Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Giddy Seafarers: Possibility and Problems

 July 26, 2011

The events of the past few days both at home and out in the world have left me feeling slightly giddy.  This is a strange feeling - one part of it is rather delicious - a sense of possibility and hope and shifting centers of gravity in ways that open up new horizons.  The other part is a sense of being ill at ease, unsteady, on the edge of nausea.  Both can be true at once.

On the delicious end of the spectrum: 

  • my daughter Mira's safe return from her trip to India and the distinct but subtle changes in her. When your children are little and you don't see them for 3 weeks, you can literally measure their growth spurts in inches and centimeters.  As high school students they don't necessarily grow in ways that are as visible on the outside, but all kinds of powerful growing is happening on the inside. There is a maturity and a depth that is now apparent, an acute sensitivity to all that is happening around her, a tenderness that makes her appear both more womanly and more of a vulnerable child.  I couldn't begin to explain it but it was there as she stood and spoke about her summer experience in front of  a crowd of 40 or more people who had come to meet the Magic Bus soccer team in Marin on Saturday.
  • the Magic Bus girls - 13 girls from some of the poorest communities in all of the world - the slums made famous by the movie Slumdog Millionaire. 13 girls whose smiles and quick reflexes tell a story about how confidence and courage can take root on a makeshift muddy soccer pitch; 13 girls who leave behind the realities of studying under a street light when they lace up their shoes and pull on their jerseys; 13 girls who barely speak English, have never left Dharavi or the Bombay Port Trust, and are now at Julie Foudy's leadership academy on full scholarships.
  • the new NY state law legalizing same sex marriage and today's joyous Sunday Styles section of the New York Times telling stories of loving partners and families that had spent decades never having the right to celebrate their love and their commitment in ways that were honoured legally.  The faces of grandmothers who were finally taking their vows in front of their children and grandchildren.  Even the advertisements made me smile, "equal opportunity consumerism" for gay and straight alike.
  • the 26 extraordinary Draper Hills fellows who are here for 3 weeks at Stanford this summer - democracy activists and social entrepreneurs from Colombia to Kazakhstan, from Nepal to Zimbabwe.  Women who have run programs for girls empowerment in Armenia, challenged stereotypes in Cameroon, and stood their ground in Tahrir Square in Cairo, architects who have dared to demand public input into the design of cities, dreamers who believe with Arundhati Roy, "that another world is not only possible but is on her way"
On the the other end:
  • the weird budget/deficit/debt ceiling standoff that the US government finds itself in the midst of trying to address in an environment that is full of the worst examples of leadership - it has been a long dance of the petty, the self-serving, the narrow and the short term trumping any sense of decency or larger purpose.
  • the ever-widening nexus of amorality that surrounds the media outlets and tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire news mogul, and the sense that wealth and power are such protective cushions against the worst of scandals.
  • the anger that has been smouldering around the now "collapsed" case brought by hotel maid, Nafisattou Diallo, against Dominique Strauss Kahn - even though another young woman, the writer Tristane Banon, who was raped by him years ago in France is now feeling empowered to bring forward charges she did not dare raise then.
  • and finally, and most harrowingly, the devastating violence wreaked on the people of Norway on Saturday by a Christian terrorist who used bombs and automatic weapons to kill close to 100 people.  And yes, if we can use the term Islamic terror, we must name this for what what it was - Christian terror.  What God is served by this cycle of violence? What God ever sanctioned such total brutality in the name of religion? It is every incident like this - the torture of young women in the name of religion or tradition or honour, the murder of one group of people by another in the name of ethnicity of tribe, or the failure to be able to acknowledge our shared humanity that provokes me to, "Imagine no religion".
In this state, unable to sleep or write my overdue thank-you cards, I turn to literature.  And, these wise words of Melville in Moby Dick provided some comfort.  He wrote, "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses; and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off–then, I account it high time to go to sea as soon as I can.  This is my substitute for pistol and ball."

If only Anders Behring Breivik, the young man who surrendered to the police after these horrendous murders in Norway, could have followed Melville's example and found a 21st century non-violent equivalent to cope with his passions.  May we each find ours when we most need it - living life giddy with possibility and hope while remaining ill at ease with injustice and violence in our world.

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