Monday, September 26, 2005

What Next?

So, I went to Washington and joined in the march. I didn't get arrested, or beat up, so I consider the day a success.

I was interviewed by a reporter -- he claimed to be from NPR and asked me some good, challenging questions. I thought I handled them well enough to be on the radio, but haven't heard myself on the airwaves yet...

Was it important that I showed up? Yes, I think it was -- at least to me. I needed to do something positive with my anger about this war. I needed to stand up and be counted. I needed to support those who stood up, and those who rode in wheel chairs, and all those who are stuck in Iraq and could not come to DC to stand for themselves. Yeah -- it was important.

Will it make a difference? Yes, I think it will. For too long, Democrats have figured they have more to lose than to gain by opposing this war -- so they have done nothing. That will have to change now. Even Republicans are becoming vocal -- the Democrats are being shamed by the example of Chuck Hagel. They are being shamed by the Raging Grannies and the Pink Women for Peace and the Veterans and others who marched on Saturday. It will indeed make a difference.

The NY Times put the story on page A26, but our story was told on the streets of our nation's capital. Between 150,000 and 300,000 people filled the streets for hours -- believe me it was impressive.

We arrived at the gathering place, not far from the Washington Monument, around 12 noon. The march was scheduled to start at 12:30. We fell into the crowd in the street, and waited till almost 2pm without any movement at all. Finally, knees stiff from standing still in that great throng, we found our way to a small space of open grass and sat for half an hour, until the marchers by us began at long last to move.

The crowd was enormous, but the first moment that I realized how large it might be is when I looked up a side street and saw that the crowd in front of me and behind me was matched by an immense crowd that filled the other streets in the area. This march was spread all over the place and was obviously many times larger than I had imagined.

I realized we were way more than 100,000 people -- probably twice that many. Maybe more.

That was a good feeling.

The frustration of the past five years is not washed away, but in some small way, the march helped mitigate it. Knowing there is something you can do, and actually doing it, is the key to power.

So I ask myself. What next?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

For Gen

Truth is a stream of compassionate consciousness,
a babbling brook of good intentions and best efforts
that leads from parent to child
from me to you to someone not yet born
passing over falls of experience and revelation
and arriving gradually at a fertile delta of wisdom,
resolving every mystery as it empties into
the infinite sea
that is you and me
and everyone who ever knew the joy
of truly, authentically, enthusiastically,
being oneself.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

This American Life

Sometimes words are worth much more than a thousand pictures.

The spoken word is magical, and this most ancient, basic and straightforward medium of human communication is sometimes the only way to tell a story.

Some of the most moving and insightful coverage of the Katrina disaster has been on the radio. A good friend insists that you had to see the pictures on TV to grasp what was happening, to sense fully the enormity of the situation.

But I have been reading the paper and listening to the radio; I understand how horrible and how sad these days have been for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And I have come to two conclusions: TV is good if you want to see people in difficult situations; Radio is better if you want to hear from people in difficult situations.

I have come to the conclusion that TV is not a medium for me. And I think, if you try "This American Life", you will switch from TV to radio too. At least sometimes. Maybe.

"This American Life", from WBEZ in Chicago, is a regular program on public radio (Public Radio International). Hosted by Ira Glass, the program runs an hour each week, with a different theme each week. Beyond that very general description, it is very hard to categorize it, except to say that it is well worth checking out.

Today, I was listening to the program, titled "This is not my beautiful house". The show follows its usual structure -- a series of short segments linked by a common theme. One segment was taped in a shelter in Houston, and included an interview in which two young girls and their mother; the girls mention that they have not seen their brother and sister who were left in New Orleans with their father. The girls and their mother evacuated the day before Katrina hit.

The girls were confident their siblings were okay, because their mother was acting confident. And I thought how hard it must be to put up a front like that for your children.

Another segment included interviews with women from one of the shelters who were looking for apartments. They line up for hours and then take a bus to the outskirts of Houston and endure frustrations and anxiety and humiliation. One woman is pregnant. She is due any day, and is dilated 3 cm. Still she lines up and gets on a bus to look foran apartment.

She is having a contraction while she is looking for a place to live -- all she wants is a place she can bring her baby home to, other than a cot in some arena with a couple thousand other people.

Another segment presents a woman who stayed in her one-story home in New Orleans -- in five feet of fetid water. She spent 8 days on a mattress that remained afloat, though partly submerged. She lived on a little cheese, some juice and a gallon of water.

This little synopsis does not do the program justice.

You can catch the show on your local public radio station this week, or listen on-line next week if you prefer. Right now, last week's program "After the flood" is available on-line. That program includes some astonishing, shocking, personal stories about the days of hell in New Orleans.

Listening to people tell their stories is amazing. It is intimate and deeply moving. No mountain of images can compare to the spoken testimony of these people who survived Katrina.

Turn off your TV, and give radio a try. Listen to people tell their stories. You won't need a TV to get the picture.


Monday, September 12, 2005


Yesterday was September 11. The emotional power of that day lives on, even though we have long ago returned to "normalcy".

Sunday. I drove past a church in New Jersey on my way to the city. There were a dozen fire trucks and emergency vehicles parked out front. A fire at the church? No, the mind catches up with the scene and quickly corrects the mistaken impression.

A Memorial Mass for a NYC fireman who died in the World Trade Center. John Collins, a hero. Grew up in this parish -- served at Mass; his folks still live there.

Continued my trip, and waiting on the platform at Journal Square for a PATH train around 3pm, a train coming from NY pulled in and stopped. The first car was filled with men in kilts and their bagpipes. No, it isn't St Patrick's Day.

I start to feel very guilty for traveling into Manhattan to see a movie. The day before, I had wondered for a moment if it was smart -- would someone blow up the train? No, I reasoned. Too few people on the train on Sunday -- it will be tomorrow, or some other day. Not quite comforting, but we move on.

On to the PATH stop at West 9th Street and Sixth Avenue. A short walk from there to the Cinema Village. Just in time to see "Music from the Inside Out", which profiles the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The documentary explores how these musicians think and feel and live with their art and their vocation.

The movie and the music is uplifting, exhilarating, joyous. Really.

One scene: a street musician playing an accordion. Vivaldi's "Four Seasons: Winter". Ruslan Slinko is his name. See the movie -- if only for this one performance. It is amazing. When the movie ended, the director held a Q&A session, and in response to one question he described Slinko as a "starving musician".

I thought to myself that life can be difficult and painful sometimes, but there is always music.

Last night I was far from the City. I knew the memorial lights were shining above Lower Manhattan, but I did not go outside to look.

I get into my car this morning and the radio is tuned to WNYC, as always. Someone is ringing a bell, solemnly. Recordings edited and joined together to capture some of the memorial programs acrossthe City yesterday. Reading aloud the now-familiar names of the dead. Voices choking. A choir singing "The Star Spangled Banner". A recording of "Imagine".

At 6:39am on the NJ Turnpike, the sun is rising over Lower Manhattan. Big, orange, and beautiful. Just about where the twin towers of light were shining last night, in my mind's eye.

On the bus, I read some more about the flood. About 500,000 Americans seeking new jobs, schools, places to live, peace of mind. Which of these will prove most elusive?

An article considers the problem of evacuating New York City. As if we do not already know the obvious truth.

As I emerge from the subway at Grand Central Station, five policemen are set up at the turnstiles to search knapsacks and other suspicious packages. They are not interested in me -- I am on my way out and onto the street.

On to work, and a normal day in this life at the edge of normalcy.

-- Neil

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Reasons to be Cheerful

How you see the world is more important than how the world actually is.

The lives of happy people and the lives of unhappy people are often only different in their own eyes. If we look objectively at the facts and circumstances of the lives of these two groups of people, we will find much that is common to both groups.

Illness and economic hardship, divorce and failed romances, disappointments, losses, pain and bad luck will be found in every life, whether its owner has a half-full or half-empty disposition.

It may be true that some of us have more bad luck than others and have therefore acquired a less than sunny view of life. It may also be true that those of us who tend to be cheerful enjoy better health and more rewarding relationships.

However, it is clearly not true that cheerful, optimistic, positive people are freed from the suffering and disappointments of human existence. Even the most fortunate among us must face ageing, disease, the loss of loved ones and, eventually, our own death.

What is important about how we view the world is not that our viewpoint changes the reality of our lives -- it is not that we will be healthier and have more friends. What is important about how we view the world is that this is the center of our identity.

As a person, our identity is largely defined by how we view the world, what we assume about others, our capacity for compassion, our habits and practices, what we expect of tomorrow, and how much we pay attention to the present moment. But it starts with that world-view. It isfundamental.

I see much that is wrong in the world. In fact, the world is a terrible mess of injustice, poverty, disease, needless death, and constant suffering. But the world is also a place of great beauty and joy. I am always interested in meeting people because there are so many wonderful people in this world, even if there are many more who are not so wonderful.

I choose to be a person whose view of the world does not overlook its flaws, but never loses sight of its many wonders -- a view centered in an appreciation of the gift of this irreplaceable present moment, married to a hopeful attitude towards the future.

-- I wrote this a little more than a year ago, in the AOL journal that was the precursor to this one. I took that journal down a few weeks back, and have recently re-posted some photos from that journal. It made me think of looking back for some of the thoughts I had captured there, and gave me an opportunity to reconsider some of what I had written. I enjoyed doing that, and thought I would share this bit.

By the way, the picture was taken at Camp Sawyer in the Florida Keys a few years ago.