Cancer made me feel completely misunderstood and out of place, but it also made me more self-aware. It gave me a new perspective on the world, helping me appreciate simple dialogues with loved ones and strangers. Above all, it was transformative and empowering, giving the knowledge that only an experience like this could impart: to know what it means to be empathetic. This is my story of Tisha B’Av.
The first word for cancer to appear in medical literature, back in the time of Hippocrates around 400 BCE, was karkinos, from the Greek word for crab; it’s a linguistic coincidence, but to me it seems connected to the similar-sounding word kinos, the elegies for Tisha B’Av. Since that hour on my bed at camp three summers ago, I have searched for the notebook where I wrote my own kinos and filled pages with my own pain, but I haven’t found it. Maybe like the old Jewish custom to bury the books of kinos deep in the ground, in the hopes of not needing to use them the following year (with the rebuilding of the Temple), I buried them somewhere deep in my room. What I feared then as my life’s end, like the Temples’ destruction, turned out to require of me the courage to begin again.
If you read one thing today, be sure it’s this contemplative personal history of a young, observant Jewish student who says that “cancer, and a year of chemotherapy, gave me a new perspective on Jewish holidays — starting with Tisha B’Av.”
“Standing in the lowly place with the easily despised, and the readily left out, and with the demonized — so that the demonizing will stop — and with the disposable — so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. That gives me life, that’s where I want to be. I think that’s where Jesus insists on standing.”—Fr. Greg Boyle, from his interview with Krista Tippett at the Chautauqua Institution
One of the things I find I most enjoyed — and, now, most miss — about my travels to the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Istanbul is the periodicity of the muezzin’s call to prayer. It greets you in so many unexpected ways.
Standing on the Mount of Olives, one call drifts across the valley from the Old City only to be washed over by another one down the way. But walk within its walls and it beckons you to stop. Sometimes sternly and at others as a mother would remind her child.
Walk around a corner in Ramallah and the muezzin’s voice may greet you as a friend and wrap its arms around your shoulders; walk down another alley and it barks at you. Sit atop a rooftop patio in the oldest parts of Istanbul and several voices vie for your affections without competing with one another. The voices of small, underpowered speakers from a nearby local mosque provide background vocals for the melodic mix of the more prominent mosques like the Sultanahmet Mosque, the Blue Mosque, in what seems like a talent show of some of the world’s best.
And, then there’s the greeting from one’s home, as you can hear in the audio embedded audio above. It’s the maghrib athan, the fourth call that summons the faithful to prayer just after sunset, during Ramadan from what seems like an apartment window somewhere outside of Nablus.
One sees so many sites, eats so much delicious food, meets so many wonderful people. But it’s the rhythmic reminder that stays with me, a discipline I’ll cherish long after the memory of such encounters slowly erode themselves in my mind.
About the photo: The muezzin at the Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo demonstrates his vocal abilities in the liwan. (Photo by Christopher Rose/Flick, licensed under Creative Commons)
“Through the initial physical challenge of the fast, the soul is agitated and its level of maturity is tested. In this way, the physical fast is a means to an inner, spiritual fast. The fast ultimately reveals to you everything that comes between you and Allah s.w.t., every tendency to break down and lapse out of trust in Allah s.w.t. when placed under pressure. How you respond to this discomfort determines the degree of success of your spiritual fast.”—
Our Sunday's get started in bed with our eyes closed listening, conjuring and celebrating with "On Being" with Krista Tippett. This is our grounding for the week ahead. Last week we could not find it on our home station WBEZ, Chicago, and we have been terribly distressed. What happened? Where are you? Rogene and Larry Kirkegaard
Dear Rogene and Larry—
Thank you so much for writing. We are distressed, as you are, that WBEZ has stopped carrying On Being.
We love our Chicago listeners. The best thing you can do is let Chicago Public Media know you listen and that you care; write WBEZ directly or give them a call at 312-948-4600 — and encourage others who listen to On Being to do the same (via Facebook or Tumblr, email or Twitter).
We are grateful to you for taking the time to ask.
So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read in school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.
“The computer is like electronic cocaine.”—Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues the Internet is like “electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches, in our cover story on the Web making us crazy.
Krista Tippett speaks with philosopher Jacob Needleman. As new democracies are struggling around the world, it’s easy to forget that U.S. democracy was shaped by trial and error. A conversation about the “inward work” of democracy — the conscience that shaped the American experiment.
“When we speak of the idea of America, we are speaking of many interconnected ethical ideas, both metaphysical ideas that deal with ultimate reality, and ethical and social ideas, which all together offered hope to the world. The idea of America, with all that it contained within it about the moral law, nature, God and the human soul, once reflected to some extent the timeless ancient wisdom that has guided human life since the dawn of history. America was a new and original expression, in the form of a social and political experiment, of ideas that have always been part of what may be called the great web of Truth. Explicitly and implicitly, the idea of America has resonated with this ancient, timeless wisdom and has allowed something of its power to touch the heart and mind of humanity. It is necessary to recover this resonance, this relationship, however tenuous and partial, between the teachings of wisdom and the idea of America.”—
A happy Fourth of July to all Americans celebrating independence today. Please keep in mind all the countries and people in the Middle East trying to develop their own experiments in democracy — and that anything worth having always takes time.
“Everyone knows that the key to winning as a big-time coach is keeping your players eligible. Some of that effort is legal, some not. Give the players tutors and gut courses, or even have someone write term papers for them. Get the campus police and the local cops to cooperate. Hey, boys will be boys. Overlook. Blind eye. Forgive them their trespasses as game day approaches. Keep them eligible. Joe Paterno was a football coach all of his long, adult life. Like all coaches, after a while, keeping your players eligible is second nature. When his old assistant was in trouble, that must’ve kicked in. Joe Paterno kept Jerry Sandusky eligible. If he has a legacy, that’s it.”—