An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.
Infographic: The People Who Make Up Occupy Wall Street
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Some interesting stats on OccupyWallStreet.org visitors courtesy of Fast Company:
- More than 80% of participants are white
- 90% are college-educated
- Nearly half of participants are 25-44
- Nearly half have full-time jobs and make under $25k/year
- More than 70% are political independents
- More than 60% are male
- Participation in Occupy events jumped from 24% in early October to 43% two weeks later
Me? I’m curious to know how these types of movements can include different types of minority communities — whether by race, by gender, by religion, or by socioeconomics — in the protests and what difference it makes when they do so.
I have a comment/query out to Fast Company and the author about the spiritual/religious makeup of participants. I’ll share more if I receive it.
A Father Mourns His Lost Son
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza, pauses at his son’s name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial during the tenth anniversary ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011, in New York.
(photo: Justin Lane/AFP/Getty Images)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
—President Barack Obama, who read this passage, Psalm 46, at the ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
~by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Let Us Draw Fear and Solace from Certainty and Permit History to Surprise Us
by Krista Tippett, host
I’ll confess here (as I didn’t do in the public event that became this week’s show) that I’m already feeling overwhelmed by the 9/11 remembrance. Part of me hesitates to add to what will be a media deluge by Sunday. On the other hand, so much of that coverage is about reliving and revisiting; I’m longing to make some new kind of sense, to bring some new reflection to our common grappling.
We framed this public conversation at St. Paul’s Chapel on the edge of Ground Zero with a phrase I’ve used once or twice across the years: “remembering forward.” This is a play on my favorite line from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
And on Tuesday night, September 6th, remembering forward did take us to different places than I recall in my own September 11 deliberations up to now. We began by dwelling with the sense of vulnerability that was at the heart of that terrible day ten years ago — a catastrophic reminder of mortality and frailty even in our strongest fortresses. New Yorkers and Americans experienced a magnitude of “grief and dread” — Hendrik Hertzberg’s evocative words — that were disorientingly new.
I expected to be surprised, being in conversation with such an eclectic gathering of insightful thinkers — The New Yorker's Hertzberg, writer and thinker Pankaj Mishra, and theologian Serene Jones — but I didn't expect the word “hope” to resonate so loudly. It emerged as an intriguing, bittersweet theme.
For in pondering the strange and universal experience of vulnerability, we dwelt less on what was done to us and more about the work of living with the reality of that. We focused on the enduring, inward work of trauma that accompanied and followed that day ten years ago. As Serene Jones reminded us, when grief becomes mourning it encompasses a vision of wholeness.
On Tuesday night, we mourned not only for the tragedy but for the gift of those immediate post-9/11 days: the unprecedented solidarity that they called forth among strangers and fellow New Yorkers, between New York and the rest of America, between America and the rest of the world. And in this chapel, which is the symbol and practical heart of that ennobling moment of solidarity, we named questions, which themselves have power to create new realities in this coming decade. Did we really take in the extraordinary compassion the rest of the world extended to us in our moment of crisis? Is it too late to learn to extend that to each other and the world anew in more generous, more intentional ways?
My hope right now is rooted in a quiet, growing sense that, slowly, after many twists and turns, we might be settling into a more helpful realization of the limits of our understanding — and that this can open us to a new range of new possibilities and actions. We are more aware of our global interconnectedness this decade on. We are better equipped to understand that our dramatic moment of fear and grieving, of weakness in our strongest fortresses, is an experience many people across the world live with much of the time. We’ve realized that the Arab world we suddenly saw as full of enemies was also full of human beings who want the same dignity and democracy as us. The economic roller coaster of recent years has also reminded us of the perplexing reality that the only constant in life is change.
All these features of the decade since 9/11 have driven home its lesson of vulnerability. But they also drive home the lesson that there is both fear and solace to be drawn from the certainty that life and history will surprise us. Within that certainty, as Pankaj Mishra said so helpfully on Tuesday night, hope remains renewable. This was palpable at St. Paul’s Chapel that evening, making no sense at all and all the sense in the world.
You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.
The Republican politician said this statement to reporters about his decision to support same-sex marriage legislation. McDonald was the 31st senator to support the Marriage Equality Act. McDonald is a Vietnam veteran and former steelworker. As a politician, he’s put his energy behind autism awareness and property tax cuts. Now he’s being heralded as a champion for civil rights.
About the image: Roger Minch Jr. of Troy, New York, the district that Roy McDonald represents, demonstrates his support of same sex marriage outside the New York Senate Chamber on June 17, 2011 in Albany, New York. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
~Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
The Harmonic Chaos of Icy Sidewalks with Rumi and John O’Donohue
by Charity Burns, guest contributor
In the wake of a recent blizzard, cars were buried in snow, curbs of intersections were submerged in a grimy soup, and sidewalks became paths of ice. One day I was rushing to work. The sidewalk appeared mostly clear, way more concrete than muddy slush. I passed a young woman in thermal boots that I thought was going much slower than necessary, and then, about half a block later, I slipped.
My mind had drifted, probably thinking about the coffee that I would have time to drink before work, when suddenly my thigh, then my torso, then my chin hit the pavement. It was a minor spill, more surreal than scary because it seemed to happen in slow motion. Nothing hurt, but as I slid and was pressing my mittened hands against the ice, trying to resist my fall, I almost laughed at my inability to stop myself. Then finally, the force of gravity propelling me ceased and I found myself kissing a Brooklyn sidewalk glazed with dirt and ice.
This experience reminded me of the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi, whom I have never really liked. Perhaps his poem has never found the right translator, but I’ve always found Rumi snoozerific and a bit pedantic. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to Rumi’s ideas and beliefs.
As many people know, Rumi was part of a mystical sect of Islam that celebrated its faith through a choreographed dance of spinning in long robes, the dancers known as whirling dervishes. As Fatemeh Keshavarz made clear about the Persian poet, this dancing was symbolic of the perpetual spinning of the universe and the idea that “everything in the universe is quickened with the force of love.”
The spinning dancers represented a willingness to be in harmony with the wonderful and wondrous chaos of the world. Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a Rumi lover, we share an appreciation of just how complicated each day on this Earth is, so many restless electrons, neutrons, atoms. Add to all that chaos the complicating fact that every person is a discreet planet, each subjected to its own ever-changing weather system of emotions, blizzards, heat waves, and drizzle. Every day we face the wildness of our own human experience.
And some days I am not able to whirl through all the wildness with the grace of an atom, or a dervish. Some days, I fall on the concrete on the way to work at eight in the morning because I wasn’t paying attention.
John O’Donohue, a poet from the west coast of Ireland who passed away a couple years ago, said before his death, “The world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.” Rumi would agree that the world is spinning more wildly than we could ever fathom, but the Persian poet might then add that we need not fear because, if we fall, wherever we fall, there is love. You can’t fall wrong.
Charity Burns is an English instructor and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her poetry has been published in Smartish Pace, Madison Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and West Branch, and she blogs regularly at The Beauty Works Project.
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Trent Gilliss, online editor
Finding a lead image to complement our show delving into Haitian Vodou was a moment of diligent serendipity. I struggled to present images that capture the spirit and tone of a tradition — one that has been caricatured in so many ways for such a long time — and still remain surprising, respectful, and true to its practitioners and its rituals.
Stephanie Keith’s photographs deliver and endure because they do just that — respect the tradition. They also take us into a neighborhood (in the United States), into a life that most of us probably would never encounter. We see how a tradition survives, evolves, and flourishes through immigrant life.
And, here was a photographer who was personally invested in her subjects — at least my intuition said so — and not just documenting them. When I contacted Stephanie Keith for permission to use a few photographs, I asked her why she got started on this project — a Vodou priest at a Buddhist peace rally invited her to learn more about his religion at a “party.”
Several years later, Keith’s words and images endure. And I’m glad to have played a part in spreading her work and sharing a bit of these Haitian-Americans’ lives with those of us who may have been clueless, but remain curious.
Video Snack: One Ethereal Paper Plane
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Sometimes the magical, the transcendent resonates in the seemingly mundane. I know; I just flew a Spider-Man kite with my three-year-old son for the first time. An image I had taken for granted as being fun came to life in a moment while looking at the awe on his face as he commandeered the strings.
This 8.5” x 11” piece of folded paper floating across the Brooklyn cityscape has that same affect. Take a bite of your lunch and enjoy.
A Poet of Love & Hate & Forgiveness & Revenge
by Kate Moos, managing producer
Marie Howe’s new book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, is an amazing addition to our vocabulary of love and hate, forgiveness and revenge. As the poet Tom Sleigh says, “Her language is always deeply rooted in the social world, and it never turns away from the most difficult moral problems.” In this book, her poems about the war within us between light and shadow, vision and violence, are sometimes terrifying, often funny, and always illuminating.
After the Movie
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.
I say, No, that’s not love. That’s attachment.
Michael says, No, that’s love. You can love someone, then come to a day
when you’re forced to think “it’s him or me”
think “me” and kill him.
I say, Then it’s not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.
I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous
I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?
We’re walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear
repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to
Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at someone
you want to eat and not eat them.
Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.
Meister Eckhart says that as long as we love any image we are doomed to live
Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight.
I can’t drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I’ve just bought—
again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from
the hole the flip top made.
What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says.
But what I think he’s saying is “You are too strict. You are a nun.”
Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things of
me even if he’s not thinking them?
Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder.
Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,
we both know the winter has only begun.
(Poem reprinted with permission of the author.)