House, Senate and President
           October 2, 2017
by Reggie Marra

Rilke wrote that he wanted a lot,
perhaps everything,
but what I want if I have to have
a House, Senate and President
are people who see
at least as much of the world as I do,
preferably more,
who can consciously
recognize and hold paradox,
who are clear on what they are for,
not just what they oppose –
who spend more time
and energy with the former
and are able to articulate complete thoughts
in complete sentences
with or without a teleprompter,
and who understand the words they speak,
the meaning their syntax conveys,
and avoid clichés and won’t speak
words that are not true.

I want a House, Senate and President
who embrace
an increasingly balanced,
comprehensive and inclusive
view of the world, and who,
faced with both love and fear,
err on the side of love –
and recognize and live
with the healthy tensions
along the continua of
wisdom and compassion,
justice and mercy,
intimacy and solitude,
who recognize that we all suffer
within our individual and collective stories,
and who understand that people
are more important than money and things,
especially, but not only, when it comes to
health care and gun laws.

I want a House, Senate and President
who feel and speak from
exactly the same gut-wrenching heartache
when the first-grader, the police officer, the
black man, the soldier, yes,
the human being
dies a violent death
in Bethesda or Baghdad,
Singapore or Sandy Hook,
San Bernardino or Saigon,
Hiroshima or Harlem,
Parkland or Pearl Harbor,
San Salvador or Selma,
New York or Nagasaki,
Kabul or Kansas City,
Binghamton or Beirut,
Auschwitz or Oakland,
Paris or Pine Ridge,
Washington, Aurora,
Littleton, Charleston,
Dallas, Baton Rouge,
Red Lake, Fort Worth,
Orlando, Killeen,
Salt Lake City, St. Paul,
Austin, Blacksburg,
Wakefield, Roseburg,
San Ysidro, Edmund,
Omaha, Louisville,
Atlanta, New Rochelle,
Las Vegas, and all those I left out
because there are too many.
If I have to have a House,
Senate and President
I want human beings who understand
what Rabbi Gellman meant when,
12 days later at the Stadium,
before we knew the real numbers,
he said that
                        “On that day – on that
day, 6,000 people did not die.
On that day, one person died 6,000 times.
We must understand this
and all catastrophes in such a way,
for big numbers only numb us
to the true measure of mass murder.
We say 6,000 died, or we say six million died
and the saying and the numbers explain nothing
except how much death came in how short a time.
Such numbers sound more like scores or ledger entries
than deaths of
human beings.
The real horror of that day
lies not in its bigness,
but in its smallness.
In the small searing death
of one person 6,000 times,
and that one person was not a number.
That person was our father or our mother
or our son or our daughter or
our grandpa or grandma
or brother or sister or cousin or
uncle or aunt or friend or lover, our
neighbor, our co-worker, the woman
who delivered our mail or the guy
who put out our fires and
arrested the bad guys in our town.
And the death of each and every
one of them
alone
would be worthy of such a gathering
and such a grief.”*

I want Representatives, Senators
and a President who would read
to the end of this poem.
And not because it would help them
get re-elected or they were expected to.
I want Representatives, Senators and a
President who would read a poem.
And not just oppose it.

Copyright © 2016, 2017 by Reggie Marra | http://reggiemarra.com | reggie.marra@gmail.com | Adapted from “A New President” Copyright © 2016 by Reggie Marra
*From Rabbi Marc Gellman’s remarks at the September 23, 2001 Memorial Service at
Yankee Stadium http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0109/23/se.03.html
Transcript © 2003 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
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Fillet of Soul With a Dark Night Glaze

This video, from Wainwright House in Rye, NY, is a recent presentation of the poem, preceded by about 4 minutes of the story behind the poem.

If you’d like to read the poem on the page, the best way (for both of us) is for you to purchase a copy of And Now, Still: Grave and Goofy Poemswhich is available on Amazon, and also available here, at a 30% discount if you use this code when you check out: ADXSKKVR.

Buy the book and you’ll get 44 additional poems and help feed me. Great deal!

Enjoy!

 

If, of course, you’d like to read the poem without supporting the arts by buying a book that helps feed a poet, you can click on the right sidebar photo of me dressed in black and talking with my hands. A PDF will appear. And I’ll still need to be fed.

In Whose Shoes Are You Walking That Mile?

This post originally appeared at http://www.teleosis.org in November, 2016.

Most of us have heard some version of not criticizing someone else unless we’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. My experience with this is that it’s been thrown around by so many of us for so long without any authentic investigation into what walking a mile in someone else’s shoes might truly mean, it’s often an ambiguous, albeit well-intentioned, suggestion.

With few exceptions, when most of us think we’re taking a walk in another’s shoes, we sincerely believe we’re feeling and understanding the other’s feelings and experience of an event or set of circumstances. More often than not, however, we’re imagining what it would be like to be ourselves in the other’s circumstances, and in the delicate moment of truly intending to engage this client, patient, friend, loved one or stranger with compassion and empathy, we lovingly project aspects of our own views and experiences onto them. We may feel compassion and intend empathy, but we often project and distance ourselves from the very person about whom we care. This is perfectly understandable. Continue reading

Donald Trump, Collective American Shadow and “The Better Angels of Our Nature”

A PDF edition of this essay is available here.

Apologia

As with any written statement, what follows is filtered through the author’s worldview – in this case, mine – the result of my experiences, beliefs, values, relationships and aspirations, and also those aspects of myself of which I’m not aware – my Shadow (more about this below). To the extent I’m self-aware, my worldview at its best is global, perhaps universal, and embraces the importance of paradox for 21st-century adults – it allows me to see and hold simultaneously, as true, apparently contradictory facts and opinions. At its worst, where it only is nowadays under significant stress and when I forget myself, it can be ego- or group-centric – in the sense of “knowing” that I am, or my particular group is, good and right, and everyone else or all the other groups are bad and wrong.

These lines capture one example of what I mean by having a global or universal worldview:

[Someone] who feels and speaks from 
exactly the same gut-wrenching heartache
when the first-grader, the police officer, the
black man, the soldier, yes,
the human being
dies a violent death
in Bethesda or Baghdad,
Singapore or Sandy Hook,
San Bernardino or Saigon,
Hiroshima or Harlem…
[read more]*

As his words and actions filter through my worldview, my sense is that the 2016 Republican candidate for the presidency embodies the collective Shadow of the United States of America – those cultural traits that this country sees “out there” in others and denies in itself. My biases tend toward the strength that’s found in truthfulness, clarity, belonging, compassion, empathy, vulnerability and in the broadest sense of the word, love.

I am fully aware that there are quite a few more worldviews out there. The diversity available at the intersections of genetics, experience, ethnicity, ancestry, beliefs, values, development, etc. etc. etc. is daunting. My desire in a leader is that he or she understand at least as much of “the world” – in the broadest, deepest sense of that word, as I do. Preferably more. My request is that anyone who responds to this writing actually reads it in its entirety and then responds, in fact, to this writing – and not to something that I have not said or intended here. If you have something to say about the Democratic candidate, the current president, your Uncle Bob or any other issue, please don’t share that here. Write that somewhere else.

Thanks.

Shadow

In mid-March, 2003 I sat with Animas Valley Institute’s Bill Plotkin, Geneen Marie Haugan and others at the Merritt Center in Payson, AZ for 5 days of “Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities and the Sacred Wound.” On the evening of our first day there, America began bombing Iraq, and while we were working on our respective individual Shadows and projections during our time together, our country’s collective Shadow and projections – the evil “out there” – what we tend to see in all those other nations, groups, cultures and people, provided an opportunity for recognition, ownership, and integration.

“Shadow,” as I’m using it here, refers to disowned or repressed aspects or traits of an individual or group that the individual or group doesn’t recognize in itself and unknowingly tends to “project” onto to others (whether or not the others actually embody the projected trait – sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t). If I tend to have a disproportionately highly charged emotional response to someone I experience as “angry,” there’s a good chance that I’ve repressed or disowned my own anger. Until I recognize this, and work to integrate it, it will follow me around and allow me to see all these angry people everywhere I go, oblivious to my being the one constant at every scene of all this anger. Everyone else is angry. I’m not.

So, the behavior or trait itself, whether considered healthy or unhealthy, is not Shadow; the repression/denial, and then projection of the trait or behavior onto others – again, whether or not they actually have or do it, is Shadow. There’s more to Shadow; this will suffice for now.

Thirteen years after that mid-March “Sweet Shadow” gathering and bombing, the citizens1 of the United States of America once again have an opportunity to see their disowned and repressed traits embodied not in a pre-emptive attack on another nation – which was rationalized through a series of lies about weapons of mass destruction, and which continues to manifest in in 2016 in such a way as to make the Middle East and, in fact, the entire world more unstable and susceptible to acts of terrorism – but in the presidential candidacy of one man.

In the first case, despite the reports from two separate teams of U.N. weapons inspectors – the first led by a U.S. Marine Veteran, Scott Ritter,2 whose team reported that no such WMD existed, and the other, David Kay,3 whose report corroborated Ritter’s – the U.S. began bombing Iraq on March 19, 2003, and on May 1 of that year, President Bush, standing before and below a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” told the world that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”4

What’s the View Like for an ‘Ordinary’ Iraqi (or Vietnamese) Citizen?

The number of Iraqi civilians who were killed in those 6 weeks, and who died subsequently as a result of the destruction of much of the country’s infrastructure, remains a debatable issue – ranging from a low of around 151,000 to just over a million5^ – depending upon what is counted, how it’s counted and who is counting. Beyond Iraqi civilian deaths, by the end of 2004, “attacks on American forces averaged 87 per day, and the American death toll had passed 1000.”6^ As of September 11, 2016, 4,499^ American men and women in uniform had died in Iraq since the invasion, and of that number, 4,013 occurred since 20047^ – 8 months after ‘the United States and [its] allies [had] prevailed.’

The careful selection of “Major combat operations” at the beginning of that statement allows it to carry at least some morsel of truth, depending upon what “major” means to the respective speechwriters, the speech “deliverer” and the speech receivers, but it’s painfully clear that no one has prevailed and that the mission has not been accomplished, since the destabilization of Iraq still facilitates regular terrorist acts in that country, and over time has led to the emergence of the group now known as ISIL or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The ‘ordinary’ Iraqi teacher, nurse, carpenter, student – citizen – lost both a dictator and a moderately stable, if not fully “free,” middle class existence, and lives now amid the rubble of the American invasion and the daily possibility of firefights, terrorist attacks and an extensively disabled infrastructure. Many Iraqi’s are grateful for the demise of Saddam Hussein, and many – especially, but not only, male children who saw their families, neighborhoods and country decimated by American bombs – see the United States as evil and an aggressor. Some Iraqi’s hold both these views simultaneously – paradox, which, for anyone trying to get to the heart of and deeply understand the “truth(s)” around this issue, as opposed to win an argument, is essential.

Many of us in America are unable to see our country from the perspective of such an ‘ordinary’ Iraqi. While we felt the events of September 11, 2001 deeply, the impact of 13 years of ongoing terrorism and violence after eight months of attacks seems to be beyond our scope of understanding – and empathy.

Another example of the American projection of “evil out there” is Vietnam. While 40-plus years later, many of the architects of the American involvement there, including the late former Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara, have admitted the futility of that campaign, and many veterans – both those who volunteered and those who were drafted – have returned to Vietnam and met with their former foes, recognizing that they are more alike than different, our willingness to incessantly bomb that nation – with both human targets and the napalm-based attempts to defoliate the forests so the enemy could not hide, was seen as “evil” by many people on the planet and in the United States, and marked a divide that saw returning veterans being treated like criminals by antiwar activists while both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses perpetuated the war which claimed 58,220^ U.S. military lives and, depending on how the counting is done, over a million^ Vietnamese military and civilian lives on both sides.8

The “Evil Out There”

The Republican candidate for President in 2016 has, in what seems to be a surprise even to him, self-selected to become a lightning rod for the fear, bullying, bigotry, misogyny, violence, intolerance and xenophobia of the collective American Shadow.9 He is allowing those of us who do, in fact, hold racist, sexist, violent and generally bigoted beliefs to find a champion in him – or at least in his rhetoric, and he is allowing others of us to look in horror – sometimes surprised horror, and sometimes not, at his language, his promises, and his apparent willingness to say anything – even when it is obvious that he either does not know what he’s talking about, he does know and he’s lying, or some combination thereof.

The Republican candidate personifies the bully that the United States, and any insecure, fearful and powerful individual or entity, can be – albeit without the ability to back up his rhetoric with strong action. Bullies tend to bully due to fear of their own inadequacy, weakness and competence – their sense of not being “enough,” and they tend to whine when someone stronger, more adequate, more competent shows up and does what has to be done to stop their bullying. Donald Trump did this during his party’s primary debates. He initiated the insults directed toward his opponents and toward the moderators, and then claimed he was being treated unfairly when someone criticized him. He claimed the role of victim amid his often inarticulate, fragmented insults.

Many of his supporters and his detractors are scared – the world is changing around them, and while they see themselves as good people, generally tolerant of others who have different skin pigmentations and beliefs, they don’t recognize that their latent prejudices are alive and well.  Others of his supporters are outspoken bigots – including former leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and current leaders in a variety of “hate groups” who value a predominantly, if not exclusively, white, male and “Christian”10 world.

People who know us, and especially people who know us well, can see our Shadow and projections much more easily than we can: if I’m angry most of the time, don’t realize it, and am constantly pointing to others’ anger, my friends and family see that pretty clearly (and I’ll tend to deny it). If a country has 90 children, women and men die every day from gunshot wounds11 – a number that is unprecedented among citizens in every other post-industrialized nation on the planet; and a country is the only one to have ever used atomic weapons on another nation; and a country has its history in Vietnam and Iraq as noted above; and a country refers to other countries as an “axis of evil,”12 an “evil empire,”13 and proclaims to the world that “you’re either with us or you’re with the enemy,”14 and seems to perpetrate and perpetuate the illusion that all the “evil” is “out there,” it’s safe to say there’s some projection going on.

And, it’s essential to note that this same country can lay claim to an abundance of some equally important ‘good’ acts and traits as well – including its mobilization during two 20th-century World Wars; including countless billions of dollars in international aid when and where it’s been needed; including, despite all of the above, still being a country that attracts the foundational element of its existence – immigrants who want the opportunity to improve their lives. Again, this writing is focused on the opportunity to embrace Donald Trump’s candidacy as the personification of the collective American Shadow, not in any way to deny that there has been and is significant “evil out there” that needs to be addressed, and there has been and is significant “good in here” of which we can be proud. America has done and does both great harm and great good. Both are true. The denial of either captures a partial view, is dangerous and serves only to perpetuate partial truths toward some selected, limited agenda and end. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds…”15

Donald Trump’s candidacy is allowing us to see and reflect upon uncomfortable aspects of our national culture and choose the direction we would like to take as Americans. His varied messages are fear-based and fear-inciting, and in the words of M. Scott Peck, definitely grounded in an ignorance that could be evil: “The briefest definition of evil I know is militant ignorance. But evil is not general ignorance; more specifically it is militant ignorance of the Shadow.”16 Options abound for us, including the final words Abraham Lincoln spoke in his first inaugural address, inviting us to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”17

__________

Notes

*from “A New President” https://reggiemarra.com/2016/09/11/a-new-president/

1Use of the word “citizens” is noted here because “American citizens” and/or “the American people” are ambiguous, if not meaningless phrases due to the diversity of beliefs, developmental worldviews, ethnicities, etc. that makes up the United States, or any nation or large group. I recognize that not every “American citizen” would agree that Donald Trump personifies the collective American Shadow (or even that the country has a collective Shadow). I believe he does, and it does.

2Scott Ritter http://www.democracynow.org/2005/10/21/scott_ritter_on_the_untold_story  Much more available online.

3
David Kay http://www.npr.org/2011/05/29/136765601/david-kay-wmds-that-never-were-a-war-that-ever-was Much more available online.

4
https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/05/20030501-15.html. The quote, and the entire speech, are available from news sources around the world.

5^https://www.iraqbodycount.org/: Again, depending on what is counted and who’s counting there have been between 163,545 and 182,685 documented civilian deaths due to violence in Iraq between 2003 and 9/11/16. The numbers continue to increase weekly, if not daily.

^Regarding notes 5, 6, 7 & 8: One of the most insightful comments on what gets lost when we hear or speak about large numbers of deaths comes from Rabbi Marc Gellman’s remarks at the September 23, 2001 Prayer Service at Yankee Stadium: “On that day — on that day, 6,000 people did not die. On that day, one person died 6,000 times. We must understand this and all catastrophes in such a way, for big numbers only numb us to the true measure of mass murder. We say 6,000 died, or we say six million died and the saying and the numbers explain nothing except how much death came in how short a time. Such numbers sound more like scores or ledger entries than deaths of human beings.

“The real horror of that day lies not in its bigness, but in its smallness. In the small searing death of one person 6,000 times, and that one person was not a number. That person was our father or our mother or our son or our daughter or our grandpa or grandma or brother or sister or cousin or uncle or aunt or friend or lover, our neighbor, our co-worker, the woman who delivered our mail or the guy who put out our fires and arrested the bad guys in our town. And the death of each and every one of them alone would be worthy of such a gathering and such a grief.”     http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0109/23/se.03.html

6^Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, et al. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. New York: Portfolio-Penguin, 2015 (p. 130). Beyond this particular quote, General McChrystal’s book unfolds a powerful look at evolving leadership that takes into account the business world, academic research, powerful lessons from NASA, the airline industry and military history, all of which inform his experience and evolution as Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force. The contrast between the author’s leadership perspective and that of the current candidate is striking.

7^4,499 American military deaths as of 9/11/16 (4,013 of those from 2004-2016)
http://www.statista.com/statistics/263798/american-soldiers-killed-in-iraq/

8^This site provides one starting point for calculating deaths in Vietnam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties#Total_number_of_deaths

9Examples of the candidate’s statements are abundant and ongoing. This link is just one source, chosen because it correlates his language with his loss of support from Republican leaders. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/29/us/politics/at-least-110-republican-leaders-wont-vote-for-donald-trump-heres-when-they-reached-their-breaking-point.html A sampling of the statements follows.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” – June 16, 2015, on undocumented Mexican immigrants.

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”- July 18, 2015, on AZ Republican Senator John McCain, former pilot and POW in Vietnam.

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” – November 12, 2015.

““Now this poor guy, you ought to see this guy.” (Mr. Trump jerked his arms around in front of his body and used a mocking tone to imitate a disabled New York Times reporter.) – November 24, 2015

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
– December 7, 2015.

“I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” – Feb. 6, 2016

“I don’t know anything about David Duke. O.K.? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.” – March 3, 2016 after fromer Ku Klux Klan leader Duke endorsed aspects of Trump’s message.

“I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, O.K.? I’m building a wall.”June 6, 2016 on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, a federal judge overseeing a suit against the defunct Trump University.

“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.” On the parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, whose family is Muslim and who was killed in Iraq, after they denounced Mr. Trump at the Democratic National Convention July 30, 2016

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” – August 9, 2016 implying a connection between the right to own guns and stopping Hillary Clinton’s ability to nominate judges should she win the election.

“He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”   – Aug 10, 2016 referring to President Obama

10See the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database for more on the individuals and groups who have publicly supported Trump’s messages: https://www.splcenter.org/resources?keyword=Trump. The use of “Christian” to refer to these groups is misleading, as is the use of “Muslim” to refer to individuals or groups who claim to kill in the name of Islam. In both cases, Christian and Muslim, these groups have bastardized the religion they reference – whether in ignorance of the religion or in an intentional attempt to legitimize their bigotry/hatred/violence.

115-year average, 2010-2014: Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html

12“axis of evil” was used by President George W. Bush in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/print/20020129-11.html

13“evil empire” was used by President Ronald Reagan to refer to the Soviet Union. http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/reagan-evil-empire-speech-text/ He later recanted his use of the phrase: http://articles.latimes.com/1988-06-01/news/mn-3667_1_evil-empire

14President Bush repeated several iterations of this statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-23kmhc3P8U The fallacy of his simplistic “either-or” and “no in-between” stance played itself out in real time as many nations who “were with us” and joined the alliance to find those responsible for the September 11 attacks, were neither “with us” nor “with the enemy” when the United States chose to attack Iraq in March 2003.

15Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago. “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Accessed via https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/13750-if-only-it-were-all-so-simple-if-only-there.

16M. Scott Peck. The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 (p. 74).

17President Lincoln’s final paragraph reads: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”  http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html

Copyright © 2016 by Reggie Marra

A New President

Rilke wrote that he wanted a lot,
perhaps everything,
but what I want if I have to have
a new president
is someone who sees
at least as much of the world as I do,
preferably more,
who can consciously
recognize and hold paradox,
who is clear on what she is for,
not just what he opposes –
who spends more time
and energy with the former
and is able to articulate complete thoughts
in complete sentences
with or without a teleprompter,
and who understands the words being spoken,
the meaning their syntax conveys,
and avoids clichés and won’t speak
words that are not true.

I want a president
who embraces
an increasingly balanced,
comprehensive and inclusive
view of the world, and who,
faced with both love and fear,
errs on the side of love –
and recognizes and lives
with the healthy tensions
along the continua of
wisdom and compassion,
justice and mercy,
intimacy and solitude,
who recognizes that we all suffer
within our individual and collective stories,
and who understands that people
are more important than money and things.

I want a president who feels and speaks from
exactly the same gut-wrenching heartache
when the first-grader, the police officer, the
black man, the soldier, yes,
the human being
dies a violent death
in Bethesda or Baghdad,
Singapore or Sandy Hook,
San Bernardino or Saigon,
Hiroshima or Harlem,
Parkland or Pearl Harbor,
San Salvador or Selma,
New York or Nagasaki,
Kabul or Kansas City,
Binghamton or Beirut,
Auschwitz or Oakland,
Paris or Pine Ridge,
Washington, Aurora,
Littleton, Charleston,
Dallas, Baton Rouge,
Red Lake, Fort Worth,
Orlando, Killeen,
Salt Lake City, St. Paul,
Austin, Blacksburg,
Wakefield, Roseburg,
San Ysidro, Edmund,
Omaha, Louisville,
Atlanta, New Rochelle,
all those I left out
because there are too many.
If I have to have a new president
I want one who understands
what Rabbi Gellman meant when,
12 days later at the Stadium,
before we knew the real numbers,
he said that

“On that day – on that
day, 6,000 people did not die.
On that day, one person died 6,000 times.
We must understand this
and all catastrophes in such a way,
for big numbers only numb us
to the true measure of mass murder.
We say 6,000 died, or we say six million died
and the saying and the numbers explain nothing
except how much death came in how short a time.
Such numbers sound more like scores or ledger entries
than deaths of
human beings.
The real horror of that day
lies not in its bigness,
but in its smallness.
In the small searing death
of one person 6,000 times,
and that one person was not a number.
That person was our father or our mother
or our son or our daughter or
our grandpa or grandma
or brother or sister or cousin or
uncle or aunt or friend or lover, our
neighbor, our co-worker, the woman
who delivered our mail or the guy
who put out our fires and
arrested the bad guys in our town.
And the death of each and every
one of them
alone
would be worthy of such a gathering
and such a grief.”*

I want a president who would read
to the end of this poem.
And not because he was expected to.
I want a president who would read a poem.
And not just oppose it.

Copyright © 2016 by Reggie Marra

*From Rabbi Marc Gellman’s remarks at the September 23, 2001 Memorial Service at
Yankee Stadium http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0109/23/se.03.html
Transcript © 2003 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.

Healing a Collective American Story: Gun Violence

This post originally appeared with a different title at www.teleosis.org on July 25, 2016.

“Unaware that our stories are stories, we experience them as the world.” – David Loy1

Each of us lives, tells and writes our individual stories within the often unconscious influences of direct experience, personality, moods, family, culture (in the broadest meaning of the word) and society – all of which conspire to provide a worldview or lens through which we interpret our existence.

dallas-police-shootingPart of the current collective American story informs individual stories of police officers shooting unarmed black men; armed black men, trained to kill by the military, shooting police officers; 90 American children, women and men, on average2, dying daily from gunshot wounds, and disparate voices calling, respectively, for more guns to keep us safe, fewer guns to keep us safe, more attention to mental health, domestic violence, equal opportunity (and protection under the law), race, economic disparity, and myriad other issues – too many to mention here. Continue reading

Narrative Tradecraft #5 – Diction

Diction refers to word choice as we’re using it here, and not to the expanded meaning in which it connotes a style of speech that results from a combination of accent, inflection and tone – i.e. someone’s diction is deemed “good” or “bad” based how those elements work together.

energy thoughtsWord choice encourages us to remember Mark Twain’s suggestion that “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  It does matter whether we choose slim, slender, thin, trim, skinny, scrawny, emaciated or skeletal (especially if we’re trying to compliment a loved one). If John Donne in “Meditation XVII” had written ‘and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tinkles, it tinkles for thee,’ perhaps Hemingway would have chosen another title for his novel. Consider the possibilities available for attaching an adjective to grandma or grandpa: old, aged, elderly, ancient, archaic, timeless, senile, stale, seasoned, or experienced.  You get the point.

In her poem, “Elena” Pat Mora’s title character says, “I stand by the stove and feel dumb, alone.” While the poem would work reasonably well had Mora used “stupid” or any similar word other than “dumb”, it would not work as well. There is not a better word in English for that line from that character (and you’ll have to read the poem to find out why!).

Word choice – our specific means of verbal expression – matters when we speak and write. Our words impact others, ourselves and our ability to heal, and they both evolve from and affect the evolution of our point of view, our images, our metaphors and our re-visioning. Beyond words, all of our means of expression matter as well. If we extend our tradecraft to include living consciously, we find any number of ways to express ourselves: countenance, gestures, gait, wardrobe, hair length and style, vocation, job and avocation, hobbies, mode of transportation, diet, religious or spiritual practice or lack thereof, political affiliation, web browsing, habits and routines – each and all of these say something about us, whether we have intentionally chosen them or they’ve chosen us.

With both our verbal and nonverbal means of expression – our overall diction, we have no control over how others will receive or interpret our choices. As every reader brings his or her experience and worldview to what we write, everyone we encounter will receive how we show up in the world through his or her unique point of view. It makes sense to choose our means of expression with intention, and then let go any desired or preconceived notions concerning how others will respond.

More to the point, when our intention is healing, our choice of words and our habits of bookexpression are crucial, and to a large part determined by how inclusive, comprehensive and balanced our view of the world is. To paraphrase Thomas Merton in Seeds of Contemplation: If you write for that which is larger than yourself, you will speak to the hearts of many; if you write for your contemporaries, you may make some money and some noise for a little while; if you write only for yourself, you’ll get disgusted pretty quickly and give up.*

So it’s not that we don’t write our own narratives in order to better understand ourselves and our world – we do; it’s that our diction will be limited or expanded according to the capacity and structure through which we write. If we tell our story through a lens that embraces all of humanity – or even larger – all that is, our language will be quite different and reach far more people than if our lens embraces only those who are more or less ‘like us’ – whether in terms of gender, nationality, religion, chronology, sexual orientation, politics or illness/wellness, among others. If our lens only embraces the specific details of one individual life, with no acknowledgement of any connection beyond our skin and our walls, the words and expressions we choose we be limited further still.

As Mary Catherine Bateson wrote, the stories we choose to tell do affect what we’re able to do next. The words we choose determine the accuracy and intimacy of the story we tell. It’s up to us to choose wisely and compassionately.

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*“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men – you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.”
– Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation
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Merton, Thomas. Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions, 1948.

Mora, Pat. Chants. Houston: Arté Publico, 1984.