learning to steer away from mental sparring in private and group interactions, toward a learnable skill of listening from the heart. The idea is to search for deeper human feelings and needs underlying the messages so often couched in divisive words.
One parent told Rami, “My daughter chose National Service rather than army service, in line with the way we had raised our children. Then my son chose combat duty, and I prayed every day that he would neither be killed nor kill anyone… yet it happened too, that my soldier son encountered a disabled Arab man who kept missing his bus, because others would crowd ahead of him. He helped the man to his bus, and continued on with him until he reached his village.
It was Bassam who responded. For four years I feared for the life of my then 13-year old son, who wanted revenge and threw stones. I prayed he would not be shot. (Bassam’s son did eventually join his father in non-violent activism.) I felt as I listened that Bassam connected with this father’s worry. And with a certain frustration tinged with helplessness.
Rami, in closing the presentation: At any moment your bubble might burst.
I wonder: can the polarization in the USA feel so harrowing to you, too, as to be overwhelming?
I’d like to hear what you have to say about this business of ‘hugging each other and eating humus together.’ My personal take is that there’s a place for this- our conversations, this letter- the NVC training was at times a kind of family feast, and I think we need this too to sustain ourselves. It makes me wonder if Bassam’s strident tone voices a common need that we do not stop there, it’s not enough.
We have divided into “home groups” of six or seven to discuss whatever may be spilling over in us personally. There are three Israelis in my group and four Palestinians, Ayat among them. Doron says, about Ayat’s earlier assertions: I found your words really hard to hear, but I appreciate that you’re not being ‘fake nice’. I’m impressed by your authenticity.
A Palestinian friend quickly explains that Ayat is new to NVC; in his view she expressed herself through indictments of Israelis out of a lack of skills to do otherwise.
It takes a few minutes to find a translator to render “authenticity”; “tzidik” sounds to my ears, like the Hebrew for “justice.” Doron is making clear efforts to offer this positive feedback to Ayat. I am reminded that until this outburst Ayat has spoken very little. I recall my heart pounding a few times when I felt a need to speak before the larger group. To draw attention to myself—I found this excruciating. I sense the force of emotion required for Ayat to stand and speak. When Doron’s affirmation of her directness and honesty registers with Ayat, her face relaxes and breaks into a smile that’s both a bit awkward, and warm. I haven’t seen it until now.
From anecdotes like these, I had wanted to draw observations about conditions that make it a little easier for us to meet each other, whatever the nature of our rifts… small notes such as how it was that when I confessed to Shiran (precisely in saying goodbye!) how moved I was by her care for my kashrut needs, I was rewarded by a flood of her personal stories.
Thursday nearing day’s-end, we discuss plans for Friday. There will be a Muslim contingent leaving for an hour to worship at a nearby mosque, while sessions will continue as planned in their absence. (Possibly the delicate accommodation of Islamic, Jewish, Christian and any other religious observances seemed such an enormous task- one best avoided?) A few women arrange to light Shabbat candles during the short afternoon break- at 3:30, it will be an hour earlier than necessary. But each training session is important; we make small adjustments where possible because we need one another for this work of the heart.
Friday morning I awake knowing there will be no time to shower and change just before candle-lighting. I prepare before leaving my room. I’m dressed to the hilt, wearing a BoHo dress from an ultra-orthodox shop and garnets—to breakfast in the dining hall.
Time for the first session. I sink into the anonymity of a row of seats in the main hall. Within a medicated brain-fog, my norm til noon, I’m sipping coffee. Movement to my right, dark fabric against my upper arm. Ayat is in the chair next to me. Her dress is sprinkled with cross-stitch Bethlehem embroidery, delicate and intricate, one page of an antique dictionary. The seeing is a hearing: hours of patient handwork, and deeper, the old language of craft that bespeaks time’s stretch beyond one lifetime. Beautiful, Jamila, I tell her. She has on sequined, gold-tone platform shoes. She indicates that this dress is her mother’s work, and yes, it’s in honor of Jumma, Friday.
You start to lose track of which language you use between you, or whether there have been words.
After you asked whether there had been a women’s march in Jerusalem, and virtually the following week there was a much more immediate response in Jerusalem to the immigration ban, I thought, huh, sloggy empathy? or simply that we emotionally prioritize what feels closest?
I want to play out the workings of that in slow-motion because it seems useful to observe.
I am so far away from you, in the Middle East, that tomorrow these events will surely affect me but there is a lag—it seems as if they don’t actually touch me in the moment that they come down for you. (On a deeper level I believe that what hurts one of us or one group hurts all of us: Karma or Midda keneged midda.) In cases where I may not feel a spontaneous movement of the heart I have to actively imagine with my head before it trickles down to my heart- this is actually the process that I have seen in the best of liberal thinking and that it seems to me you have trained yourself in, for decades. (Empathy as spiritual or moral imagination?) I don’t know why I am such a slow learner in its broader implications. More on that momentarily—just now I register your anger.
I have been wondering if my own anger in my local example of Israeli society, would feel more alive in me if I were still now living in Tekoa, where just down the road, youths bombarded drivers with rocks the very week of the training, and a soldier killed a 17-year old. (So often it’s our young men who pay the price when our collective anger torques through their bodies.)
But I haven’t lived there in seventeen years. Our conflict in this region feels so old. At times, endless. It’s now partly my own life experience that prompts my awareness of the self-preserving disjuncture of my heart from the ‘other side’. If I observe then feel this, it allows me a trickle of empathy even toward those who are not committed to non-violence and who would kill my sort of people.
This doesn’t imply a new identity as a self-hating ____ (Jew or liberal or whatever one may be), only a more flexible, expansive identity, and an awareness that we have the capacity to contain one another’s anger and other hard and soft emotions by being present to them in stillness, and we will not be burnt up by them.
I don’t mean to suggest that if we simply listen to each other, we will all agree, but that by focusing on needs rather than strategies, our emotional investment shifts to mutual respect and care for understandable needs.
At times during the training sessions, running through my head: why did it take so long for me to join you?
—here is a group who wants to connect from the heart in our common humanity.
Where was i?
I needed to care for and protect my family.
I am a father, I am a mother; sometimes ‘my family’ was so narrow in scope. And I had not enough of a trait deemed essential by the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers), that of “haRo-eh et haNolad”, foresight as to what will come to pass, born of my attitudes and actions, or lack of them. How long it took for me to exercise some historical-spiritual awareness. Most of my own lifetime. The examples of Palestinians who feel existentially threatened by an opposing group yet who chose non-violence and dialogue after prison, inspire me. When I hear you sensing your own radicalization, it concerns me very greatly: you’ve cared for the seed of my possibility for empathy by the example of your own long commitment to activism on behalf of those unlike you. So beautiful—that core seems to attest what the human heart makes of any -isms, only flimsier or rougher clothing.
©2021 Ester Karen Aida
All rights reserved
Can I dare to start to get hopeful?
It’s been a day since the ceasefire, and I’m praying for the start of our healing.
I extend my condolences to families who’ve lost loved ones. Nothing is more horrid than Innocent children getting killed in the disputes of angry men.
My heart goes out to anyone who suffered injuries in body, soul and property, there is a lot of mending and healing that needs to happen now.
You know, when a battle ends, the people of violence go back to sharpening their swords and practicing their aim, in anticipation for the next round, which will probably arrive if they had a say in it.
However, people of peace go back to building the bridges above the chasms that were torn between people and between nations.
We have followed people of war for so long, I really do hope we wisen up and start following the people of peace. I hope we put our minds and energies to the work of rebuilding and healing.
אפשר להעז ולהתחיל לקוות לטוב? כבר יממה מאז הפסקת האש, ואני מתפללת לתחילת ההחלמה. תנחומיי לכל משפחה שאיבדה יקרים. אין דבר יותר נורא מילד שנהרג בגלל מלחמות של גברים זועמים. ליבי יוצא לכל מי שחווה פגיעה בגוף, בנפש או ברכוש, הרבה החלמה ובנייה מחדש יצטרכו לקרות עכשיו. אתם יודעים, כשנגמר קרב, אנשי המלחמה חוזרים להשחזת החרבות ולאימונים בטווחי היריות, כהכנה לסיבוב הבא, שסביר להניח שיגיע אם תהיה להם יד בדבר. בזמן הזה, אנשי השלום חוזרים לבניית הגשרים מעל התהומות שנפערו בין אנשים ועמים. כבר יותר מדי זמן שאנחנו הולכים אחר אנשי המלחמה, אני באמת מקווה שנחכים ונתחיל ללכת אחרי אנשי השלום. שנשקיע את האנרגיות שלנו בבנייה והחלמה. מה זה פרויקט המילה הטובה? קמפיין אונליין שיזמתי כדי להעצים תכניות חינוכיות בנושא הסובלנות וההידברות. אתם יכולים להירתם ע"י קניית החולצה באתר.
הלינק מעלה.هل بالامكان الابتداء بالتفاؤل؟ مر علينا يوم كامل منذ وقف الاطلاق، وكلي امل ان نبدأ عملية الشفاء. جم التعازي لكل عائلة فقدت فقيدا. ليس هنالك شيء اسوأ من موت الاطفال بسبب حروب الرجال. قلبي مع كل من تضرر في جسمه او روحه او ملكه، امامنا الكثير من الشفاء والبناء. اتعلمون؟ في نهاية المعركه، يعود اهل الحرب الى شحذ السيوف وممارسة الاطلاق الى الهدف، استعدادا للمعركة القادمه، التي لا بد وانها ستأتي ان كانت لهم سيطرة بالموضوع. في هذا الوقت، يعود اهل السلام الى بناء الجسور فوق الهوى الواسعة التي انفتحت بين الاشخاص والشعوب. تبعنا اهل الحرب مدة طويله، كلي امل ان نتبع اهل السلام وان نستثمر قوانا وطاقاتنا في تعجيل الشفاء والبناء.
©2021 Ameen Al-bayed, El-Fawwar refugee camp, near Otniel, teacher of Non-violent Communication who participated in interreligious meetings at Beit Knesset (Synagogue) Dati-leumi, Har Nof, Jerusalem. All rights reserved
What is the magic answer to the thorny questions that it seems have resonated throughout human history? What can individuals do to move us toward a genuinely lasting peace on this sacred Earth of ours; on this, the only place that we and foreseeable generations have to live? What can we do to make us honest and worthy of the quest? It seems instead that we prefer the old formula that promises to advance us toward yet another round of talks; another ‘agreement’ that so often it turns out is not worth the paper on which it is written. Wherever we look in the world, this pattern repeats itself. Yet, after another round of protests, of raising funds to help the beleaguered and vulnerable local population, we in the affluent West sit back in our comfy armchairs, consuming our unnecessary little pieces of luxury … and I am no exception to this!
Once again, in the past month, the hornets’ nest has been well and truly stirred between Israel and Palestine; stirred by fear, anxiety and anger; by Lord knows who. Which party, which troublemakers, which gang, which international sponsor, who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo … of division, conflict and any hope there may be of unifying the nations? As ever, the previously drawn, well established lines have been punctured and drawn into question. There is now another, yet it is always felt, fragile truce. The circumstances of this, as with all conflicts, is fraught with complexity, with entrenched views and attitudes, with ideological positions, with stubborn refusal to yield their politically, geographically and materially sensitive attitudes and policies.
We have spent a year fighting a common enemy, which for a time brought us together in our common cause to survive. How astonishingly resilient and industrious are those ordinary people, the medical professions, scientists and all those involved in enabling that survival. But as the black veil of this hidden, insidious enemy is lifted from our eyes, once again, sadly, we begin to see the all too familiar lines being drawn. The rifts between nations, territories, communities, even families, re-emerge.
There is therefore a question that needs to be asked: where is that elusive quality of humanity, that emotion that makes us glow and renews and binds our spirits? Where is Joy?
A unique relationship between two spiritual leaders from different religious spheres, those of Buddhism and Christianity, His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu can provide us with some answers. That Joy is a by-product; a by-product of what, I hear you ask? It is not easy in a life driven by material rather than spiritual concerns, but a solution is possible simply because the human character is such that we are capable of achieving great things in times of great need and a will to make changes to our personal and thereby collective lives. Practising the ‘Eight Pillars of Joy’ is the action we need that will give rise to this elusive by-product of Joy.
In their book of long conversations on the subject of joy, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu developed some guiding principles, which they summarised rather happily as “The Eight Pillars of Joy” …
Perspective – there are many different angles
Humility – trying to be humble and modest
Humour – Laughter is much better
Acceptance – the only place where change can begin
Forgiveness – freeing ourselves from the burden of our past
Gratitude – appreciating what we have and life itself
Compassion – affirmation by meditation, prayer and fasting
Generosity – unconditional giving can be a source of ultimate Joy.
Achieving this and feeling the resultant Joy in our hearts and minds, I cannot see any other result than one further by-product, which is Peace.
There is evidence in this issue of the BeZine, as you might expect, in Corina Ravenscraft’s poem, “Asking for a Friend”, which cleverly moves from the ‘I’ to the ‘We’, from the personal to the collective, and on to a compelling final question. In the Joe Hesch poem, “Holding on to My Last Breath” he too hits home with the message that before we can wage peace collectively, we have to find it within ourselves. Then there is an essay on non violent communication, by Ester Karen Aida, which challenges us to address our seasoned prejudices by asking questions of each other and focussing in on our inherent truths. And there is so much more to bend your minds to thinking in completely different ways.
Wherever we are in our personal struggles … we need to take the first step and start today.
© 2021 John Anstie
Mbizo sent these to The BeZine submissions email in recent days. I can report that he is alive and not in custody. I have clarified that he wishes for them to be published. I have lightly edited the essay with Mbizo’s review.
—Michael Dickel, Editor, The BeZine
The Tragedy of Speaking Truth to Power in Africa
a short essay
My story is unique and very much extraordinary because I am poet, a human rights poetivist. I have refused to bow down. A radical wordsmith that stubbornly refused to toe the line, to tone down my grinding imagery and crude metaphor. I write what surrounds me, the most critical of it in Africa is livelihood, citizens, voters people, government and leadership. As an African child, poet, writer, artivist or griot your story is fashioned by inequality, hunger, injustice. corruption and disgruntlement. Political leadership that bashes the rights of citizens through extortion, political violence, vote rigging, money laundering and mafia style business cartels.
I am a poet and an African griot who refused to repent into the church of rogue political elite. I started as a messenger of our village traditional cultures and later delved into the deep flesh of matters that affect my people as perpetuated by rulership that has caused gushes on me emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I have since lost cadres home, family, nation and abroad. I am labeled the enemy of the state. I have seen and lived in the midst of forests of death and bushes of hell. I have been running not reading.
It is not revolutionary to see a failing state and you remain mum and silent. It is not revolutionary to see and watch dictators scheming the national cake alone and we remain daft and silent. Corruption has since burrowed through sacks of confidence in most cities and nations. Poets are usually bought not to say or to see evil but to commercialize their verses and metaphors as praise singers; injustice continues and unfairness continues to burn ladders of justice.
The tragedy is revolutionary badges and lanterns of hope are given to those who Speak lies, those who see no evil, to those who loot, kill and destroy. The paradox is poets like me, purveyors of truth, are trounced out of their villages to be persecuted in dungeons of disgrace. We are bowled out of birth lands to be dowsed in climes of despair. We are given titles that are equalized to unpatriotic and other hopeless totems of rue because we refused to walk and talk the language of political thievery.
The African poet of resistance remains a prisoner dressed in the garb of prejudice for society and others among his peers are drenched in the fear of losing lives, jobs and favors if they walk alongside him in his lane; the revolutionary, protest poet walks alone in the dark valleys of death and his bed. Thorns await everytime he sneezes verses of truth, raw imagery and crude proverbs pointing to those sitting on high thrones and rabid minions. When ever chunks of truth are written by a so-called dissident poet, the system becomes a serpent and the state becomes rogue and the poet is gnashed, his lashing tongue is burnt.
Usually, when that happens peers squeeze themselves into their shells of fear; in fear of victimization, few remain of strong and foreign peers who stand firm because the rogue system cannot catch them and net them the same way they can do to the revolutionary artivist poet and his band of peers. Some peers are bought by pieces of gold to sell out the strongest ones and sometimes truth and genuineness are slaughtered on the slabs of poverty, corruption and extortion.
Humanity has lost the green color of life, the solid stead of dignity. Few pieces of gold can repent a true desciple into a daredevil qualified to kill and devour truth. Even though the African resistance poet is rich with expression, proverb and truth, he lacks life, money, mobility and material that his opponents are blessed with and poverty with despair are weapons used against him to keep under the grind of suffering. As the system becomes rogue, the poet is discarded to peripherals of dust where humanity does not exist.
This protest fortune-teller has gathered writings, written writings and created platforms for other artivists, writers, poets and others. His stories are immersed in crying metaphor, blood-drenched imagery, heart-rending irony, and all that is crude satire. His hybrid writings are dipped in beef roast of reason and his political commentary is the throb of a national drumbeat that was left unattended for the past 40 years.
Poverty is the song that cranks the brains of his people, his people are drunk on cheap propaganda. His killers are not tired of chasing this poet griot artivist who is running still.
The Tragedy is that the world has gone rogue, favor now goes with political affiliation, social inclination or cultural denomination or else you die choking with chunks of your poetry or you are strangled by the powers you tell the truth to; maybe where you run for refuge there are peers to your hunters and your killers and you become easy prey to predators you know and don’t know.
The Tragedy those homemates, those classmates, those of bloodline never saw you hailing a slogan and they don’t know how or if a poet becomes a political victim. They are psyched that a poet is an entertainer, a praise singer, a street actor and stand up speaker with lyrics oiling the throne of the king and queen. They are ignorant of my ordeals, of my revolutionary stance, my radical stead; they think I am insane. They are ignorant.
This is the tragedy of an African Poet of resistance.
Your prolific role is to see value in every citizen I am a citizen carrying crude metaphors of truth in the caves of my mind I am a Zimbabwean holding on to the raw scepter of true images of my land, our country I am a people yearning for power elite to repent from corruption I am a griot crying for bureaucrats to repent from stealing the national fat I respect the flag, it's colors and its meaning, I am born by ancestors that saluted chimurenga I am a fighter of truth and for justice, I am haunted, threatened and intercepted for speaking the truth Art is a gift, poetry is a weapon of mass instruction, Zimbabwe is the country I know, country I was born, a country I know best of caves, heroes, plains, meadows and rivers A country rich but a stolen country, stolen of truth, stolen of love, stolen of free speech poets are national assets, recorders of history, fortunetellers of past, present and future We do not to agree to make a country and to build peace I thought the second republic is for all in the republic . I never knew it is of the selected few, I am voice crying in the wilderness, son of the soil haunted at home by minions of the state and l thrown into wild bushes for hyenas to feed on Which crime have committed that makes me unwanted and unZimbabwean The bones of mothers cry for me in the land of my birth, bones of my fathers are weeping for me Zimbabwe carry the throne, thistle, roses, pain, laughter, hope and cries of my people For when Zimbabwe and security minions give me a break Is it a crime to write the poetic graffiti of crude truth For when shall we remain praise singers of some things that do not praise I always thought as griots our role is to sing truth Power and then corridors of power are sanitized Truth is the only detergent washing the dirty linen of the state and we walk clean, loved and United Mine is not a violent statement, it is a message to remind you that I am citizen, a child of Zimbabwe, haunted by securocratic intelligence inside and outside the country The second republic as I was taught is the dispensation of truth, free speech and embraces all We all got faults from high ranks of power, I have written no placards but poetry, my slogan is poetry of resistance If I die today, tomorrow or the day after I know that I died telling the truth to power Death by the way the way of God, I have sacrificed to die writing true poetry immersed in jugs of satire and dishes crude imagery I have lived a life as a defender of truth, as a writer of raw metaphor Expressing the hard feelings of my pain and the pain at home I will not weep on my death, but my death is not a way to surrender, it is to say, there is always that time to rest, to leave others carrying on with the revolutionary literary candles If you are true, you lay a wreath alongside my poetic peers on my supposed shallow grave They will call me homeless, country less, fatherless and motherless But some will say here lies a poet, a griot, a son of the soil, a fighter and all But if I don't die tonight I will continue the fight for truth and I know one day you will see the truth of my resistance poetry and protest letters and I will be buried decently next to the caves of my ancestors I have done my prayers that even in dreams, death, life or writing, I will not be defeated, This is my epitaph to the man that is myself, a man who has fought many struggles I am rejected, haunted and persecuted by his own people Where are you mr president My brilliance, my shallowness, my poetry, my controversial political commentary and my hybrid narratives are an assert to the land dipped in tanks of corruption, murky waters of political toxicity,unfairness and other I respect those doing good, fighting to build the nation but there is an elephant in the room injustice, human rights abuses, lack of free speech and corruption I respect those speaking the truth and every time they are gagged President, I am a griot crying in the wilderness
I moved to Jordan with Peace Corps in 2004, less than a year after my country invaded Iraq, just before the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison came to light. My fellow Jordanian teachers brought the gruesome images to school, insisting, “You must look at these pictures. These are our brothers.” By the end of that year, two devastating battles had been fought in the streets of Fallujah.
Early in my second year, Operation Smile asked if Peace Corps Volunteers could assist their medical mission by staying at an Amman hotel with forty Iraqi children, each with one parent. Most had only rarely left their villages, never stayed in a hotel, certainly never left Iraq. They were asking us, with our Arabic and intercultural fluency, to keep the parents calm and informed, and entertain the children.
I almost didn’t do it.
It should have been depressing, living with forty families from the impoverished Iraqi countryside — ravaged by American-made land mines, littered with the remains of radioactive American bomb casings, and now sprayed with insurgent gunfire and IEDs. I was sure I would be so distraught by the deformities of these children that I wouldn’t be able to look at them, let alone help them.
I volunteered anyway, because I needed to do something for this country that my country had invaded, for these families in need so close to my new Jordanian home.
My first encounter was in the hotel lobby at check-in with Nour, a chubby little girl, nine months old. Her mother had brought her to Jordan to have a double cleft repaired that divided her upper lip in three. For a moment, she became her deformity. Then she smiled and transformed. “Nour” means light, and a delighted glow radiated from her fat round face and big liquid eyes when she looked up at me and grinned. There was only one thing to do. I grinned back, tickling the bib of her red ruffled dress until we both giggled.
After Nour, it was easy to love them all. I wasn’t disgusted or even uncomfortable. They were blithely happy babies, cheerful, playful, and I was instantly charmed. It took me longer to appreciate the quiet strength of their mothers.
I especially loved two-year-old Serdar. His parents had been given special dispensation to both come with their son, because in addition to his cleft lip and cleft palate, he was blind, deaf and possibly autistic. Then, after he arrived in Amman, the doctors doing his pre-op found a hole in his heart. Despite all that, he energized that whole dim hotel dining room.
After dinner, his parents sat Serdar on top of a big round table. He rolled over onto his belly, pressing his cheek and ear to the navy blue polyester tablecloth. Though deaf, he could feel people talking through the table beneath.
His father tapped lightly on the table’s edge. Serdar tapped back, arms and legs splayed out to the four directions. He mimicked flawlessly his father’s more and more complex rhythms, keeping perfect time.
Then his father started doing drum rolls, at first softly with his fingertips on the edge of the table, a light crescendo growing faster and louder, until he was pounding the table like thunder with both palms. Serdar’s back arched, his hands and feet slapped against the table, and he gave a great, loud peal of laughter.
His delight rang out across the room. Heads lifted and turned. I moved closer, grinning, enchanted. The war was a world away. Caught up in the innocent joy of the moment, it was impossible not to laugh with Serdar.
His father decrescendoed, bringing the drumroll down to just the light, intermittent tapping of two fingertips on the table edge. Serdar laid down his arms and legs and pressed his ear to the tablecloth again, listening intently to the light tap-tap and chortling softly to himself. Then his father started again, faster and louder, drawing out that peal of uninhibited laughter once more.
Crowding around the table without speaking, we all got involved at the peak of the crescendo, then dropped away one by one as the drumroll came back down again. Serdar entertained a dozen of us for nearly an hour, helping us forget entirely where we were and what was happening back in his homeland.
More than half the children came with their mothers. Some framed their faces in loose hijab of navy blue or espresso brown, but most wore black headscarves. They all wore chador, a large semicircle of black cloth. The center of the straight edge balanced on the crowns of their heads, trailing to the ground all around, held closed under their chins with one hand. The chador rippled and billowed in even the slight wind of a woman’s own passing, lending a poetic, ethereal quality to these mothers, petite and demur and preferring the company of other women.
One mother was none of those things. She was tall, with a long, blocky face, lined and leathery from sun and wind. There was a faint patina of sandy dirt permanently ground into the lower edge of her chador, made of a thicker material that didn’t billow so romantically. I guessed from her thick, coarse hands and her easy manner with the fathers that she must have been a Bedouin shepherd or farmer like my Jordanian neighbors.
She stopped me after dinner one evening, taking my forearm firmly in her big, dark hand, the skin dry and cracked. “Do you know what my name is?” she asked. She had a booming outdoor voice in the dark, low-ceilinged dining room. “My name is Amreeka.”
“W-allah? Really?” I wasn’t sure what to say, or if she was pulling my leg. She had spoken slowly and clearly enough, in a thick Bedouin accent almost identical to my Jordanian neighbors, but amreeka means America.
She laughed at my confusion and gestured expansively. “My parents named me Amreeka because you supported us in the war” — this must have been the Iran-Iraq War — “and my parents thought you would bring progress and democracy to Iraq. And now here you are, helping my daughter. Thank God for you!”
Though Operation Smile’s doctors hailed from across the Western world, Amreeka would go back to Iraq and say that Americans had fixed her daughter’s cleft lip. In the Bedouin tribes, disability may be seen as a family’s punishment from God for some sin, tarnishing the reputations of whole extended families. This surgery meant that not only Amreeka’s daughter, but her sisters and her girl cousins would have better marriage prospects, that Amreeka and her husband might look forward in their later years to the support of a more successful son-in-law.
That is, if there were enough hale and whole young men remaining for her daughters to marry, and if those young men lived into Amreeka’s later years. If Amreeka lived into her own later years. With American soldiers’ fingers nervous on the trigger, and desperate Iraqis perpetrating their own violence, Amreeka’s future and her daughters’ futures were far from certain or rosy.
Still, she remained certain that America held the key. I feared she would be brutally disappointed, but I couldn’t make myself contradict her optimism.
The war in Iraq was the daily reality back home for these families, and a frequent topic of conversation. They kept using a word to refer to American soldiers that sounded like the Arabic word Hmaar—donkey. Arabs use it much the way Americans do, as in, “You jackass!”
Yet, it was clear from the Iraqis’ tone and body language that they were speaking kindly, even fondly of these hamar. Finally, another Volunteer realized that it had nothing to do with donkeys. This hamar was an English loan word — from Hummer or Humvee — referring to a patrol of Coalition soldiers in an armored vehicle.
“The Hummer saw my son’s harelip when we were on the way to the market,” one mother said, tugging her filmy, slippery chador back into place on the crown of her head. “We always wave and smile at the Hummers and say thank you for helping us.”
These women did not see themselves as I saw them, as victims of my arrogant, angry government. The Hummers had brought war and death. American troops had bombed infrastructure, destroyed their priceless ancient monuments, brought chaos, insurgency and Al Qaeda to their country.
Yet, these women were grateful, and this was not that often-infuriating practice of Arab hospitality where they tell the polite fiction they think their host wants to hear. They were not talking to me. They said these things to each other, and they said them with confident sincerity. So I listened as best I could with my imperfect Arabic, and tried to understand.
The young, pretty mother continued, “Usually, we thank them from a distance. We don’t get too near the Hummers. It makes them nervous. But one day, a soldier waved at us to come closer, me and my son.” He was a slight boy beside her, about seven, hesitant to meet my gaze.
I listened silently, worried what would come next. I knew the Hummers were harbingers of destruction.
“The soldier smiled at me and my son. He said hello,” she said. “He asked him his name. My son is shy. He wouldn’t answer.” Shy seemed the wrong word. The children at the hotel were more reticent, subjected all of their short lives to shame and ridicule from their neighbors, and then the traumas of war and occupation.
“Then he leaned down from his Hummer and gave me the paper with information about Operation Smile. That’s how we got here.” Other mothers jumped into the conversation with their own stories about how the Hummers had won their hearts and minds.
Every time I hear the news from Iraq, I remember those families. Nour should now be finishing elementary school. Does her smile still glow? Do her big doe eyes still dance? I cannot imagine what she has seen, or how it may have dimmed her light.
Operation Smile arranged for another organization to take Serdar and his parents to London for open heart surgery, and then the facial reconstruction he had come to Jordan for. I remember him as a toddler, but he should be a teenager now. Is he still the happy drummer boy on that dining room table? Is he still strong-limbed and pudgy with a pealing laugh that fills the room? Or have explosions vibrating up through his living room floor tempered his joie de vivre?
Amreeka’s daughter should be in her twenties, married with at least one baby of her own. Are her children healthy? Maybe Amreeka’s village of farmers and shepherds is small enough to have escaped the violence, the bloody conflict, the decimated manhood.
I’m still reaching for Amreeka’s optimism.
In 2014, Iraqi cities fell like dominoes to the fanatics calling themselves “Islamic State.” Yezidis who had managed to survive both Saddam and the occupation now starved on mountaintops. Journalists lost their heads trying to plead the Iraqi cause. I click through pictures of women walking back into Mosul, after the Iraqi army had retreated and the extremists had taken control.
I see their black chador rippling and dancing on the dusty wind. They turn and reach out black-gloved hands for small children just out of frame. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shout, “W-allahi—By God, why? Why would you go back there?”
“W-allahi,” they say, “why not? Now it’s the fundamentalists, before them the Hummers, before them Saddam, before him the British, before them the Ottomans. Ma shaa’ allah—What God hath wrought! All we can do is go back to our homes, where our grandfathers lived and their grandfathers. Allahu ‘alem—God knows, and His will be done.”
Demur but determined, they float away down the streets of Mosul, steadfast pillars of black smoke silhouetted against the pockmarked shells of their whitewashed homes. And I remind myself that Iraq is also the land of Nour’s smile, and of Serdar’s laughter. When Mosul is liberated, it will be these women, these children and their children who rebuild. If there is to be peace, it will be theirs.
I struggle for Amreeka’s optimism, but I still have hope.
“The Peace of Iraq’s Mothers” previously appeared in Re-Creating Our Common Chord anthology, Wising Up Press, September 2019; and DoveTales, An International Journal of The Arts, May 2017; first appeared in New Madrid, Journal of Contemporary Literature vol. 7, no. 1: Winter 2017.
©2021 Maryah Converse
All rights reserved
According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 Commandments (Mitzvot) in the Torah (The Hebrew Scriptures / Five Books of Moses). I’ve been taught that the Rabbinic tradition holds that repetition in the Torah indicates importance, especially for Mitzvot. The famous Ten Utterances (Ten Commandments in the Christian tradition) occur twice, in slightly different form. Another Mitvah (Commandment) however, occurs as many as 36 times: to not mistreat and even to love the Stranger (Ger, in Hebrew).
Why do I mix “not mistreat” with “love”? This this passage in Leviticus, among others in the Torah:
“When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33–34).
Today, there are two types of ger—the ger toshav (foreign resident) and the ger tzedek (righteous convert). Some today interpret the mitzvah of loving the Stranger as a reference to converts because of this. This justifies discrimination and oppression of the Other, for example, refugees. However, this interpretation is illogical. For the passages say, “you were strangers in Egypt.” And this phrase usually appears with the admonition to love a stranger.
Jews were outsiders in Egypt and eventually enslaved as a perceived threat. They were not converts. Rabbi and Professor David Golinkin tells us: “The Bible is not familiar with a ger tzedek or righteous convert. In the Bible, a ger is a stranger or resident alien of non-Israelite origin living in Israel” (Erev Pesach: ”The Stranger Within Your Gates”). He later quotes another occurrence of this mitzvah from Exodus:
“‘You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:20) The rabbis interpreted this to mean that you may not oppress a ger toshav either verbally or monetarily (Maimonides, Hilkhot Mekhirah 14:15-16; Shulhan Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 228:2)” (Erev Pesach: ”The Stranger Within Your Gates”).
So, who is the Stranger?
An earlier passage a few verses up in Leviticus from what I quoted earlier gives a clue: “You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). When compared to Leviticus 19:33 which says about the stranger to “Love him as yourself,” Rabbi Sacks does, the echo suggests to me that the Stranger is also our neighbor. Does this mean those who live in proximity, that is, our neighhborhood?
Some indeed argue resident alien, someone who is legally living with you. I have hear oral arguments that this is “the stranger within your gates” (Exodus 20:10). However, the passage from Exodus where I find this (also translate in the JPS Torah edition: “the stranger within your settlements”) refers not to loving the Stranger and does not mention “for you were strangers in Egypt.” It is the mitzvah not to work on the Sabbath, and includes those who live with you (also son, daughter, your slaves, your cattle…with the stranger listed last among those specified in addition to “you” who shall not labor).
The phrase that frequently accompanies the mitzvah of treating well and loving the stranger, “for you were strangers in Egypt,” provides a wider scope than the neighborhood—at least the dynasty of Egypt in size. And I would suggest that if we think of the whole earth as our current residence, and countries as neighborhoods, we could got further. Any stranger on earth—now less foreign from from another nation, but more stranger from another neighborhood, someone we don’t know well or at all. The “them” of “us and them.”
And this Other, all others, while we may still perceive an “us” and a “them,” the mitzvah here is to not mistreat, better, to treat well, and more than that, to love. How to love the stranger? As ourselves.
How do we approach this revolutionary loving of the erstwhile threatening “them”? Perhaps we begin by finding common ground. The most grounding common principle for such a radical notion? That “they” are human beings desiring and deserving social connections of being treated well and loved, as are “we.” In ways small and large, we can seek to take steps to look at other human beings and see in them reflections of our own desiring and deserving of love. Thus, they become one of us.
And this is a principle of the godhead / creative force. As the Israelites are about to enter The Promised Land, Moses tells them that The Creator “shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving the stranger food and clothing. And you are to love those who are strangers, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17–19). May we thus spiritually enter The Promised Land through loving our neighbor by finding common ground.
This is not an easy or quick task. Rachel Farbiarz explores the question of “you were strangers in Egypt.” We were not. And in the end, Moses (according to the narrative) outlives those who left Egypt. The Israelites he tells this to at the end of the journey in the wilderness were not those from the beginning of that journey. She tells us this:
“…helps us understand that empathy is work, that there is something awkward and uncomfortable about its habit. We must be schooled in its compulsory nature no less than 36 times, tutored in its essentialness through the heuristic of self-deception: ‘It was you who were a slave; it is you who knows the heart of a stranger.’ Moses’ elision [of the change in generations] thus helps us internalize that empathy is not always and already there, burrowed inside like a jack-in-the-box, awaiting an opening to spring forth. It is rather an iterative effort that demands rehearsal and repetition” (Treatment of the Stranger: Our existential relationship to our ancestors and how we learn empathy).
May peace prevail on earth.
©2021 Michael Dickel
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