Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter of Peace


All the US troops should be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Rather than celebrating this news, there's barely a whimper of acknowledgment at our decade of folly, blood, and torture. In New York there are no 'Welcome Home' rallies or parties. We are too busy concerned about the next crisis to look back. The holiday spirit of exhaustion sadness seeps into every political discussion.

When I first came to the city in the fall of 2002 war was in the air and the people rallied in the street. I was ambivalent toward the anti-war protest and the anti-peace politicians. I didn't want war, but on the other hand I felt on an instinctive level that I was watching a shadow puppet play. Is this really about stopping a war, or just about being on-record about something that's happening.' Why wasn't it a peace rally? Why was it anti-? 

I remember hearing New School'ers talk about going to the protest and asking me if I was going to go and I wanted to say 'yes, sure' but I was frozen. Deep down inside something kept saying 'you know you can't go. It's not going to work. Your entire being will rebel against this faux liberalism, this defeatism that's overtaken left-wing movements.'  So what ended up happening is I would offer these sheepish muddled excuses about why I didn't want a war, but also wouldn't go to an anti-War protest. I didn't have the wisdom to even argue. Didn't have the scriptural logicof it but just an internal logic was clicking through my mind.
When I was in middle school the Rodney King riots erupted after the not-guilty verdict. People were enraged. The administrators organized a gathering for students to vent their anger in the last two periods. I was 12, scared out of my mind but I asked to be excused from the rally. I would be the only Black person who didn't want to sit and a room and scream about the police while LA burned. People looked at me like I was crazy, an Uncle Tom, a sellout. But something deep inside said 'you can't go to this. It will just be anger. You have enough.' I was shoved down the stairs on my way to a holding room for those students refusing to take part in the rally. I still went, knees shaking. A part of my mind observed the insanity of anger on a macro and micro level . A few angry police officers beat up another person who looks like me. This triggers other people who look like me to get angry. But people who look like the police officer are angry and they let the cops go, which triggers many people who look like me to begin burning their own houses and neighborhoods. This spreads to hundreds of cities. People who look like me and then (mostly) people who don't look like me start burning, shooting, killing, stealing because of that initial act. Cascading waves spread to each city, then around the world on TV, in newspapers. And then on the other side of the country people who look like me shove me down the stairs because I don't want to share in their anger. So Black people express their anger at racism by shoving a Black student down, by burning Black businesses, and homes. It occurred to me 'but this is the way it's always been going for Blacks, Whites, all people.' This. is. insane.
I left my body and observed this, bookmarked it in my memory as a short, fat, asthmatic 12-year-old nerd gingerly walking (fearing my legs would collapse from under me) toward the holding room for people who didn't want to attend the school venting session. After school people exploded out of the auditorium, screaming and shouting, faces twisted in anger. Windows smashed, police were called, and a new cycle was formed: people who look like me battling people who looked like 'them' that began years ago in LA with a traffic stop. I and the other people in the holding room ran, fearing for our lives, fearing that we would get swept up in 'government-sponsored' hate session that now flowed out into the parking lots, streets, and buses of Miami.
That's when I realized there was that voice that would pop up occasionally and tell me, provide refuge. I don't know where the strength came from to move, to retreat, to run -shaking legs and all.

 That being said, I didn't insult people who went to the anti-War protest in 2002. I observed politely, quietly. I kept my head down and thought 'what's this all about?' One side screaming this, the other side screaming something else.

 Then a week later my friends were at a bar and we saw the crimson fires exploding over the skies of Baghdad. Shock and Awe. The war had begun and we were watching in a cozy little Manhattan bar drinking beer and listening to songs on the jukebox. How absurd, how obscene. The bar was neither joyous in celebration nor somber. People were respectful observing, wondering how we should feel. Unsettled but not knowing what to do except drink. There was a deep feeling in that moment, in that room that we were about to enter the rabbit hole, a deep puzzling enigma of violence, pity, greed, absurdity. More drinks, more music! Seven years later we are still trying emerge from that twisted puzzle and I don't know what to call what has happened. Shock and awe.

 The next morning there was a heavy blizzard that blanketed Manhattan in a hushing white coat. I went to my early morning class realizing I would be one of the few. The streets were silent and somber and mostly empty. Fresh snow was beginning to pile up in the inches. I trudged to an Alexander Class (posture and mindset). We were asked to engage in deep listening. I would listen to someone talk for a few minutes with all my body and mind. Not leaning forward, but maintaining a deep balance of listening and absorbing. We had to look each other in the eye and no touching.

 My Australian friend Jono began talking about his feelings, the silence of the morning, the weariness of the start of this war, his feelings about being alone in NYC during winter. I'll never forget the deepness of his emotion, of his mind when it was just allowed to flow. I didn't interrupt him and actually listened to someone (very rare in our society to do that, you know?) With that level of honesty and connection, I could listen to someone for hours talk about their life, the war, zucchini, anything! Because with that level of honesty someone could be talking about "Star Trek" and they'd really be talking about themselves, their mind, my mind. It wouldn't matter, right? With that level of honesty, stillness, and listening a space was created. Then I spoke about my fears, the war and my conflicting feelings, the need to do something.
We were both crying. Crying and crying but connected. That turned out to be my protest. In the quiet, cold, half-empty classroom in the middle of an early morning blizzard. The day after the bombs had started falling I knew this is what I should have been doing all along. I should have been listening with deep love and honesty. Looking into the eyes and listening, absorbing and trying to remove my hate.

 I'll never forget that. There was something very truthful about it. And like I said this was years before taking a Buddhist dharma class. I would always think 'how can I get back to that space, to that place in the peace, where true emotions flow and change begins to happen?'

 If we could all be trained, if I could take it with me more, instill it with me more, spread that peace, that deep abiding pool of compassion, love, and openness.

 Health care, Monsanto, Afghanistan, climate change, Tiger Woods. I'm tired of being outraged. It doesn't work. It's exhausting. It makes the whole world full of shouting, anger, violence, and unhappiness.

 My parents watch MSNBC and I'm hearing the words 'should be outraged...' and my mind goes numb. I laugh weakly and nod as I eat dinner 'yeah, I'm outraged. Whatever it is, I'm appalled. You have my bile, my bitterness, my outrage. Add it to the stew.' Take it away from me, please. Take my outrage at others, add it to some bottomless pot and take it out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and drop it. It would explode like some 1950s atomic bomb test. It would wipe out small islands, shake windows, send tsunami waves out for thousands of miles. And then vanish into thin air, shimmering waves of heat that would get absorbed. Or maybe my outrage would crash through the Pacific floor and strike the core of the earth. Opening up a hell mouth that would vomit up fire, forming a mountain of black marble. A stewing cauldron would be turned into a volcano bubbling up lava and ash. Creating new islands, new terra, new life from the cooling lava. Maybe that's how the world is created. From my ignorance. But ocean waves cool the lava, shape it, they outlast the heat. The great endless waves of compassion overwhelm the biggest volcano and turn all that hell into new earth. Paradise.

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