Great Mystery we honour

My grandmother had always referred to the universe as the Great Mystery.

Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse, page 65.

“We need mystery. Creator in her wisdom knew this. Mystery fills us with awe and wonder. They are the foundations of humility, and humility, grandson, is the foundation of all learning. So we do not seek to unravel this. We honour it by letting it be that way forever.”

Ibid.

The transformation that comes from practice and doing the same tasks over and over for many days. The chores build strength and speed and competency. The isolation fosters individuation and delight at the ability to accomplish and notice the changes that come with being able to simply do and with time master at what was once impossible.

On forgiveness

Ridiculous. Infuriating. Asinine. Callous. Those are some of the feelings as I read an op-ed by Michael Eric Dyson spinning Desmond Tutu’s death and legacy as an alternative to the current calls for racial justice and the reckoning of the genocide across US history and the colonization of North America by European immigrants [https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/28/opinion/desmond-tutu-america-justice.html].

I want to jump to and, who is the audience for this editorial? Because why M.E. Dyson writes is preposterous.

I find the processing of whiteness — white guilt about white supremacy and whitewashing to pretend that the record is not as sordid as it is — that passes as civics and domestic politics within this nation state to be depleting and by that I mean exhausting and energy-sapping and life-taking to meet callousness with compassion, to forgive when they willfully forget and perpetuate and perpetrate new lies.

I am not a close student of Desmond Tutu’s public speeches and statements, leadership and political moves and public stances. I’ve done some reading about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the end of apartheid but we are far from being in a place where white America will tell their truths.

I want to ridicule Dyson by pointing out the absurdity of being a tenured professor at Vanderbilt University writing about the merits of making it work out. I find it difficult to read because this is more naive than Democratic legislators trying to negotiate with Republican peers who do not accept women and people of color as equals.

I once believed a myth that Black people in the United States could save the rest of the citizenry. But I don’t but much faith in such savior roles or racial dogma at this juncture in my life. I want to judge my younger self for harboring such foolish naïveté, as I did about all the shovel-ready-projects that were supposed to lubricate the stimulus package in 2009. But all that grandiose policy amounted to little of what was promised. It was futile for the president and members of Congress to promise about an 21st century energy grid or rapid transit trains spanning from Florida to the Northeast to California when they could not guarantee governing majorities for years on end. Instead, they made multi-year promises when they rose to committee chairs then were sidelined into minority party status by November 2010.

There’s something similarly amiss when Black Lives Matter is being conflated with cancel culture and then blamed for the inhospitable and dysfunctional and violent state of affairs between races in the United States.

Dyson doesn’t say “turn the other cheek” but he suggests that the well of indigenous and Black redemption of reckless white Americans is a renewable resource. To highlight the forgiveness of family members of the Charleston 9 is unfortunate, if not perverse. To have to hold and accommodate a man who pretended to be coming for prayer group is a tremendous and horrendous burden. Maybe redemption and forgiveness can be infinite but at this stage in my life, they do not feel sufficient for the illness and ailments that plague this society.

Maybe the timeless aspect of the oppressed’s forgiveness is that we are all humans and ultimately, there will/must be some balancing amongst the humans but it is hard to feel that when most of what I see is ignorance and defiance among people who have been accustomed to others suffering being coupled with their indulgence. Even as they learn of their impact, they don’t want to rein their excesses in. They want to continue to be violent and genocidal in their supremacist belief systems.

What’s the point of taking the moral ground when the ground is being seized and taken or plundered? Rather than prescribe maybe he could acknowledge the anguish and disgust that people of color feel. The pain that more whites acknowledge and empathize with and can acknowledge rather than argue or avoid. But there’s no reconciliation without going through the agony and saddling the burden of that leadership on people of color and other oppressed majorities is not how we rectify the brokenness of the powerful.

June is Reparations Month

Turns out that M4BL has decreed that June is Reparations month. Yesterday, I was cringing at the prospects for something substantive, something that was more than performative bullshit. And I wrote about that. Today, I feel like reparations month is taking root in my soul.

It must be Reparations Month as I’ve read two stories in two days on the Politico website, that bastion of two-sided storytelling trying to paint both political parties as decent and honorable endeavors.

Tonight, I learned that, according to the United Nations, all reparations have five components: 1) Cessation, assurances and guarantees of non-repetition. 2) Restitution and Repatriation. 3) Compensation. 4) Satisfaction. 5) Rehabilitation.

Learn more from the M4BL Reparations Toolkit.

inexperience + ignorance + isolation = racism’s 3 I’s

Racism comes from the 3 Is: inexperience. ignorance. isolation.

“When you combine those three I’s, what you get is people who are incapable of participating in and contributing in an inclusive society. everytime that i turn around, it is one of those I’s that people’s behavior is so off-track.

“Wealth has isolated him. as a result of that, and his own volition, had no real experience with a diversity of folks. he proved that he is ignorant or untruthful. or it may be both.

“That is what has happened, and what has been a focus — diversity and inclusion — has been a focus of my career.”

Armchair Elder

I saw her seated to the far right of the third row. Who was this white-haired woman glaring at me as I strolled down the aisle. I asked to enter the third row, seated just next to this elderly woman, with my mind using a single verb to describe her as she glared at me. I took my seat on my Southwest flight home. I had a story coursing through my head howt his white woman was fixated on my brown skin. As it turned out, she happened to be a curious, storytelling, fellow traveler.

It began when she asked me how the buckle of her seat belt worked. I learned two further data points within minutes, which were this was an 85 year old woman who was on an airplane for the second time in her life. The previous flight was two weeks earlier when she’d flown to RDU from MDW. Meanwhile, I have been on planes regularly. My first flights began at age six (nearly three decades earlier than the octogenarian seated to my left). One of the few questions that she asked me was if my other airplane rides were bumpier than our shared springtime flight from North Carolina to Illinois. I told her that, yes, they could get bumpy.

We shared an armrest, and she shared countless stories. For the next 80 minutes, I had a history tutorial courtesy of Mrs. Marilois Anderson of Morocco, Indiana.

Marilois lives in a duplex. She was a nurse until age 60 in a tiny Indiana town across the stateline from Chicago. At four, her parents moved from southern Indiana to Morocco, as her father got work for the telephone company. Her mother worked for Ma Bell, too, working the switchboard from their home. One time, Marilois placed the mouthpiece in her mouth, getting an electric shock that made the line go dead. Her father had been to war, too. He was a medic and driver. My young mind was curious about which war it had been. It was one of oodles of questions that I can not know a definite answer to.

Mrs. Anderson’s maiden name is Carter. She married in her early 20s, and had three children – one of whom lived in North Carolina, the nudge she needed to get on an airplane in her mid-80s. I got a glimpse of memory, the mind’s work, and the moment-by-moment nature of life when I asked her husband’s name. In the long pausing presence, I noted that she was unable to recall the name of a partner who died six years ago. She pulled her wallet out for a second time out from one of her two handbags. Her eyes searched for an ID with his name on it. Not on the credit card, nothing on her Medicare card. Then she did find a membership card for the World War II Memorial. Her eyes scanned the colors and images, and I read the name aloud: Mrs. Milton Anderson. I had a great uncle named Milt, too. My uncle Milt had fought in some war decades before I was born. For the 20-some years of overlap, I heard few stories of his service and his life.

Thanks to history, my ancestors and their stories, there were so many reasons that made Marilois’ memories of Morocco so familiar to me. She even said to me how she wanted me to meet her son, Jack, when I come through Morocco.

Multiple times during our flight, Ms. Anderson said that the airplane felt like we were “just sitting here.” It was magic when she peered out from her window seat. She remarked at how incredible it was that we were flying at 30,000 feet. When the floor of the clouds opened, she said, “I can see something.” I got a glimpse of how curiosity and adventure can live on. Can live in us. In her bike rides, her love of the public library, where the librarians of Newton County let her borrow knowing that some day, Mrs. Anderson, won’t bring her two books back.

having a taste for raw onions / onions as life

Ah yes. From the book that i finished earlier this week:

Remember what the old man said? His faec brimmed with laughtere as he turned to you and answered in a serious manner. ‘The secret is raw onions. I eat raw onions and I survive.’

And then, over your head, his eyes met mine and we understood each other. What he told you that day is the secret of life itself. One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things. We, you and I, and our people shall live because there are only a few among us who do not love raw onions.”

– The General. in The Wandering Falcon, by Jamil Ahmad (2011).