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Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category



Anti-Ageism: The Next Big Social Movement

Dec7

by: Ruth Ray Karpen on December 7th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

A Review of Ending Ageism or How Not to Shoot Old People

By Margaret Morganroth Gullette

Rutgers University Press, 2017

 

Forty years ago, Erdman Palmore, a senior fellow at the Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, published a series of questions – the Facts on Aging Quiz – designed to provoke group discussions about aging and old age.  To his surprise, the quiz revealed that most Americans knew very little about the aging process and harbored many misconceptions, most of them negative. Among the most common misconceptions were that the majority of old people (age 65+) were bored, angry, irritated and unable to adapt to change and that at least 10% of them lived in nursing homes.  For years Palmore and other gerontologists, used the quiz in classes and public forums to educate people about the facts of aging.  They knew from previous research that the more knowledge people gain, the less negative and the more positive attitudes they hold about aging.

In 2017, Americans still need to be educated, perhaps even more so, if the proliferation of negative behaviors and hate speech toward old people is any indication.   Of all the prejudices that divide us, ageism is still the most universally shared and tolerated.  It can be hostile and overt, like the Facebook comment that “anyone over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad,” or more subtle and passive aggressive, like the birthday card that makes fun of getting old, the comment that a retired colleague has “let herself go” or your own disgust at the wrinkles and brown spots on your face.  These are mere bagatelles, however, compared to the most serious forms of age bias.

Consider these facts of contemporary life in America:

  • Midlife men, especially those once considered at the peak of their ability and experience, are now widely discriminated against in the workplace.  In some places, such as tech companies in Silicon Valley, discrimination starts at the age of 35.
  • Among the Facebook groups that focus on older adults – approximately 25,000 members – 74% “vilified” older adults, according to one study, and 37% thought they should be banned from public activities like driving and shopping.
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Redemption

Nov29

by: Michael Nagler on November 29th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

When the US Holocaust Museum was being erected in Washington, D.C., the German government asked permission to create a museum of modern Germany nearby to show that Germany had repudiated its Nazi past.  That permission was denied.  This I regard as a tragic mistake, against an even more tragic background: our mass incarceration and increasingly drastic systems of “justice” that also arise from the failure of Americans – not all of us, but a controlling majority at present – to believe in the possibility of redemption.

Five years before the Museum’s opening in 1993, the U.S.S. Vincennes, operating in the Persian Gulf, mistakenly shot down Iran Air flight 255, killing all 290 people aboard. Minor technical improvements were made to the radar equipment to prevent mistakes of that kind in future (it seems the captain had misinterpreted some radar readings), but nothing was done to address the tragedy that had already occurred.  In fact, the then Vice President, George H.W. Bush, publicly stated, “I don’t care what the facts are; I will never apologize for the American people.”  The statement is as shocking for its jingoistic arrogance as its disregard of truth, but the man who said went on to become President and the posture that it represents is part of our national attitude.  It explains why, for example, it has been nearly impossible to discuss rationally reparations for African American or Native American people.

The refusal to allow Germany to escape from a dark past and the refusal – or inability – to apologize for tragic errors of our own are of course connected.  If you don’t believe a nation or a human being can change, that is, in the possibility of redemption, you will not be emotionally able to take responsibility for your own mistakes (as practicing Jews do annually at Yom Kippur).  In effect, you will deny yourself, as you have denied others, the possibility to grow.  One can almost hear the echo of Martin Luther King’s prophetic words that we may be becoming a nation that is “approaching spiritual death.”  But there is a way out. 

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Embracing the Stranger, Part IV: Knowing Ourselves to Know Others

Nov9

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on November 9th, 2017 | No Comments »

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We atTikkunfeel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Click here to read part I in this series, here for part II, and here for part III. This is the final installment.

Knowing Ourselves to Know Others: Reflections of an Interview with JR Furst

Coming to do the work of social justice is a journey that people travel based on their identities and experiences. It is many individual people that create a community striving for change as they bring their own unique perspectives. However, even within this, there are points of connection and common cause for those who dedicate their time and energy to challenging, systems and norms that maintain deep division. A friendship and a connection between two individuals has been the foundation for the work of Beyond This Prison, a project started by JR Furst and Glenn Robinson to work with at risk youth by developing leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, and positive confrontation.

After this, JR began writing with multiple inmates, but made a particular and long term connection with Glenn Robinson. Glenn has been serving a forty year sentence in a Louisiana jail for a non violent crime since the age of 17. When JR first read Glenn’s response When Glenn first began writing back to JR, “It felt like there was an underlying tone of ‘I’ve been waiting for your letter, let’s gets started, we have a lot of work to do.’” Glenn believed that the connection between these two practical strangers was destiny. Through the development of this relationship, JR began to tell Glenn’s life story to others. “[Glenn said] If he’s going to sit here rotting in a cell he might as well find someway to connect with the outside world and to have his experiences, life, wisdom, and perspective not be in vain.”

Slowly, Beyond This Prison was formed as a way to share Glenn’s words of wisdom and insight. The project, which works with the organization, Youth Spirit Artworks, has developed workshops that have given participants the chance to be vulnerable about their own lives and discuss the metaphorical prisons that they experience and feel trapped by. Using the insight from Glenn’s letters, JR uses the inspiration and wisdom to form workshops for youth who are on the same possible track that led to Glenn’s incarceration. JR stated that these workshops create an opportunity for people to showcase their amazing capability to open up. “Give someone a creative prompt, they can step outside of themselves and their reality. Amazing things emerge just naturally.”

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Embracing the Stranger, Part III: A Place for Compassion in Activism

Nov6

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on November 6th, 2017 | No Comments »

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We atTikkunfeel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Click here to read part I in this series, and here for part II. Stay tuned the final installment!

A Place for Compassion in Activism: Reflections of an Interview with Tada Hozumi

In social justice work, the activist communities that are built are a vital component to the success and continuation of movements. The interactions, group dynamics, and relationships activists have with each other can affect the work they do to create a better world for all people. In talking with Tada Hozumi, they explained to me, “[...]Social justice is about relationships – relationships between people on an individual or community level.” Hozumi is the facilitator for their most current project, “Authentic Allyship,” an online coaching program for white allies to explore what it means to cultivate allyship based on self-compassion and self-care, rather than obligation. Additionally, they are the author of an upcoming book, Selfish Activist, describing possible ways to build healthy relationships within social justice communities.They describe that in the work for social justice, our relationships are equally as important if we are to dismantle the systems that oppress ourselves and others. Therefore, they maintain, “[B]ecause it’s a relationship, all the principles of healthy relating still apply.”

Hozumi has more recently stepped away from social justice circles after experiencing the more and more prevalent “burnout” that activists can experience after engaging in the profound emotional, psychological, and at times visceral work of activism. After stepping away and reflecting on the social justice communities they participated in, Hozumi thought about social justice culture and community, and developed their own thinking about allyship in activist circles.

A fundamental aspect to social justice work can be to live in a just society together. In some way, we live in relationship to everyone, whether they are a complete stranger, or our most intimate and close partners. Therefore, in social justice work, the development of relationships is vital. Hozumi explains that, “[...] within social justice communities we’re often forgetting to treat ourselves [and] others like we’re in a relationship. So that to me is [...] inherently missing the mark, when this work is about people and their relationships to each other. [...] [W]hat I’m focused on is looking at [...] what does it mean if we started looking at activist work as relationship work? There’s so much information out there already about how to manage relationships.” Having social justice communities model the kind of relationships we want could be an act of revolutionary thinking and process.

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Embracing the Stranger, Part II: Challenging Ourselves to Love Ourselves

Nov1

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on November 1st, 2017 | No Comments »

AtTikkunMagazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series,Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We atTikkunfeel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Click here to read part I in this series. Stay tuned for parts III and IV!

Challenging Ourselves to Love Ourselves: Reflections on an Interview with JD Doyle from East Bay Meditation Center

In the practices of meditation and mindfulness, there is a component that calls for us to explore how our daily actions affect not only ourselves, but others as well. JD Doyle is currently on the program committee, as well as one of the teachers, at the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC), a meditation training and spiritual teaching center based in Oakland, CA. JD has been involved since its opening saying, “It’s kind of like a dream come true to me because I can be whole at EBMC.” JD described that being a part of EBMC is to embrace the possibilities of radical inclusion, along with an invitation to be uncomfortable within spiritual practice in order to grow. As it was founded on the grounds of social justice, EBMC is a place to become more in touch with one’s self while developing a sense of community.

For JD, the practice of meditation began at 35 when they began learning about Buddhist teachings. When I asked them how they began practicing, JD explains, “My first Buddhist teacher was a gay man [and was involved in social justice]. And I say that intentionally because I think [...] being able to hear Buddhism from somebody I could relate to was significant to me. And as I started practicing, I found these tools of how to relate to myself and how to relate to suffering in the world with more compassion and loving kindness and being able to extend that to others more readily, which is transformative.”

Being a part of EBMC and its development has been highly influential in JD’s practice as a Buddhist Beings surrounded by a community of people who have come together with the mindset of wanting to do social justice work has meant that radical inclusivity is integral. Additionally, the ability to fully participate at EBMC is one of its main principles. “I can show up as a white, genderqueer person, coming towards middle aged, having had some health issues [...] and I don’t have to leave out a part of me at all when I walk through the door. I’m asked to step into my wholeness and to allow other people to be whole as well. [...] It’s about creating a space where we all can live into our wholeness .” JD describes that EBMC was originally designed to be an inclusive center. “Most places have to retrofit to include underrepresented communities, people of color, people with disabilities. Part of the vision of EBMC was to be founded to include communities that have been traditionally marginalized or excluded.” With this foundation, this intention would be influential in the practice of meditation and community building. “Inherent in its mission, [EBMC] is to serve communities and focus on social justice. So people who come to EBMC are coming there with that intention, and know they will meet like minded people there. The community practices meditation because it is a way for us to come home to ourselves and work both internally and externally.”

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Embracing the Stranger, Part I: Connected in Difference

Oct29

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on October 29th, 2017 | No Comments »

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We at Tikkun feel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Stay tuned for parts II, III, and IV in this series!

Connected in Difference: Reflections of an Interview with AnaLouise Keating

Inspired by writers and scholars before her, Professor AnaLouise Keating is developing her lifelong work focusing on the possibilities of change in the midst of difference. She is currently a professor of gender studies, however, “If I could rename my field of study, I would name it transformation studies,” she says, “because my work focuses on discovering and inventing innovative ways to effect personal and collective change, in the service of social justice.” AnaLouise is the author of multiple books on women-of-color feminisms, spiritual activism, transformational dialogue, post-oppositional theory, and the work of Gloria Anzaldúa. Knowing the breadth of AnaLouise’s work, she has immense insight into the possibilities of developing commonalities within a world of difference.

Like many scholars, AnaLouise’s research and teaching has been shaped by her experiences and identities; unlike many scholars, AnaLouise is aware of her own evolution and the unique insights that creates. AnaLouise begins discussing her intellectual development by sharing that she has never been someone who fits in well with any specific group. “I’m a person of color but light skinned. I’m not gay, I’m not heterosexual. I wasn’t comfortable with my family’s very conservative Christian Protestant beliefs. So I just read a lot and tried to figure myself out and find myself. [...] Then I started reading women of color, especially lesbians of color, to find myself, and I was especially drawn to [Gloria] Anzaldúa, [Audre] Lorde, and Paula Gunn Allen. I think it’s because in different ways they didn’t fit into any monolithic race, gender, sexuality, or social justice group.” As outsiders, they could see the limitations in numerous group identities; they learned from their experiences and developed innovative approaches to building radically more inclusive communities.

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again, Part One

Aug20

by: on August 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Holding steady when the ground is moving is normally part of my stock-in-trade.People often ask me for something to help put their own fears into perspective. Usually I am willing and able to oblige. Mostly I try my best to see the bigger picture, and mostly that effort pays off.

But not now. I was staying more or less centered until a few days ago when something caught me off-guard. In the middle of a conference call, I got a text message carrying information that turned out not to be true, that the Barcelona terrorist who mowed down 13 lives like grass had been heading for a kosher restaurant on Las Ramblas, hard by the assassin’s abandoned car. It was an intense activation, hard to control despite my wish to hold to decorum, despite the fact that everyone on the call had been talking about their fears for their own communities’ and others, their responses to the nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville and the havoc they wreaked. When I rang off, a bit of research led me to conclude that the location of the car was likely a coincidence, that even though ISIS hates Jews, the attack did not target us directly.

Ashamed, I apologized to my colleagues for spreading false information, then gave myself a talking-to. Oh, crap! I’m triggered again, and not only that, but right now I am super-susceptible to recurrence.

I borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.

Do you want to know why I was so easily and massively triggered by a stray rumor?Let me suggest four readings. First: Eric Ward’s important essay “Skin In The Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.” This piece was written by a non-Jewish African American who has studied and worked against white supremacist movements for many years. He exposes in detail how “antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism,” how it is the cornerstone of their racist ideology, and how this is often neither understood nor believed despite ample evidence.

I read Ward’s piece when it was first posted to Political Research Associates’ site at the end of June, six weeks before white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, VA, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” inspiring one of their number to use his automobile as a weapon, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring others,.

When you’re done with “Skin in The Game,” read “Jewish Fear, Love, & Solidarity in the Wake of Charlottesville” by Jonah S. Boyarin, published on the Jewschool site a few days after the events in Charlottesville. Among many other closely observed depictions of fear, love, and solidarity, Boyarin writes:

Jewish fear is the recurring silence from non-Jews about the explicitly, particularly antisemitic language and behavior of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. It is seeing, with rare exceptions, only Jewish friends of mine posting on social media when Jewish cemeteries are vandalized or when the Boston Holocaust memorial was destroyed this week for the second time this summer.

Jewish fear is if we bring up our struggle to non-Jewish comrades, we will be gaslighted and shamed into silence, because structural antisemitism functions by portraying us as conspiratorially, greedily powerful despite our repeated vulnerability to structural, white Christian male violence.

Third, read Michael Chabon’s and Ayelet Waldman’s “Open Letter to our Fellow Jews,” enacting our tradition and imperative to rebuke injustice within our community:

Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.

Finally, if you have the bandwidth for one more, read Danica Bornstein’s account of struggling to reconcile two identities, the provisional social category of whiteness and her lived experience as a Jew:

What I’m trying to say here is that the privilege that accrues during the good times is very much real, and I am not denying or hiding that. It is also true that the privilege is provisional, and can be revoked, and becomes the very thing that is used against us when the shoe finally drops.

It overwhelms me trying to explain this history and how both of these things live inside my body: the very real privilege but also the very real and repeated experiences of expulsion, scapegoating, genocide, and terror. I talk about the part that is easier, but then I end up feeling very alone.

None of these writers is identical to each other in approach, style, content, or the way they position themselves in the story, but they are all telling parts of a meta-story that has shaped my experience.

In the context of this big story of Jews in the USA, when I tell myself, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” I am reminding myself that despite the intense feelings I’m experiencing, I’m not truly in it alone. I’m reminding myself that I’m not alone despite the fact that so many of my colleagues on the U.S. left are quite happy to hang a label reading “white” around my neck and never hear another word about why that might not sum up the experience of disbelonging for a first-generation American whose earliest memories were explanations in halting English of why I had so few living ancestors and so little knowledge of those who had survived, and of being chased home by Catholic kids when they got to the part in catechism about Jews killing Jesus, and whose recent memories are crowded with experiences of being an acceptable target, a handy “buffer group” for multiple racial categories.

I’m reminding myself that even if I am once again attacked from both right and left for having the audacity to take the space to tell this story and the willingness to risk this self-exposure, I am not alone.

And why must I remind myself so insistently of this truth? The trajectory of all traumatic activation is the same. The person who is triggered is propelled toward extreme isolation, often into an intolerable loneliness that obscures or precludes the actual antidote to white nationalism: connection, reciprocity, collaboration, respect, generosity across lines of difference.

From what I see, my story rhymes with much of the current state of things. The white nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Boston, and many other places overwhelmingly share certain characteristics: pale skin, male gender, Christian heritage. None of these is intrinsically the generator of evil, but the giant chickens of power and domination their possessors have birthed have been marching home to roost for a long time, lusting to punish the rest of us for daring to live our freedom. In the face of this long march, so many people I know are displaying the signs of extreme reactivity grounded in trauma: believing the inner voice that says no one else can know my suffering, no one is truly on my side, I can’t trust anyone who fits different categories of race, religion, gender, orientation, even generation. So many are locked in just this combat with would-be allies: whose perspective matters? Who has earned the right to have a say? Who understands the urgency and seriousness of the threats? Who has the capacity or right to glimpse what it is to live inside my skin?

What do you do when elicited trauma pushes you into a dark corner? For me, many things can help in the moment. Music, a walk, or a distraction—anything that disrupts reactivity long enough to allow the fear chemicals to dissipate.

But you know what helps me the most? When compassion opens a door between my heart and another person’s; when neither of us needs to slot the other’s story into a hierarchy of oppressions, judging if it deserves equal dignity or goes on the dismissible pile. When we hear each others’ stories without turning away, when we open our arms to each other. When we join together to rebuke injustice and call in the beloved community.

I’ve been thinking about trauma a great deal over the past year because it is one of the subjects of my current book-in-progress. Even if it weren’t, I’d still be thinking about trauma today because laying fresh damage on the site of old wounds seems to be our national pastime. Every day, I have to remind myself to stay aware enough to say, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” because without that awareness, the past prevails.

When I am triggered, my capacity for rational thought is greatly diminished. This is bad news not only because of the immediate suffering it catalyzes, but because the thing that helps me most to release trauma-induced reactivity is staying aware that I am activated. Keeping part of my thinking mind free to be an observer allows me to begin distinguishing past from present. I begin to remember that the loud voice in my head—the one telling me I’m all alone in an uncaring world and they want to kill me—is not the voice of reality, the objective truth, but the over-amped voice of old pain.

My grip on my composure remains tenuous. In Shabbat services yesterday morning, we talked about the Torah portion for this week, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17). A short way into the text, we read this exhortation about how to treat the conquered who worshipped false gods: “Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site.”

Aha, I thought, the Confederate statues! You get to a fresh start by wiping out the symbols of an abhorrent belief system. My mind reeled into the slam dance that’s been playing over and over on my inner soundtrack. But wait, that’s what ISIS leaders thought they were doing when they demolished the Bamyan Buddhas! (See this compendium of pictures and links for images of that and many more examples of monuments toppled). On the one hand crashes headlong into on the other hand. Both tumble into the mosh pit of my brain. I try to blink back the tears and steady my breathing, knowing that unless I can resolve this state of hyper-susceptibility, I will be cycling through that dance every day, perhaps every hour.

Coming next in the “Oh Crap! I’m Triggered” series: Free Speech Slamdance.

Odetta and Dr. John, “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”

Fall Harvest

Jun20

by: Mary Agnes Rawlings on June 20th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

The earth has yielded its harvest; God, our God, Blesses us.”  Psalm 67:7

Today I return to writing about God’s gifts in our lives!   It seemed to me that everywhere I turned this summer I heard retirement conversations going on and those same conversations caused me pause.  My cousin Charlie, my brother in law Larry, my friend Herman all talked about the event with an excitement which made me stop and think.   Questions surfaced, Do I want to retire?  When? Why? What would I do if I didn’t go to work?  Questions swirled through my mind, an endless and consuming battle raged inward.

Without advanced warning;  I awakened  in the middle of the night to this small peaceful space within me. I realized in that moment I was finished with paid work!  From that point each day in prayer, clarity came as friend and deep comfort surrounded my spirit.  Of course I am done I said to myself; I have worked for many long years.  Years of providing for our family in a small yet consistent way I had done my part and it was time to let go.

The surprising thing is that when I let go an amazing thing happened.   When I spoke with my boss he seemed open and aligned in agreement with a decision I had already made.  As I write this meditation we are in discussion about my departure date!  It certainly hasn’t been the way in which I thought it would happen; but like so many things in life transformation happens in the twinkling of an eye!

As I anticipate fall harvest I feel a deep connection with the earth.  This season of life is when one is able to see the abundance of what the earth has brought forth.  Being a farmer I realize sometimes a crop seems small while other years are abundant and overflowing.   The same seems true for a life.  Some years seemed more fruitful than others; some years seemed as though the earth’s parched dry wind stripped the ground of life itself.  Yet as I ponder the terrain I realize that my one constant has always been the sense that God is with me.  No matter what the circumstance or the challenge I experience God’s loving presence in my prayer and meditation on life and the harvest becomes a deep sense of gratitude for what I have been given.  The opportunity to live- grow- and love more deeply than I ever anticipated or thought possible is the real harvest in life.

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Haitian Mourning Rituals and Just Don’t Wear Red!

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Upon hearing news of the death of an older cousin, I immediately recalled times spent in the lakou (yard) of his late grandmother, whom everyone knew as Aunt Boots – the family matriarch and piercer. I call her that since she had done all our ears at the most tender age to assure the making of girls in Haiti. I remember running around freely with the scent of roasting coffee beans swarming us. She had a coffee and peanut butter business. On Saturday afternoons, grownups sat on wicker ladder-backed chairs, catching up on the latest news, and family matters. This was a refuge where we, as children, were allowed to be children who played while being repeatedly told to stay clear of the huge cauldron that fumigated the entire neighborhood.

I had not spoken to this cousin in ages, yet felt the need to attend the funeral — shameful that I have been something of a delinquent family member because the last time I saw him eons ago was at another cousin’s wedding. Nearly a decade ago, his brother had made the trek to Boston from Montreal without fanfare to attend my maternal grandmother’s funeral. He came he said, “because you show up for family.” The diaspora may have spread us all over the Americas and the rest of the world, but that did not mean abandonment when it matters.

"Cendre" Painting and photo: Gina Athena Ulysse

Putting aside all my other responsibilities, I suddenly grew melancholic, focused on a sense of duty – a commitment to not only properly show up, but be fully present. I made the call to offer my condolences. His brother quickly pacified my obvious deep sense of regret. He was happy to hear my voice despite the occasion. It was a peaceful death, he told me. In the week that followed, I became hyperaware of some Haitian mourning rituals. Conversations with my mother were about who’s who in our large family tree as well as periods of mourning, cultural codes concerning dress and proper behavior at funerals. I found myself making tons of phone calls for plans for an extended family road trip. Who could take off work? Who would drive with whom? What kind of car should be rented? Of course, there would be a kotizasyon, give whatever you can. It’s not about the amount. C’est le geste qui prime. Indeed, it is the gesture that counts.

My first memory of anything related to mourning in the family ironically has to do with the food served at receptions held after wakes and funerals. I seem to only remember that we were served finger sandwiches or patés flaky savory pastries. The adults drank té jenjanm (ginger tea) or coffee, always black, with or without sugar. There was also Cola Champagne, Tranpé (moonshine with bitter herbs, usually cerasee), Prestige–our national beer, and Rhum Barbancourt. The young ones were guaranteed hot chocolate. Sometimes, our infamous pumpkin soup made its culinary appearance.

What color am I supposed to wear? I was uncharacteristically concerned with being respectable. Rebel me sought motherly advice. She had been shopping for stockings and trying to find the right outfit. “Well, it depends,” as she began a litany of mourning dress codes in Haiti, “If you are immediate family, you wear black. Young children can wear white, or black and white, or even grey. You could wear purple, if you want, or a print. Nothing too bold. Cover your shoulders. These days, these things don’t matter as much because people wear anything to funerals. Just don’t wear red!” I had a conversation with her godchild, the deceased’s brother who underscored this point, “absolutely no one should wear red unless you are the killer or assassin of the dead person”. In deeper mourning than I knew, I opted for black.

During the wake, as his pictures flashed across the screens, the weight of the loss was evident in the faces of his wife and children. Incessant tears welled up and streamed down already stained cheeks. Pictures of him with school buddies growing up in Haiti. Mother reminded me that his nickname was Little Lion, a play on his name Lyonel. Wedding pictures. More talk of the aunt who could not attend but had played matchmaker. Pictures of him holding his newborns, with friends, coaching a youth soccer team, at his job. He was always smiling and loved to laugh. As he peacefully rested in a casket, his youngest brother demanded if anyone knew whether Death was male or female. With his usual bravado, he dared anyone to answer. What would he do if there was ever an encounter? “Death keeps taking too many of your own,” he lamented. How would he express his anger? His brutal honesty and fierceness demanded our attention in different ways. In so many instances, I found myself choking up on tears. There was an abundance of love.

At the service, his pastor offered a beautiful sermon. A dear friend recited a fitting eulogy while his children and nieces paid him greater homage. Everything had been delayed by weeks. His family generously waited because people would be traveling from afar to pay their respects. Amidst this despair that resonated, some of us were reconnecting in new ways. It took this moment for us to gather again. There was also laughter among the tears as memories of siblings, cousins, came through to reveal the ties that bind immigrant communities despite the thousands of miles that separated us. To be sure, we are far from a monolith. These days, the diasporic lakou has been redefined composed of an even wider range of family structures, incomes, livelihoods, and tastes. We represent and inhabit different social worlds and religious practices. Now, there were new generations born on this side of the water who had never been to our beloved Haiti. Family stories became quilted tales that could only be woven together from different bits by those who had been there back in the day. We all know only too well that memories fade.

The last day, in a private chat with his eldest brother, I realized why I have been flooded with such sorrow. “Gina,” he said, “don’t you remember when we used to come to visit you and your sisters before we migrated? We use to bring you candy and cookies and we would hide them in our pockets, we made you run around looking, but you knew they were there.” I went to the funeral, not out of obligation, but the purest form of gratitude because my departed cousin was part of my most salient recollections of happiness in an elusive childhood.

Back on U.S. soil, in these times when we are too cavalier about the dead, his younger brother offered these last words, “in our culture when a death occurs, it becomes everybody’s business.”

Violence Begets Violence

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

We at Tikkun were glad to hear Senator Bernie Sanders unequivocally condemn the shooting by Bernie supporter, James Hodgkinson, who injured five Republicans, one of them a Congressman, who were part of the Republican Congressional group going to play a for fun annual baseball game with Democratic Congresspeople in Washington DC this morning, June 14th. In his statement, Senator Sanders said: “I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only be obtained through nonviolent action and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

We at Tikkun are fully aligned in our opposition to violence of any sort and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We do so on spiritual, religious, and ethical grounds. Human life is sacred and should be protected and helped to flourish. This is a central teaching of the Bible and of Judaism through the ages. We also oppose it on strategic grounds. When anyone who could be seen as connected to liberal and progressive causes engages in violence, (against property even, but especially against human beings) he or she creates a new opportunity for the most reactionary forces in our country to pass new laws restricting free speech, to bring indictments against social change activists, to incite law enforcement to use excessive levels of violence, and to build popular support for new measures of repression.

While we agree with Sanders on most of what he said, we are also aware of statements made by others that have picked up  the notion that violence runs against American values or is in some way oppositional to what America stands for in the world. We will soon be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th, in which many Americans will celebrate the violent revolutionary uprising against the British and sing songs like the national anthem with its praise of “rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and set off firecrackers to relive that violence. The sad fact is that the United States of America has consistently used violence to achieve its policy aims, invading other countries with troops (Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the list goes on), training South and Central American police and military at the “School of Americas” in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the use of violence and torture to defeat populist movements challenging undemocratic governments, , the Obama and Trump administration’s’ bombing from drones or airplanes civilian populations (e.g. these past many months assaulting the people of Yemen as part of our growing alliance with the reactionary and repressive and human-rights-violating regime in Saudi Arabia), and the policy of the Obama presidency to select individuals to be assassinated by drones and without trial in countries around the world who are suspected of being or aiding terrorists (and in the process, murdering at least several thousand non-combatant civilians). It sickens us to listen to the hypocrisy of those in the media who talk about this latest (immoral) assault on government officials as if it is somehow outside the path of violence that has been part of American society and celebrated as such by many.

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