Friday, March 16, 2012

What I Did Today

My good friend Erik asked me to take pictures for an event his organization was leading. I used to do nature photography and weddings on the side. I have the gear. So I agreed. Erik's organization happens to be United to End Genocide. The event happened to be a rally at the Sudanese Embassy here in D.C. to protest the brutal regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Among his many crimes, al-Bashir and his cronies are currently starving a half-million people in southern Sudan by cutting off international humanitarian aid. George Clooney, his father, several congressmen, religious leaders, and the President of the NAACP were among those arrested.

Clooney talks to reporters
while marching up Mass Ave., DC
This is the second time I've had this feeling since Amy died. The first time was about a year ago or so when a holocaust survivor spoke at our church. His story was one of terror and anguish, hatred and evil, and then eventual redemption as he described returning to Germany, as an adult, to meet childhood friends who had first teased, then ostracized and bullied him, as the classroom's only Jew. I was confounded by the juxtaposition of soulless evil with loving forgiveness. I became aware in a different way of the tragedy of humanity. The eternal suffering we experience through randomness and through the deliberateness of others. Somehow my own most profound pain of loss, so deep and overwhelming, seemed but one small drop is a vast sea of suffering. And the community of love that held me up after the death of my wife, is but a single flame of the universal fire of love. It was comforting. And confusing. And sad.

Today, again, a variant of those complicated, commingled feelings surfaced. Beyond the appeal of George Clooney, whom I deeply respect, I was struck by Martin Luther King III. He spoke about the horror in Sudan and invoked his father: injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. But I looked at him and realized, here is a man, now 54, who was just a boy of 8, when his father was assassinated. No stranger he to personal tragedy. And I thought for a moment of my boys who also will grow up with one parent taken away. And then I thought of the countless children in Sudan who will never know a parent. Then others spoke: The brutality of al-Bashir, the lack of action by the rest of the world, this tragedy keeps going on, and on, and half a million may soon starve if we continue looking the other way.
Martin Luther King III speaks out against
the Sudanese government. 

And I thought again about that vast sea of suffering. What is it about us? What is it we, as humans, are so afraid of that we must resort to such atrocities, again and again? I wish these were not rhetorical questions but I'm afraid, at least for now, they remain just that. Maybe some day the fire of love can illuminate and provide an answer.

Anyway, that's what I did today.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wise Words from Eleanor and Eugene Becker: Introduction

I have a small keepsake book. It was something Amy treasured. The book is designed to hold 4x6 prints, but my mother-in-law, quite the scrap-booker, created a collection of “wise words” from her parents, Amy’s grandparents, and presented it to us some years ago.

1. Nothing is ever simple
2. Always take a little lunch along
3. You have time for what you make time
4. Don’t look back
5. Work on a firm surface
6. Keep your hand in your lap and elbows off the table
7. If you want to save money, stay home
8. It will feel so good when it quits hurting
9. Finish one thing before getting started on another
10. Teamwork and shared values make a good marriage

I’m sorry I never got to meet Amy’s grandparents whom she so adored. They’d retired to coastal Alabama and both died the year Amy and I met. We just didn’t get down there in time. But I feel I have gotten to know them some, over the years, through stories from Amy and now her brother and my mother-in-law.

Eugene was born in 1906 and Eleanor in 1911. They each brought their understanding of determination and stoicism to their marriage. Eugene was surely influenced from his German and English forebears, and Eleanor from her Scottish and Swedish ancestry. They rose to adulthood during the Great Depression then started a family while World War II raged. Their heritage and these two great events of the last century greatly shaped their world view. Though I wince when we look back through rose-tinted glasses to the “good-ol’-days,” ignoring the profound social inequalities and bigotry so deeply woven into our fabric, there is wisdom from those who lived through that era that we ought not forget.

Over the coming weeks I’ll explore each of the 10 sets of “wise words” from Amy’s grandparents, the great-grandparents of my sons. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something along the way.