Time-Lapse of a Faith in a Quieter Mecca
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This time-lapse film from Hosain Hadi shows the Masjid al Haram (“Sacred Mosque”) in Makkah (Mecca) in more serene moments, which may be different than most depictions videos you’ve seen of the sacred site shot during the Hajj.
The complex is shot in the off-hours, so to speak. It’s not packed to the hilt with worshipers from all over the world. It’s not shot from that same, single overhead view we often see, the one that brings the Kaaba into focus. In Faith, Hadi shares many angles with the viewer, but always from a distance. This gives one a better sense of the pulse of the shrine and its visitors. Literally, during one time of prayer, the image flickers as the adherents kneel and stand. White and grey, white and grey.
What I’m most particularly drawn to are the images rolling during the credits. Several women stand outside the mosque with their boys, one taking photos while the other holds his mother’s hand and balances on one leg. Another group of women and men race past; the first group lingers. It’s an exquisite sequence that humanizes these black-veiled women. The distance should make them feel like objects, like ants in motion. It doesn’t. You actually see these women as mothers and friends. The extension of a hand to her son, a gesture of intimacy to return home.
When Did My Luddite Parents Become Skypers and Texters?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
(photo: Lars Ploughmann/Flickr)
A few weeks ago, my dad crafted his first-ever text message. He was with my sister, who was on the brink of becoming a mother. His text is classic Dad, a singular mixture of humor, complaint, and anxiety:
"Well we’re here in the hospital waiting for [your sister’s] turn. She’s very calm, which I am not. I don’t think I’ll be able to have lunch until it’s over, which is OK since the soup in the coffee shop doesn’t look too good anyhow. I think it’s kale and it doesn’t look very hot. We’ll keep you apprised about the soup situation and about the baby too. Love, Dad"
Since my baby niece’s entry into the world, I’ve received scores of digital pictures — more than were ever taken of me or my sister during our first week of life. I’ve been experiencing aunt-hood from a geographical distance. But with technology in the mix, I’ve been able to interact with my niece as a pixelated being in ways that weren’t possible when I was a kid.
Now my parents are eager to learn how to Skype! To my amazement, a digital revolution is unfolding in the suburbs of New Jersey as monumental life changes inspire my parents to use technology in new ways.
Has this kind of thing happened to you? What changed in your life that inspired — or forced — you to turn a corner with technology?
Sitting Bull’s Legacy: Strength in Culture and Family
by Patrice Kunesh, special contributor
Louis Primeau (seated, far right), the uncle of my grandfather, served as translator and tracker for James McLaughlin (leaning against tree), the U.S. official who ordered Sitting Bull’s arrest in December 1890.
As a law student studying the tragic history of the federal government’s unwarranted removal of thousands of Indian children from their families, I told my mother of my intent to fight for the right of Indian tribes to secure the well-being of those children. She replied, to my utter surprise, “No child should have to grow up on an Indian reservation.”
My view of the reservation had been constructed around stories from my grandfather, Theodore Kelly, a Hunkpapa Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation in the early 1900s. He spent summers running with abandon through the prairie grass, fishing along the banks of the Missouri, hunting and relishing tachupa, the bone marrow, which he said was the best part. Seldom did he hear shi’cha (“naughty”), only hoksila seka (“good boy”) and hoksila washte (“good girl”).
My mother then told me about the precarious side of his childhood: the grinding poverty, the disease, and the despair that had become rooted into every part of the reservation. Often there was not enough food for the family or fuel to heat the house. His brother, along with scores of other children, was sent far away to a boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania as part of the federal government’s assimilationist policies aimed at breaking up families and severing their ties to the land. Like so many other Indian children, he grew up confused and angry about his identity and indefinite place in American society. I was not dissuaded by my mother’s response — only more resolved to work for the rights of American Indian tribes to be self-determined and self-sufficient.
I found my inspiration in the words of Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader of the Lakota people who also grew up in a territory that became the Standing Rock Reservation. Sitting Bull is renowned for his prowess as a warrior and visionary spiritual leader; but, later in life when pressed by the army, he would look first to the children, the old, and the sick. He would seek to secure their safety and consistently would give away his possessions and meat to feed and clothe them. He gained a reputation as the most generous man in a society where generosity was the ultimate virtue.
Even in the face of defeat, Sitting Bull’s primary concern was for the children. On the threshold of the passage of the General Allotment Act — one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation leading to the utter destruction of the traditional tribal way of life on the plains and prairies of the Dakota Territory — Sitting Bull finally surrendered to the U.S. Calvary to save his people from starvation and further degradations.
Years of fighting a losing battle against the government’s confiscation of Lakota lands and confinement onto reservations had reduced the Lakota to a pitiful state of privation and dependency. In 1883, just seven years before his tragic death, Sitting Bull addressed a committee of U.S. Senators at the Standing Rock Agency. While the senators insisted on more land cessions from the Lakota in the sacred grounds of Paha Sapa (the Black Hills), Sitting Bull reminded them of their treaty obligations for compensation and supplies. His pleas were not for himself, but for the children.
He said to the U.S. Senators who were visiting Standing Rock:
“I am looking into the future for the benefit of my children, the Sioux, and that is what I mean when I say I want my country taken care of for me. My children will grow up here, and I am looking ahead for their benefit, and for the benefit of my children’s children too; and even beyond that.”
After years of conflict and the painful transition from an unencumbered life to a life as reservation accommodationists, some tribal people began to rethink what it meant to be Lakota, indeed to be part of the Sioux nation. To Sitting Bull, the true survival of his people meant cultural survival and the endurance of the tiospaye, or family relationships.
The foundations of his prominence as a leader and his spiritual powers were derived from his tiospaye, which nourished the Lakota lifeways and a culture that valued children and ensured their future well-being. Sitting Bull insisted on preserving the collectivity of the land and family through tribal customs and ceremonies.
Despite my mother’s faltering view of reservation life, she constructed her own life around the family as a sacred circle. In her home and in the homes of her 13 children, there is always a place for grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and grandchildren. We often have a complete family circle at one time. The land we hold at Standing Rock also remains an essential cultural connection for us. It reminds us of Sitting Bull’s enduring legacy, which implores: “Let us put our minds together and see what future we can make for our children.”
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Day 20 - Muna Jondy: “After Faith, It’s Character”
Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 4:14]
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Muna Jondy is the 20th voice in this series. She’s an immigration attorney who runs her own private practice in Michigan. Muna, who was born in the U.S., is one of nine children of immigrant parents. She says the simplicity of her faith streamlines her life, but that the society around her can make it difficult to raise her children in an Islamic manner — instilling values of kindness, consideration, and community.
Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!
StoryCorps Moms: Nancy Wright and Her Son J.D.
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I think about two weeks after that conversation, I picked up the phone and a small voice on the other side said, ‘Hi, this is your friend.’"
Many of us on staff have been traveling a lot these last couple of months for the live events we’ve been producing during Krista’s speaking tour. And air travel can lose its luster awfully quickly when I’m separated from my wife, Bella, and our two remarkable boys, Lucian and Rainier, for even a couple of days. For me, this was unimaginable only five years ago.
But, unexpected gifts are delivered during all the waiting, ascending, descending, taxiing — and Dave Isay’s book, Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, is one of them. I pored over these individual stories in less than two hours. I smiled, I sobbed, I laughed, I paused, I reflected, I remembered.
Somewhat ironically, I was on a flight to the Bay Area of California to attend a conference titled Wisdom 2.0. There were many smart voices from all the tech elites — Twitter, Facebook, Google — and sage roshis and journalists, but very few of their stories compared to the love and experience conveyed in the personal reflections in Isay’s book.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I’ll be posting a few of my favorites and asked Shubha to post several of hers too. We’ll be releasing audio of these stories throughout the day. They’re only a few minutes long. Consider them moments of meditation as you think about your mothers — the joys, the sorrows, the moments of beauty — and what you carry forward as a child and/or parent in this wonderfully crazy world.
Here, Nancy Wright teaches me that sometimes I just need to pick up the phone, or walk to the bedroom and let go of my pride to give my boy a hug, even when I’m upset.
Photo courtesy of StoryCorps.
Someone in Eight Million
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
The New York Times recently concluded its "One in Eight Million" series. It’s a lyrical compendium of 54 audio-visual stories that shine a light on ordinary (and not so ordinary) New Yorkers — from an urban taxidermist to a "Type-A" teenager. These sound-rich features are all told in the first person and provide a window into the intimacies of people’s lived experiences across the five boroughs of New York City’s eight-million-thick metropolis.
The series’ concluding segment featuring a 57-year-old grandfather of four named Joseph Cotton took my breath away. He cares for his “grandbabies” with such love, attention, devotion, and patience in a way that’s tender but not possessive. He knows the time will come when he’ll need to let them go. He says:
"Eventually I’m gonna lose them. Eventually they’re going to get to be 15, 16 years old. They’re going to be: ‘I ain’t hanging with pop-pop. Because they’re going to have other interests, they’re going to be doing other things. I’m looking for greatness from them. So they can’t hang around me and find greatness."
I recently attended an improv workshop with a professional actor who commented that he’s known artists who are masterful at their craft but aren’t so masterful at being loving partners or caregivers. People who love well don’t necessarily get noticed or celebrated for their particular artistry; I immediately thought of Mr. Cotton when I heard this. I’m grateful to the series for noticing him.
(photos: Todd Heisler/The New York Times)
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
When I was a kid, when our household would turn, as it very often did, into a chaotic, bustling place, my mother would make an analogy. Loudly.
There were 6 kids and 2 parents, and, domestic life was chaotic and busy much of the time. This would cause my Mom to announce to the crowd: “This place is like GRAND CENTRAL STATION!” She was being descriptive and simultaneously issuing a mild warning to settle down.
In fact, I grew up in a small town, and nothing there ever resembled Grand Central Station, even remotely.
All the more reason, then, that I took great pleasure, while strolling down the main concourse, in announcing to whomever might be within ear shot, “This Place Is Like Grand Central Station.”