Monday, September 18, 2006

Warning: Detour Ahead

Well, tomorrow is the primaries, and at this point I can't wait till it's over. By last week's end, I'd already had it up to here with the leafleting and the computerized phone calling urging me to vote for this or that candidate. On one hand, I appreciate the efforts and the passion of the parties involved. But informing the public is one thing; inundating them to the point of nuisance is another. By "them," I suppose I mean me: I'll speak for myself.

I got irritated. My irritation gained force by way of a challenging, difficult encounter with a friend in crisis. She is asking the question "Why?" as in "Why bother? Why be here? Why live?"--this brought on by the death of a loved one-- and her questioning, her pain and sorrow before I knew it had resurrected some of my own. Before I knew it, I had taken a turn off Love's Freeway, and was on some bumpy side road with NO, I mean N. O. signage, and nothing all too pleasant in the way of scenery either, I might add.

Tonight, I'm back on the Freeway - ahhhhhhhhhh. Much better. But that means very little without my sharing the detour.

When I returned from my friend's house, I realized I was about to miss the weekly Farmer's Market I had planned for days to shop. There was basil to buy--the last of the season. Pesto to make. I'd bought way too many pine nuts for the last batch, and I wanted to put them to good use. I barreled on down to the Market, intent on my mission, only to find Peter J. Walsh halfway between me and my basil. Well, I didn't know at that point it was Peter J. Walsh; all I knew was there was this man in a suit and tie with leaflets in his hand and a big round campaign button on his lapel ("ohmigod, not another one...") readying to greet me.

"Hi, how are you?" he opened.

"Fine, thank you." I closed, continuing to walk toward the stall. I think I smiled a bit--the sort of smile, coupled with the sort of tone of voice, that I was sure would more than discourage any further engagement. Wrong. He peeled off a leaflet for me, preparing to introduce himself.

"No, thank you." I ditched the smile, and sharpened the edge on the tone of voice. I was still in motion, and by this time, he and his big button and leaflets were behind me, all silent as stone.

My self satisfaction at "winning" this faceoff, at avoiding an inconvenient, unsolicited solicitation, was short lived. As I sorted through the basil and made up my bunch, I saw in my mind's eye, vaguely, through my bitter fog, the "WALSH" of his button. "Damn, I think I'm even voting for him," I thought. And sure enough, post-pesto, when I sat down and checked the notes I'd made for the polls, I realized I was indeed voting for him.

A wave of remorse overtook me. No, not remorse, actually. When I relived that moment in the parking lot by the Farmer's Market on a sunny September Saturday in downtown Jamaica Plain, I was horrified. You're committed to Love's way, yet you can treat a man like that? How could you??

I knew I had to call him.

In short order--thank you Google--I located his home address. On-line 411 gave me his home phone. His wife (I presume) offered me his cell number. I took it. And I called. And he answered.

"I was extremely rude to you today..." I started. Then launched into my apology.


He was smiling, I could hear it.

"You've gone above and beyond the call of duty!"

He appreciated the call, the apology, but certainly hadn't expected it.

"It's okay. I figure when people act that way it's because they have a terrible life."

I felt ashamed. My inexcusable behavior suddently became even less excusable.

"It was a bad moment... Actually I have a beautiful life. And thank you for all you're doing to keep it that way."

My appreciation was heartfelt, genuine. I wished him luck on Tuesday, let him know of my intention to vote for him, and we signed off.

He was clearly uplifted by the call. For a moment, I felt virtuous. Like I'd done a good thing. I had done a good thing. But first I had done a bad thing. A very bad thing, in my estimation.

You might think it extreme that my hands actually trembled as the horror of my behavior first took hold. You might think it extreme that I shook and wept--and not before the apology, but after it. I was forgiven, redeemed, right?

What saddened me the most was his surprise and delight at the call. What saddened me was that he was so impressed. I had not gone above and beyond the call of duty. I had done the only thing there was to do, if Love was to have its way in this situation: I reached the man, and showed him the honor and respect he deserved. I delivered the apology he had due to him. Didn't he know--he must have known--that he had an apology due him? There was no excuse for my...cruelty, really. Yet he had excused me, without so much as a pause.

That I am capable--was, at least--of treating someone like that, that he would take it and immediately excuse it was in sum appalling to me.


I need to say more. Because this incident did not begin with Election Week. Neither are its parameters limited to the run-in with Peter J. Walsh at the Farmer's Market.

This weekend, I happened upon "Turtles Can Fly," a Bahman Ghobadi film, in Arabic, which is set in Iraq in the three weeks before the U.S. sent our first troops there.

"I anticipate a powerful (true) story that will move and change me," I wrote to a friend just before seeing it. Yes: I anticipated an emotionally powerful film, but I did not expect poetry. The film simply is a work of art. It portrays and penetrates humanity and transcends it. No matter the intensity of the content--and there was a goodly portion of that--grace uplifts it at every turn. The likes of the thoughtlessness, the carelessness demonstrated by me in that parking lot encounter is nowhere to be found.

"A beautiful film... A peacemaker. A Way for Love in the world.." I wrote to my friend the next day.


Because today, as a consequence of viewing the film, the "otherness" of the land and culture and people of Iraq is no more. The film bridged that divide. Or rather, the film awakened me--reawakened me--to the illusion of division, separation, distance--"us" and "them."

As regards Iraq, this in truth began a few years back. March 20 of 2003, to be exact. Another friend, who worked in TV news at the time, called to let me know the war was on. I took to my notebook that evening:

"Our government has just sent National Guardsmen to Iraq in numbers not matched since WWII."

Then followed somewhat of a tangent on love and fear, before I returned to the matter of the unfolding war.

"I am Saddam," I said to myself as I left the Stop and Shop today. I can't even bear to remember the headline I glimpsed at the checkout. "GET SADDAM," or somesuch blared above the living color front-page photograph of an exploding bomb or bombs: Baghdad, I suppose, up in smoke. "I am Saddam": I thought of showing up on Bush's doorstep, or some equivalent doorstep, and saying that. "Kill me."

"The point being that you are, President Bush, killing me and you and the rest of us with this campaign of yours. I hear them talk of Shiites on the news as though they're "other." Not us. Not the white-hats, but other: the bad guys, the enemy. And it's beyond me how grown, educated, thinking people in this day and age can even consider creating such a thing as an enemy, never mind bombing it.

"We are throwing bombs at our tiny planet. Just next door--do you feel it? The rumble, the you?

"Which would you choose to bomb, your right leg or your left? Maybe your arm--would you? Would you bomb your arm or leg? Would anyone choose to bomb his arm or leg?

"We have just bombed our collective leg.

"We are one organism, obviously forgetting this. We are throwing bombs at ourselves. We are hating some part of our self and trying to destroy it. If our President recognized Saddam Hussein as his brother, his cousin, as himself, ultimately, would he seek to annihilate him? Send out his (his??) troops? It is your brothers, sisters, children you are shipping out to go kill, dear Soldiers. I ask you: why? Why would you choose that? And wound and poison precious Babylon. Tilt this planet that much further off balance--tell me: why? Come tell me. You will find me in a stone cottage in Boston under a light drizzle, in bed, ready for sleep. Find me where the snowdrops outside presage spring, as if--almost as if--nothing's happening, as if there isn't anything terribly wrong."

I know I know: March 20, 2003 wasn't the originating incident either. I will not take on the cataclysm of 9/11 just now. Except to say that the events of that day thrust me into a spiritual crisis (me and how many?). My first inroads at making any "sense" of them came when I looked to my own life and asked: where am I at war? I knew that anything short of peace in my home and in my one little life was more than simply a microcosm of this act of "terrorism." I knew--know--that there is a direct trajectory from one to the other.

I say I do not condone war. I say I am for Love's way. And I am still, apparently, susceptible to the unconscious, spontaneous detour off the Freeway.

It was a nasty ride; I'm glad to be back.


Blogger eezngrce said...

I am moved by your post. You make evident your wish to live in accordance with your best and truest "self." I only wonder, and pose it as an open question, Did you actually veer off of "Love's Freeway"? These mishaps you experienced, were they not in fact a poignant reflection of how distracted one can become, how narrow and cramped with one's own selfhood one can and does become, and that it is precisely this, and only this, that makes one suffer, and makes one cause suffering to others? You forgot, which is our vast and endless human story. We are the great forgetters are we not? We forget. We lose contact with still awareness, with our inherent essential beingness if you will. Is this mishap, this misunderstanding, this temporary confusion, is it separate from clear seeing? Is it not a blessing to see aggression clearly, to see it arising in the mind and to question it, and by so doing, undoing the cycle of aggression? Is it helpful to call it inexcusable, to separate it from Love's Freeway, to divide thoughts into acceptable and unacceptable? Can you stop aggressive thoughts? Are those thoughts yours, do they belong to you? It seems to me that aggression is as much a part of this human story as love and understanding are. They are part of the ineffable human story of forgetting and remembering.

8:56 PM  

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