Cappuccino in the Orphanage

The four-year-old boy in the orphanage in the West Bank wanted only one thing. Cappuccino. He begged my friend who had promised each child a gift. She could not resist.

This is not a story about caffeine or what children “should” imbibe. This is a story of a child’s need to be loved.

You see, the children in the orphanage watch television a lot and there is an ad or a sitcom where a family drinks cappuccino together. He wants to be in that family, and in his mind they have adopted him, or he has adopted them.

When my friend returned a few days later, the boy ran across the large room to embrace her and ask if she had brought him cappuccino. She had, a month’s worth and the means to make it, and chocolate powder to sprinkle on top.

“You must share,” she said. “No, this is mine,” he said, and clutched the package to his chest.

She showed him how to make cappuccino and sprinkle the power. He sat cross-legged on the floor and drank it, slowly, contemplatively, putting it down quietly with both hands in between sips, as though he were listening to other members of his family talk.

Then he would pick it up again and sip until it was all gone.

After that day, he would do the ritual with the family on the television at their allotted time together. He made himself part of the family.

We are social animals and, yes, he knew the other orphans were called his “family,” but he needed his own.

After the month my friend replenished his supply. It is my belief he will drink cappuccino, and the other intense coffee variants for his life. He is Palestinian after all.

My friend told me the story in a luxury apartment overlooking NYC. We had just returned from lunch in a fine restaurant, followed by cappuccino. For me, decaf, which I prefer with almond milk.

It was a superb cup, but did not give me a family. It was a moment with my friend who has changed the lives of thousands of Palestinians.

Children make do with what they can. We all need embracing, we all need connection, but children need it most.

 

Stay with me, Love

Hold me, my Love,
I’ve lost my dreams
—sluiced away as cotton candy after rain.

Hold me, my Love, can
you stay the night?   in my dreams

The afternoon after the poem in the night, four hours before the wedding party:

The ache in my body as this poem wrote itself and woke me last night was as physical as an iron cannon atop a fort wall it can no longer protect, and as lonely.

Which does not mean my mind was not baffled. It, or I, prides itself on managing well, managing well without a man in my bed, managing to keep static interference from forming a wall between myself and what is beyond the tangible. At the grocers, others contemplate which flavors of ice cream to buy. I contemplate the flavors of time, love, space, and what the cashier is thinking as she or he tallies my groceries.

It is perhaps relevant, though, that my dog was not in bed with me, cozying up as the nights turn cold—or close enough I can reach him if I wake for a bit. His soft warm fur, his tolerance of a kiss on his sleek jaw, his peace when I hum “om” against his skull.

He was not here because there is a wedding party here tonight—I am waiting for the caterers to arrive—and my dog would spend the evening patrolling for food.

So what was it with this poem? This seeming calling for a lover? This seeming destitution? This searing admittance of need, and of grief? It seemed all of these, but made no sense to my mind.

Waiting for the caterers, I realize “my Love” is not a man (though that could be nice) but is my reservoir of Love, a well of Love that spreads to the harried or content cashier and the harried or content me, a Love that comes not so much from me as through me.

I was calling on that Love to hold me through the difficulty of losing beliefs and dreams—dreams washed away by deliberate cruelties and random happenstance. Are floods happenstance? Is abandonment of people who have been flooded happenstance? Is war happenstance? Is famine caused by war happenstance?

These things have worn at my belief in benevolence. They make me cry inside, a cave where tears form crystalline stalactites.

Humans have forced reality on me. Some people sheltered others with their bodies when the shooting started, while others were trampled by those fleeing.

It’s a mix.

The flowers were delivered this morning, a mix of soft lavenders, dark purples, whites, and palest greens, roses, tulips, hydrangeas, even baby pink cabbage leaves. When the caterers arrive I will say “The tall vase goes there, don’t you agree?” and “That is for the entryway.” They will be spread through the house like a blessing, like belief. 

This is a first wedding of a couple in their forties who have been together for some time. They have a good chance.

My reservoir of love will hold me, regardless of the slip-sliding of dreams and raining away of spun sugar.

Love will refresh me through the night as I sleep. That is not a belief, it is knowledge.

The day after the wedding party:

And so the flowers were spread through the house. One hundred or more people arrived, were greeted by chardonnay, and then they, too, spread through the house in blessing and belief, and joy and comfort.

Food was passed on trays. The bride and groom were radiant. Toasts were given, laughter cycled above our heads. Some people sang show tunes around the piano. The last left around 3 am.

In my dreams I sang in ancient keening languages, my cries ascending in golden plumes to the beyond. People didn’t know what to do with me. The teacher told me to stop. I told him he had yet to learn this language. I did not wake, but I remember, and am held.

 

 

 

My Grandson’s Hand in Mine

It seems such a small thing that I have resisted writing about it for a week, and it was such a small thing, my grandson’s hand slipping into mine like a piece of cool silk when we cross the street. Not any little street, but NYC streets. Without resistance, especially across Broadway.

We all have some memory of being touched gently, serenely, with not a single barrier, whether by a lover or someone we wished to be a lover. At least I hope we all have, but surely I overstated. It isn’t the makeup of the world that we all have been loved.

Actually I remember the touch, as an adolescent, of a monkey reaching through a cage, quick as a viper, grabbing my hair at its roots and pulling my head against the screen as I screamed. I feel it now, but that is not the kind of touch I mean.

In retrospect, I remember other violent touches, the first time my husband hit me, but this is not about that.

This is about a ten-year-old boy who slips his hand in mine like silk. It is about holding my hand out when he is a step behind and having his hand touch mine without my even seeing him, knowing he is there and his knowing I am there, and we will cross Broadway safely.

It is about agreement of who we are together. And agreement of going forward, of crossing the landscape, of moving through time and space in our bodies. Our bodies that hold our minds, and thoughts, and emotions. It is about trust. It is about love as ordinary as water.

I have never felt that level of trust with my arm through that of a partner. I have never felt that safe crossing busy streets.

That amazingly fine hand with long delicate fingers, not clutching, simply entwined, and continuing so after we cross the street.

Yes, he may jump and whirl and yell and laugh and roll on the rug with delight when he beats me in chess. Triumph, unabashedly competitive.

Yes, he is alert and attentive to my elderly foibles, leaving my key in the door of the apartment. He is already tending and accepting.

But when he puts his hand in mine, our palms against each other the world is somehow right. We are comrades and for that moment I am still the elder, the guard, the protector. There is no resistance, nor is there surrender.

The touch says it all, and that is not a small thing at all.

 

Going Gently into the Light

All I want is to be gentle and to have the right to be gentle. It is not my time to protest anymore, but giving it up feels like an abandonment not only of those in need and those in pain and those in loss, but of myself, of the spirit of my younger self. It is confused by my physical weariness.

Some people climb the Himalayans in their 70s or even 80s, but that will not be me.

I am not complaining, though I am baffled. Doctors do not decipher my weariness, they prescribe or they look at me slightly askance as though someone who looks as I look must be a malingerer, or neurotic, certainly unrealistic and narcissistic. They are not inside my body.

I am not a malingerer. My body and my mind are weary. Wrong, only part of my mind is weary. One part is burstingly alive, radiant, claiming, grabbing, and appalled at the other half.

Forget names, forget the names of things, forget the sequence of events over the past week, forget spellings.

Doctors say is it usual. It is NOT usual. It is not acceptable, though I try, when I am not angry or frightened.

Have you noticed how we never grow up? How dreams and thoughts take us back to childhood, and there it revamps things? It makes memories and some good guys problematic, but more, it makes some bad guys good. We come to understand those who hurt us and accept the cages that destroyed them and harmed us. We become organisms that forgive, even as some people must be written off.

And even that loses meaning too with time.

I don’t want to be the old woman in the chair in the corner, and it is difficult to imagine I will be even as I might be. “She was so vital,” they’ll say. “She was something in her day.”

I just want to be gentle and gracious and generous and to have flashes of brilliances. Strangely I do have flashes of brilliance, mostly private. They come as gifts special delivery from a bright and shining light, and they blow me away. No, they lift me, and fly me to clean places where for a moment I am where forever lives.

I just want to be gentle and know that I too will be forgiven for wrongs and errors, and that I have a right to be gentle, that the world will be safe enough for the elderly to be gentle if they need be, without guilt, that we can mourn our losses quietly and let joy flow like light through our veins without guilt for not having done more.

Perhaps this will change, perhaps my body will find a key to turn that brings it back to power and rambunctiousness, and I would accept that gladly. Who wouldn’t? Reality has always included miracles we can work towards and be open to, but not command.

Perhaps the miracle is that, as my body gentles itself, love occupies all its spaces.

 

 

FLASH: Elder Dog Named “Trump” Disrupts World Peace

Among the other god-awful things Trump has brought to us—rather, to the entire world—is the prospect of even greater war. He poked and continued to poke a dog that, while not entirely sleeping, could have been contained to its own yard.

That is, Trump, too, is a dog—mangy, snarling, yapping, attacking, aged, paranoid, howling at the moon, thinking it still rules the neighborhood, thinking its bark has value when all it does is set off other dogs. A dog who believes nothing exists beyond its own block, and doesn’t even like the people who live next door.

But, . . . but, . . . but if he were really a dog, there would be a muzzle on him by now. Instead he is the President of the United States and sullies the White House and claims the Constitution is paper to wipe it up with. Oh, sorry for ending that sentence with a preposition.

Donald is an immense test for those of us who want love, beauty, art, music, poems, science, exploration, meditation, and spiritual passages as central to our lives. Do we protest? Do we ignore? Do we shelter ourselves? Do we take up advanced wine tasting? Do we turn off the news? Do we go on retreats? Do we post photos of family members and friends bonding? Do we bury our heads in the necks of our pets?

Do we try to purify or go into the trenches? Are both possible at once?

Some answers are simple. We must protest. And we must shelter ourselves. We must watch carefully how much inane racket we can endure in one day, and adjust accordingly.

We must find ways to protest that harm no one else. We must raise awareness of the ugly truths of bigotry and inequality. We must not indulge in fake news ourselves.

We must criticize horrors and quotes that are verifiable but not do wholesale debunking. Melania may surprise us yet, and Ivanka hasn’t been heard from lately. They have been tasked with walking the dog, and that is not easy.

We must ask ourselves the variant of “what would Jesus do?” that suits our personal beliefs and predilections. I ask “What would love do?”

I also ask “Why is it so difficulty for so many people—Trump and beyond—to understand that all humans are made of the same stuff. Pain and loss feel the same in all nations and races.

Should we be surprised that hundreds of football players are “taking the knee”? Of course not. Their identification with those suffering from police bias and other forms of racial bias is close. They feel it in their bones and through their relatives and friends.

But Trump does not and cannot feel the pain and loss of others, and cares so little about it that he cannot even fake it. A bop on his nose mystifies him. Humans confuse him. All he wants is to be petted and called “good boy.”

And so, the old dog barks, snarls, and attacks, boasting in proxy of his younger days when he saw himself as a Casanova who got away with it.

We are in trouble when what we want is a creative dynamic serenity. We want to explore the immense universe, the music of life, the awesome facts of time and space. We want to study life as a beautiful thing, not destroy and abuse it.

Creating harmony within the din of fear, lies, and chaos is extremely difficult, but hopefully it is possible, because it is necessary.

Do not let yourself be swamped. Take time to gather your senses, find your truths, and act upon them in ways that share and expand your visions without harming others.

Somewhere in here we can agree Trump is not only scary and bloody annoying, but a clear and present danger. Somewhere in here is a muzzle. Or fences, or barriers.

We must protect what is good and work to change what is ugly. We are neighbors, and he is a menace, a mongrel doing war-mongering.

 

 

 

My Fainting Epiphany: love and loss

The first thing I felt, before my eyes opened, was the coolness of the bathroom tile against my cheek, as calm, placid, and cool as a forest lake—as though I’d never felt coolness before, as a baby might feel it, as someone without memory files.

The first thing I saw was a roll of toilet paper above me. How odd, and why were the walls at strange angles, like a white-on-cream cubist painting or quirky stage set—like flat surfaces that did not know they were walls, that were not yet tamed into being straight up.

It was the middle of the night. I was alone. I was flat on the bathroom floor.

Ill and light-headed, I had thought I might faint so took a pillow with me, but I missed it. I have scrapes on my forehead, a bruise above my right eyebrow, and small gash across my nose. Also a junior-size bump above my left ear and two splits inside my left upper lip. It is a Rorschach test to figure how I landed, though clearly my face led the way.

In the few days since I have rested, gardened, and questioned. What really matters? Who am I? Are politics or art more important? How many people will die without health care? Have I overcome or neutralized or morphed through the pains and betrayals of my life, or not?

That last question is one I’ve focused on for several weeks. My therapist on the afternoon before the night of fainting reminded me that trauma is cumulative. I recently opened the lid to the anteroom of my losses. One can go on, gain strength and even love through loss—including loss through betrayal and harm—but pain and loss don’t go away, they just become more companionable. Mine had become dark overstuffed upholstered chairs mildewing in the corner badly in need of cleaning and new stuffing.

This blog is not specifically about my traumas, but about the twining of love, loss, and grief. That someone arbitrarily harmed you, that they turned into a monster, does not mean you can retract your love without feeling loss. In fact, you can find your way to detach from the person, even to stop loving them, even to forgetting them over time, but you cannot cancel out the sense of loss. You loved. Love, too, is cumulative, and it remains.

No, this blog is not specifically about my trauma, but to give you a sense of my creds. I lost my child in a custody suit, suffered physical and emotional domestic violence, my “soul mate” third husband had a separate secret life complete with apartments in San Francisco and Beijing, and my childhood was an exercise in emotional stoicism.

I now live three blocks from my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and our lives are filled with love. I got out of the abusive marriage 40 years ago, and that husband died after 20 years living in a banana grove. The “soul mate” married someone as fraudulent as he is and lives far away. I feel no need for vengeance.

And my parents became sweet and loving the last years of their lives. I tended them both into peaceful deaths. I also was there when my only sibling, my brother, died suddenly, a loss felt deeply.

But let us return to exploring how feeling loss proves you know how to love.

Loss is loss is loss and feeling or re-feeling losses can be disorienting. It can make walls go slant. It scales away your self-definition, and tries to strip away your persona, leaving you with the choice to let that persona go and find your way in the land of no self-definition and confusion, or to try to tamp down your painful losses and lock them in an anteroom, clinging to your persona as though you think it is who you are.

We all, in fact, always exist in the state where self-definitions are constructed trappings, attempts to not be frightened by the magnitude of being alive. When was the last time you tried to perceive the cosmos? When did you meditate into bliss? When did you last see the world as a baby before you decided walls go straight up?

Besides musing these past days, I watched two episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess” and two episodes of “Star Trek.” Both firsts for me. The acting in Xena is hilariously bad and Star Trek is, so to speak, a world of its own.

What is of most interest is that the ads are about life insurance or things needed to breath right, i.e. equipment to clean your nose, and equipment to clean your sleep time breathing equipment, and things to do so you don’t feel guilty for dying. That is, the ads are for declining baby boomers who want re-runs of vicarious thrills rather than getting off the sofa—or facing up to that they spend too much time on the sofa.

We Americans are not good at looking at our lives. It can be painful. Not one of us with any age has not at some time been in a morass of lost love. It can dissolve a persona so thoroughly that the actual person is not sure which way is up, where her feet are, or what is ahead. The walls slant.

But I prefer loss of self-definition, as least for awhile. I prefer its freedom. I prefer finding my way through the loss to the love that had, and has, its home in my cells. The love did not go away when the lover, or parent, or friend, or betrayer died or left.

As trauma is cumulative, so is love.

I prefer beauty, and touch, and taste, and colors, and music, and the twining growth of wisteria up my house, and the cool nose of my dog, and the glint of rose off the sides of wet fish, and the whiff of sage, and my grandson’s smile when he spies a joke in the air, and making love in a soft bed with linen sheets and someone who goes there with me.

I prefer not to feel the bruises on my face but the cool smooth tile on my cheek. I love the hydrangea bush I planted yesterday, and that I could help its shocked branches by staking them upright. I love tending plants.

I want to be here, alive, mucking around in the sensations of being alive, even if I lose people and things. The hydrangea flowers will die but the plant bloomed.

I prefer to have the door to the anteroom of losses open so I can explore it for forgotten gems, find what was good and what was bad and say “I am here,” even if I do not know who I am or how large the cosmos is or when my body will die.

We endure the losses in order to become love experiencing life.

Love is cumulative and it is tough, and will tend us as surely as I tend the hydrangea.

 

Rape Comes to Kalorama

Three nights ago a woman was bound, blind-folded, assaulted, and raped in her home—a block from me as a crow would fly through our gardens. But we have no crows in Kalorama.

We have cardinals, robins, the occasional blue jay, wrens, and song birds. I once saw a hawk. Mallards have twice in two years tried to claim my pool. I made the mistake of letting the grandchildren give them breadcrumbs. Ducks are aggressive and seem to have long memories.

The woman told the police she did not know how the man got into her house. I know how one would get into my house. Over the garden gate, along the walk between my neighbor’s fence and my home, into the garden, and through the three glass French doors that open from the garden into my dining room. My dog would be confused, but he would bark if a strange man came into my bedroom—bark and attack. I hope. Though, when Fourth of July fireworks go off, he hides in corners and whimpers, so I probably should rethink my supposition.

I light my garden well at night now, and set my alarm for the first time in a couple years. I also moved the tazer—does it still work?—from the far night stand to the near night stand.

Still, there is a high-pitched screech in my cells when I think of her being bound, blindfolded, and raped. Also robbed, but that’s meaningless.

I watch carefully now when I walk my dog. The detectives at the door told me I had walked my dog at the same time the rapist was in the neighborhood—they have him on camera.

President and Michelle Obama, Malia, and Sasha live four blocks away, Ivanka Trump and husband Jared are three blocks away. Jeff Bezos is a block away if the crow flew in the opposite direction of the house of the woman who was raped, and Rex Tillerson is ½ block away, between my house and the house of the woman who was raped.

We prided ourselves on being a quiet neighborhood. Now we have one street blocked off by police cars and concrete barricades, and black Secret Service Suburbans along the street I drive to pick up my grandchildren from school. Tourists ask me directions.

It’s okay. I would sacrifice a lot to have Barack and Michelle nearby. That part feels cozy despite the concrete blocks.

But I write not out of coziness but because of the high-pitched screech in my cells—I write because I am one of three women living alone along my street. We are known as “the three graces.”

I write because assault against any woman feels like personal assault, and when it is a block away it stings your skin like an acidic breeze.

I remember “hit hard up the bridge of the nose so it jams into their head.” I remember I’ve always thought that the knee to the balls was “iffy.” The odds of getting that right seem minimal and I would be caught with one leg off the ground.

I remember that in the street you scream, you fight, you run. I remember at all costs not to get into a car.

I never learned what to do if the assailant is in your home and there are secret police out of reach just a block away.

I write because one of the detectives said “It was an assault, but no one was killed.”

She was bound, blindfolded, and raped—but no one was killed. We don’t do murders in Kalorama, evidently—only rapes.

I write because I am angry because rape is attempted murder of a woman’s—or man’s—soul. I write because people harm each other. I write in order to reach the place where I can cry.

 

THE STEPS TO AUTOCRACY . . . and, btw, also genocide

#1. Promote yourself as the savior, often by glitter and large buildings, who will return your nation or culture to greatness and lift “your” people out of humiliation and make them safe by eliminating “dangerous elements.”

The steps to become a dictator, an all-authoritarian ruler, are the same as the ones required to achieve genocide. While I do not believe, by any stretch, that the United States is headed towards genocide, I recognize that the actions by our president are aligned with the actions necessary for genocide. It is a question only of degree and goals.

My study of strongmen gaining control of governments and, ultimately, achieving genocide began in 2003 when I co-directed and produced the documentary film Peace by Peace: Women on the Frontlines. The film showed the work of women rebuilding their nations after massive devastation, including in Burundi and Bosnia.

It was ten years after the genocide in Burundi, concurrent with the genocide in Rwanda, by Hutus of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and seven years since the end of the four-year siege of Sarajevo by Bosnia Serbs.

The documentary, which debuted at the United Nations and was aired by PBS television, shows women in Burundi using reconciliation radio programs and face-to-face interactions to build peace and connections across the land. In those verdant hills a civil war continued to simmer. One day after filming our local handlers told us as we were driving away that guerrillas had come to that village the day before and they had killed people.

In Bosnia, we filmed women in Sarajevo and across the countryside rebuilding the economy through small businesses and micro-loans. A tepid peace was maintained by the presence of United Nations peace keepers.

To understand the causes and effects of genocide I observed and researched, among other things, the strategies of strongmen in Bosnia and Burundi and other nations, including Germany. What steps are required to achieve the power of an autocrat?

Below are my findings from that time, with a few updated side comments. They are more or less in sequence:

1. Promote yourself as the savior, often by glitter and large buildings, who will return your nation or culture to greatness and lift “your” people out of humiliation and make them safe by eliminating “dangerous elements.”

2. Instill fear in the hearts and minds of your citizens. Fear in the majority of the minorities so the majority align with you for protection. Fear in the minorities of you and the majority so they stay silent and weakened.

3. Gain control of the media by silencing, weakening, and defaming legitimate media and setting up false media to carry your messages of fear, hate, and alternative “truths,” i.e. propaganda. This is key.

4. Begin and maintain a steady drumbeat through media and every way possible of demeaning and debasing one or more minorities. Nothing you say is too extreme and there is no need for it to be truthful. They are killers, rapists, dirty, and, eventually, “cockroaches.”

5. Gain control of the military by degrading the leaders who would oppose you and replacing them with those who will do what you say – usually for their own gain.

6. Do the same with the judiciary system.

5. Attack and weaken educational institutions, scientists, and professional leaders. Condemn and weaken the “effete intellectuals.” They are your enemy. They must be silenced. They are infiltrators who do not like you and have their own agendas.

6. Set up paramilitary groups across the land with arms to patrol, intimidate, and harm “the other.” If you don’t have guns, machetes will do.

7. Restrict the selected scapegoat minorities, saying it is for the safety of the majority. Restrict their travel, opportunities, access to education and professions and places to live. Tighten restrictions over time with systematically applied “rules” about what they can and cannot do. If possible, build a wall to isolate them.

8. If you wish to enact a genocide, look for, or create, an event to use as a catalyst, as a spark to the tinder you have prepared, to launch slaughter, randomly or orderly depending on your preference and what is possible. Watch the fire burn.

Our president, his staff, and appointees know he is striving for personal power beyond “checks and balances,” but they probably don’t label it as turning our democracy into an autocracy. Trump certainly has no internal existence except “Trump First” and that does not allow for self-review of his actions and their consequences. It also means he does not have a clue of the nature of a democracy let alone know how to be president of one. He doesn’t have the equipment.

We, however, are becoming aware of the signs of an emerging autocracy and must continue to rise against it en masse – majority and minorities, women and men – to prevent immense damage to our democracy, our nation’s fiber, and our personal morals.

If looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, the chances are it will behave like a duck because it IS a duck. It is what ducks know to do.

Donald, Duck-esque, only knows what he knows to do. It might work well in his personal fantasy land, but it does not work in our real world. En masse is the accumulation of concerned people. Rise up!

 

He Would Have Been Tested For Rabies

The President of the United States violates every principle of honesty and exploits every crevice of divisiveness he can find. He trades in fear, bigotry, deception, and alternative worlds. He is a carrier of a malignant virus. If he were an animal in the Iowa of my childhood, he would have been tested for rabies.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, I was 13 and in civics class, second to last in the row of desks closest to the hallway door, a farmer’s daughter who had been taught your word was your bond and that we depended upon each other to bring in the harvest.

In that seat, I had an “aha” moment that Iowa was quintessentially the safest and most American state, or at least the Midwest was the most American area, and because Iowa had corn we had the edge even there. I also found it boring, which made me secretly a little ashamed of myself. How could I reject such luck to be born in Iowa?

We were at the heart of the light of freedom for the world. Each generation would have it better than the last. There was only one direction to go and that was up.

Central to this belief was the touchstone of honesty. Even our soil was honest, it showed you exactly what it was. Cows, pigs, chickens, they showed you if they were healthy or not, liked you or not. The sky was clear and endless. The wind and rains and snow were honest, taking their turns to show us exactly what they were and what their power could do and how we needed them.

And Christianity for the most part was honest in its values, though it wasn’t tested except inside one’s self. When farms were lost, some farmers shot themselves in their cellars by putting the shotgun in their mouths and pulling the trigger with their big toe. That was how I first learned women are usually better at managing crises than men. I’m not sure how much of that had to do with a woman’s Christianity or her tenacity.

I secretly found Bible stories to be fairytales but I knew the feel of good hearts and solid folks. They were my neighbors, whom I did not find boring. I found them quirky and strangely diverse, but pulled together by bonds of mutual respect and interdependence.

Christianity, however, did not discuss social issues and my civics class did not discuss minorities. There were no minorities in Iowa, so we set up our divides between Protestants and Catholics, and town folks and farm folks.

The desire to believe you are the people who are right, better, finer, closest to your sect’s chosen god is a pernicious virus.

So let’s come to the sorrowful point of now:

The President of the United States violates every principle of honesty and exploits every crevice of divisiveness that he can find. He trades in fear, bigotry, deception, and alternative worlds. He is a carrier of a malignant virus. If he were an animal in the Iowa of my youth, he would be tested for rabies.

He would have been isolated. No farmer would have worked with him because he was not to be trusted. He would not respect the farmers who rented instead of owned. He would not have paid his bills and that would be the end of that for him.

He would have been ostracized across counties. The word would have gone out among the people when the children were not listening. He would have been a fraud in a place where your word was your bond, where honesty was in the land.

They would have compared his hair with straw, but not in front of the children; they would have laughed behind the barn about his small hands.

Now, it turns out, these people voted mainly for him. Our farm was 18 miles from Mason City, the River City of “The Music Man.” The town folks were huckstered in the musical, but that at least was about trombones.

Times have changed, but that Iowa dirt is still in my heart. It demands truth, and it is not alone. It feels like one handful of loam in a field, a plain, of people rising across the United States reclaiming the heartland of who we are:

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood (and sisterhood) from sea to shining sea!

 

 

OUTING NETANYAHU

The only way to make sense of Netanyahu’s claim that UNSC Resolution #2334 is a declaration of war against Israel is if, in his mind, all of Palestine has belonged to Israel for 3000 years. By this reasoning the boundaries of nearly all nations on our planet would need to be redrawn.

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Most often I write of love, acceptance, beauty, even soul. You may see that as the saccharine babble of an aged flower child, but I was not a flower child. I was a yuppie wife serving brunches of scrambled eggs decorated with truffles cut in the shapes of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades.

Since this post runs counter to my norm, I want to establish my creds. In Sarajevo I talked down a crazed man with a gun threatening to kill me. In Kabul I uncovered my blonde hair and stepped out of a van to face an approaching phalanx of frightened U.S. soldiers with M16 assault rifles; it was the day after an assassination attempt on Karzai and they thought we were going to attack the embassy. Outside of Bethlehem I ran, with the help of a young colleague, through Israeli tear gas canisters exploding like Fourth of July fireworks behind, in front, and beside us without an iota of justification. At the Qalandia checkout at the edge of Ramallah I photographed Palestinian men behind a dumpster being shot at from the Israeli military towers.

I know there is evil in the world.

Now, let’s talk about Netanyahu.

In 2007 I was photographing a female member of Israel’s Knesset in a sunlit alcove off the hallway along the members’ offices. It was in line with the interviews, photographs, and biographies for the book “Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women” that I produced and edited.

The alcove was warm and quiet, and my subject was generous of spirit. With the camera still to my eye, I turned from her to the hallway behind her when I heard people walking rapidly towards us.

The impact of the smug arrogant face I saw through the closeup lens crashed against the back of my skull. My camera unmasked pomposity, mindless hatred, and a craving for power. It took a couple seconds for me to realize I was looking at Netanyahu.

I put my camera down, shaken, praying he would never again be Israel’s Prime Minister. He was re-elected in 2009.

You cannot understand the actions of Israel without understanding the depth of the wounds of Jews; and we who are not Jews cannot fully understand that depth, its tentacles, and how it begets itself through generations. We should not try to tell ourselves we understand.

Still, we who are not Jews can see what perhaps the majority of Israelis and many non-Israeli Jews cannot see of themselves.

My daughter, perhaps the sanest person I know, is Jewish. She chose the religion of her father. In her cells she viscerally “knows” annihilating catastrophe could happen at any moment. She maps our family and friends escape routes for the vampire invasion or the nuclear bomb. She gives gifts of radios that can be hand cranked to hear broadcasts when the grid goes down.

Over a decade ago, I was driven back to East Jerusalem from Ramallah by a Canadian diplomat. It was the first time I heard someone say aloud what I had come silently to believe – Israelis were enacting on the Palestinians what had been enacted on them, and they did not know it. The inclosing wall, confiscation of property, inability to travel, restriction of goods, night raids, mass imprisonments, dehumanization, destruction of homes and fields, and repeated killings, including of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.

I came to believe, further, that the majority of Jewish Israelis would not – could not — feel safe until they were able to do to the Palestinians (their “enemies”) what had been done to them. Only that amount of power would guarantee their safety. Faced with presumed alienation or survival, most Israelis would deny, and sadly or angrily justify, their actions. Further, the wall and laws against interactions with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza made the suffering invisible if they wished it to be so.

Netanyahu, voted in by the most fearful of the Israelis, has never brought integrity to a peace negotiation. He has been videotaped telling Israeli families he has no intention of following through on any agreements he made.

For him, it has always been about stalling international powers while reclaiming Palestine as the Biblical Judea and Samaria by building “facts on the ground” through settlements. The belief that an Omnipotent Landlord promised this land to the Jews has more reality than the history of the land over time. The lure – perhaps the safety of a promised “homeland” – of this belief cannot be overestimated. Knesset docents explain the Chagall mural of an Israel that includes Judea and Samaria as the present day reality. Fundamental US evangelicals gape in awe, not realizing they are looking at a contiguous map of the nations of Israel and Palestine.

Like most tyrants, Netanyahu has become more delusional with time – more paranoid, frightened, and frightening. He claims UN Security Council Resolution # 2334 is a declaration of war against Israel. What it does, in fact, is reaffirm that Israel’s establishment of settlements has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and is a major obstacle to two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.

The only way to make sense of Netanyahu’s reasoning that the UN revolution is a declaration of war against Israel is if, in his mind as in the mural, all of Palestine has belonged to Israel for 3000 years. By this reasoning the boundaries of nearly all lands on our planet would need to be redrawn.

Truth is difficult to unthread through our mismatched versions of history, but we have learned – or have we? – that arrogant, delusional, narcissistic heads of states are dangerous. Is that something we learn only in retrospect? Are we learning it again?

A constant vigilant closeup lens is require, of Netanyahu and others.