Monday, July 13, 2020

Alone

The loneliness that comes

when you want to reach out

to someone

so you pick up your phone

and scroll down

but there's no one

no one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"The Story of Stories" #NativeAmerican #NavajoNation #ScientificAmerican

I interviewed my grandmother and her sister, my great aunt Mae, before they died.

I only filmed the interview with Mae, and that haunts me.

That I was prescient enough to think it was important is a point of pride, and the stories they told provided several more.

How my great grandfather, a poor man, wooed - on horseback! - my great grandmother, a wealthy woman, in one of Ford's Model Ts.

How that same great grandmother abandoned her riches to marry the man with whom she would have 10 children, my grandmother being the youngest of these.

How my grandmother grew up in a house with no indoor bathroom. How they had a well. How my great grandfather was never much for schooling, but was none-the-less brilliant with machinery and electricity, the latter of which he stole to make his home one of the first in the area with power.

How that genius was self-taught - how he was a marvel with cars and how his mechanic's shop still exists in Bristol, TN.

How he and Mae worked on the atom bomb.

Pride goes before a fall though, and my family also had plenty of those.

Grandma said there's a town in Virginia named for great grandma Venus's family, who were plantation and slave owners at some point. How I have black cousins somewhere, that I've never met, from the whole sordid mess.

How my great, great grandmother was Cherokee - and married to my great, great grandfather, who was a sonofabitch by all accounts.

Acestry.com and family photos have proven some of this.

It's also proved I'm a distant relative of Barack Obama and Marilyn Monroe.

Other claims? Like our ties to the Hatfields and McCoys? Well, I'm not so sure...

Perhaps because of this Cherokee lineage, I've always been drawn to the story and plight of Native Americans (and minority and poor people of all stripes). I've tried - purposefully - to seek out stories to report that put Native Americans in the news, and in front of white America's eyeballs, a paltry offering to a people who lost damn near everything, but an offering none-the-less.

Last year, I got some racist signage and displays at a local museum changed to better reflect the truth and suffering of the Muskogee (Creek) people who were native to my area.

I regularly visit a rock that Native people's carved thousands of years ago. It's currently in the parking lot of a bank.

In childhood I found such a rock in my grandmother's backyard. I asked her to give it to a museum. She didn't. I don't know if she ever gave it a second thought. But I think about that rock often, and the stories it could have told if I knew the language inscribed there.

I've been thinking a lot about stories lately.

About ancestry, and the stories that are passed down.

About what those stories mean to us as individuals and to our various clans as collectives.

The truths, the lies - what we choose to hold on to, what we choose to ignore.

Such thoughts returned today when I read a piece in Scientific American written by a Native storyteller of the Navajo (That's the Spanish name for it) Tribe. among themselves, they are the Dine, and will be referred to as such henceforth here.

In the article, Sunny Dooley laments the actions taken against Native Americans which still reverberate. Actions that, she says (and I agree), point to why COVID is hitting the Dine so hard.

In it she details aspects of the Native Americans' tragedies of which I was not aware.

The importance of her story and her witness cannot be overstated. Her story - one of the few that keeps the Native practices and tongues alive, even on her own reservation - is a unique, sad, and powerful one.

She notes how the suffering of others has lately been in the headlines, but that the suffering of her people continues to be ignored.

And she's right.

She asks why that is, and offers no concrete answers.

My answer would simply be: power.

Black people make up about 13% of the US population. Natives? Less than 1%.

They simply don't have the numbers to be included in the National conversation.

And that's OUR fault (descendants of colonists).

We massacred these people - that much we know. But in doing so - in removing a People whose religion was tied to the land, from the very land sacred to them, we stole more than their lives. We stole their faith and their legacy.

What we took, they will never get back.

We know lives were lost. What we don't seem to understand is that those people were destroyed.

DESTROYED.

And we slap their visages on our sports jerseys and turn a deaf ear when the few remaining protest that we continue to take their sacred lands and desecrate them.

The home I own is on Native land.

If you're an American, the same can likely be said of you.

But this is a chapter in our collective stories that we seldom discuss.

How much do you know of this chapter?

I know a little. Despite my great great grandmother's Tribal status, I couldn't compose more than a paragraph or two about those people from whom I am at least partially descended.

I am the product of both conquestadors and the conquered, and, as the "winners" write the history books, I know next to nothing about the conquered people from whence I came.

But this isn't about me really.

My early interest likely stemmed from family history, but this goes beyond that.

The Scientific American article articulates so plainly the lasting suffering of the few survivors around to share the story - a story that, broken into fragments - reminds me of the shattered pieces of pottery the Tribes left behind when they were forcibly marched West.

Their stories are important. And they are being lost.

Theirs is not MY story to tell. While their blood runs through my veins, their stories have not shaped my life because I never knew them.

I was robbed of those stories, but Native people's were robbed of so much more.

If you've read thusfar, I'd encourage you to read further - the article is linked below.

Take the time to learn the Native stories, and, in doing so, learn a bit more about your own:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coronavirus-is-attacking-the-navajo-because-we-have-built-the-perfect-human-for-it-to-invade/

Monday, June 29, 2020

Proverbs 6:6-9

There's an ant

crawling across my computer screen

seeing what I see

but completely differently.

Life

from his vantage

must look

larger-than-Life

from mine.

Same world -

different perspectives.

A lesson for our time?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wisdom is Unwanted

Wisdom is unwanted

Ignorance preferred

when events make you question

your view of the world.

Better, yes, to bunker

to hunker down and stew

to reaffirm your worldview

all challenges eschew.

Wisdom is unwanted

Ignorance preferred

when events make you question

your view of the world.

To salve your soul you harken

to voices that affirm

"Don't listen to the experts!

You've nothing left to learn!"

You know you will feel better

returning

to your echo chamber

where "friends" and "followers"

feed your anger

at strangers

who don't do as you do.

Because wisdom is unwanted

Ignorance preferred

it's dangerous to question

your view of the world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Eugenics

Supremacists

champion

Eugenics.

Justification

for the just system

that's placing them on top.

But

since birth I've

always been on bottom

and I believe

I come

from damaged stock.

Saying this aloud

makes me sound

unstable.

Which,

ironically,

would make me right

that I'm "not right."

Genetically inferior

despite my skin

and bloodlines

or rather - because -

those bloodlines mustered

me.

The dented

discounted

can.

Sure, I can

but not without

superior help.

Overlooked in every room

Not pretty

smart

funny

enough.

I was charming once.

It was a mistake.

Or an accident.

I've since learned

my place.

And it's not among

a superior race.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Country People

Today I cried

for the country people

the small town people

whose suffering

until today

I refused to see

because they're different than me.

Today I cried

for the country people

the small town people

the mom and pops with shuttered shops

the closing mills that employed generations

the "backward" people clinging to coal

'cause it's all they know

Today I cried because I saw

the pride

of the country people

the small town people

who, despite owning next to nothing

put some flowers on their modest table

My eyes

could not handle

the flowers.

I cried because

the life they knew

IS DYING

A problematic life?

It's true.

But who among us

hasn't clung

to something toxic

just because

it's The Devil We Knew?

I cried for the people on the economic fringes

who've had wealth and gilded guilt

the dangled carrot of prosperity gospel

preached at them through digital screens.

Lifestyles to which they're told to aspire

that we all know they will not achieve

and their conservative upbringing teaches them

it's their fault.

Their lack is a personal flaw.

The wound is real and it's raw.

I cried for the country people who

like injured animals

lash out

bite the hands trying to feed them

and elect those

that will perpetuate the very cycles

that hold them down

I cried because

I realized

It's people like us

that contribute to the cycle

that hurts the country people.

And though some are walking wounded

still others keep their open hearts

offer cookies to Jewish photographers

who show up on the doorsteps of their modest homes

to take pictures

of the flowers

on their modest tables.

My own sensibilities say

now's not the time

to cry for the country people

many of whom

might not

be crying

for the suffering of others

suffering we're seeing

played out on urban streets

across America.

But my heart says

my inability to cry

for the country people

mimics their inability to cry

for the suffering we're seeing

if, indeed, they are

not crying

And some of them

Those in pews of tiny, country churches

those for whom Christ Jesus is real

and loves all people

They are crying.

And we do them an injustice

not to think so.

But whether they cry

or whether they don't

I am wrestling with my own heart

because I turned a blind eye

to their pain

Because I did not like the way they expressed it

In short - I am confronting

publicly

my own hypocrisy

I come

from country people.

But even I

have forgotten them.

Until today.

I cry for country people

who feel

- and it's very real -

that they're being Left Behind.

Country people

angry and wounded

by the very same lies:

That all men can succeed.

The money comes, if he tries.

That wealth and health is earned.

That God rewards the virtuous and wise.

I cry for country people

because none of its true

because, so often

the size of the bank account

is the inverse of virtue.

I cry because "The System"

doesn't work for them either

but they keep courting the hand

of that abusive father

And every time he beats them

they double down harder

"I just have to try harder."

"I just have to try harder."

Lambs to the slaughter.

I cry for the pride

of the flowers

on the table

I cry for the sentiment it speaks

about my grandma's generation

12 in the house

drinking water from the well

working the family's mechanic shop

it was hell

and their names?

Near 100 years later are still above the door.

I cry for the country people

without funds for education

without access to healthcare

for the backbone of this nation

They see only that we urban liberals call them backward

And in some ways they've earned it.

IN SOME WAYS THEY'VE EARNED IT.

But who among us has never been wrong?

And who among us has liked to hear it?

Who among us wants to hear all of our flaws

from someone who won't acknowledge any of our hardships?

I cry for country people

whose humanity

I've denied

in my own arrogance

and ignorance.

I cry for country people

because I cry for this country.

And who among us

doesn't deserve

flowers on our modest table?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Reckoning

If you think

this isn't my fight

because I'm white

Then, friend, I'd remind you of the song:

Red and Yellow, Black and White,

ALL are PRECIOUS in His sight,

and if "brother" stops at "color",

well - you're wrong.

It's not my place

to dictate

how a race

I don't share

expresses

its despair.

But as a Jew

I pursue

Tikkun Olam.

I'm required to do better

be inspired

use my letters

lest my Talent be buried in the sand.

When I stand in His glory

what will be my story?

Did I CROSS on the other side

- or -

like The Good Samaritan, lend a hand?

...

For we, too, were once strangers in a strange land.

...

Hated, feared, seen as "less than."

...

Sages: "walk a mile in their shoes."

Philosophers: "a mile begins with a step."

Me? I plan on running 'til I run out of breath.

Because more than once I have witnessed

"Stop! I can't breathe!"

Knowing all the while

It won't happen to me.

Knowing all the while

I won't get the knee.

Knowing all the while

that those precious to me

can't say the same.

Which is why we say their names.

...

Which is why, though I'm white

the plight

of my brother

is a fight I must take.

The fate of our world -

the future's at stake.

And the Torah, it teaches

every life is a world:

an eternity of possibility

in every boy and girl,

And if you take one

the damage you've done

is immeasurable.

...

So I say "not another one."

No.

Not another one.

Tikkun Olam.

Not another one.