And So The Tears Still Fall…

No shadow is remembered nor an echo recalled of the impassioned campaign the women waged, (year upon year, under purple, white and golden banners) that they be seen and heard and counted:  enjoy enfranchisement alongside men. Ideals propelled them: their voice would jettison poverty, inferiority, powerlessness, within the home and in other spheres for white and black, for wife and spinster.

Marching, publishing, explaining with practiced elocution, they stood in cold and rain, they endured the glass and rocks hurled at their heads, they suffered far too many days of unlawful confinement and vicious jailers’ blows struck in a rage fueled by lack of comprehension.  They yearned for sunlight or the feel of a fresh breeze and writhed with pain and disgust as food forced through their nostrils mixed with their own vomit. They suffered the mantras of their detractors:  “You are not fit to think or speak your mind. You are like an errant child, you who were born for these things alone: to breed and to obey.”

The goal achieved.  The tale forgotten. The marching women’s words erased from our collective memory.

A treasured text from ancient times, feared, revered, misunderstood.  Talking heads on the flickering screen lob phrases: “jihad,” “Quar’an,”  “religious imperialism.”

 On the city street, a young, raven beauty darts before the dark to don again the  hijab she secreted, its heft, its gloom not matched to  her spirit.  She spies her brother in his western dress, and is immobilized; thought quelled; breath quashed. She  ceases to apprehend what is before her.  Her heart  plummtes below ground.  The young man’s eyes lock  hers, then look away, black and beautiful  as her own, burning coldly inside her brain.  The thin young body breathes again, short, fractured, gasping breaths.  The silken hair yields to the cloth as she withdraws into the shadows of the football field now falling into night.

Silken hair spills from the cloth when her body is found days later stabbed twenty-three times.  A father claims it is his right, his duty, to uphold the honor so demeaned by his daughter’s defiance.

After-dinner theater for a highly select group.  The stage: institutional greens, glass and steel.  The script so secret, any miscue, all is chaos and the public show is cancelled.

Out of view, the family arrives, still mourning. They know not what they seek precisely, each or all: vengeance, retribution, finality. Can rage, now after fifteen years, still feed the just and eternal flames of sorrow that scorched the hearts and faces, the eyes that now look on, somewhere, behind the stage, in a quiet room apart. Do those dolorous eyes surveill the set, after all, or do they see again, her face, her wave, her disappearing image  on that last June night of her so cruelly truncated life.

Photographs pose a hardened man, reporters tell a tale of unrepentant evil. He seized a life at random,he dispatched it for no reason.  His state pronounces a right to life, a right to kill.  They have sent him to the place to die.  But his body is recalcitrant and taunts their secret script.  The actors scramble in disarray.  The curtain falls.  Did the man writhe in pain, call out and convulse ?

Reviews are omnipresent: a macabre  performance.

Crimson stream on pearly ground glistens in the cold below the January stars.  Air escapes hissing from the embers still smoldering in the fire pit but the frigid form remains still.  The pistol reflects the light of the blue and white police cars where the woman sobs under blankets.

Inside the stately home, the grey haired detective sits on the leather chair and smells the lemon oil that recently kissed the antique cherry desk.His deep sigh echos on the empty shelves, the papers, arranged in martial rows and columns, announce the imminent seizure of the home by the bankers.

White candles in the night illuminate uncomprehending faces, stricken with loss and fear and rage.

Colored plastic body bags obscure the faces of the students slain on that Freedom’s  Friday.  And so the fabrications begin, the quest to be included in the sorrow, or, surpassing that, to become the tragedy itself. A  ripple,  soon to reach crescendo in a worldwide wave.

So many reach in fatigue, in desperation, with  minds too full, too  severely throbbing to comprehend that no single answer will ever serve to the simple question:  Why.

Communicators tangle threads.  “Another mass school shooting  ” Six young students slain, three slashed and stabbed.  Horrible.  Intimate.  Full of  hate.  And personal. Three students gunned down in moments.   Two, pre-meditated killed in a hunt for female flesh.  One random shot. All  young lives extinguished as the young man preened in his sleek black car through the California college beach town with far too many guns, more ammunition, hoarded,  like a nation’ treasure.One suicide. A bullet to the head.

The chain of blame: a bullied child was he.  A bullied child in wonderland, in wealth and privilege, ancient parkland, grandmother’s tales.  His anguished parents questing until the moments  he lay dying,  speeding through the night to rescue others, to interrupt his action.

A lonely man living in the modern electronic world riddled with thoughts of hatred.  Young women  slaughtered in the morning of  joyous lives, blameless, strong, empowered. Their memory untarnished by his disordered mind.  To honor them we must not seize their tragic story. Nor fail to hear his loathing for the Asian, or see the slashing death he wrought on Asian men with whom he shared nothing more than perhaps a skin tone.

Their lives deserve full honor, not least to be remembered.

In light of day, by clear starlight, the tide returns in peace. Each will reach to touch a heart. Many times, we will succeed.

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National-9-11-Memorial-Photos-5That Tuesday, my heart continued sore in the absence of his laughter, amid the morning muddle, the sustenance for the emerging day. Understanding the extravagance of this grief,  I humbly gathered their voices, the scents of unbroken books, the press of  lips to cheek.

Cerulean skies compelled contemplation of the day’s perfection: a clarity in the sky; a crispness in the air; compassion in the sun that burned more gently now than  in the unbearable heat of  summertime.

The concrete bunker, windowless, modern, contrived upon  the stately, antique hall of justice, annulled all thoughts of nature.  Business -as-usual numbed  the heart,the mind.

Uncertain voices besiege; turmoil in all directions: “They are Bombing New York!”

“Who, Why, How, Where, When?” No answers mattered in the moment.

The image of the man–child signaling farewell.

“Is he unharmed?  Is he unharmed? Is he unharmed ?” The beat my body pounding.

One Hundred Thirty Blocks or One Thousand Miles. None of us unscathed.

The relentless display of the instant of the abomination:  we are wounded and broken; allow ourselves stare  on and be shattered once again.

Like a dust storm on a prairie in the mid-land, a cloud of horror mutates day time into night.  The despairing fling themselves into a hopeless future. Some of the valiant surrender life in a green Pennsylvania field.  All goes dark as more die in flames in Virginia.

Church bells call.  Sirens keen. Bands march. The Great Men evangelize. An old oak tree crackles with the tension.  Neighbors cry to hear the mother wail. Lights burn all night to comfort  uncomprehending children. Strangers, friends, near and far, gather towards the fires to offer aid.

Twelve Years, eight months and some days later, the grieving, the survivors gather at that place  made sacred in New York. So many lost, no trace found, just fragments.  The grieving steadfast in their  love.

Names are carved atop the iron bars, smoke-covered shoes and paper fragments.    Remnants of what was expected to be a hum-drum day. Photographs of men, once seen, remain enduring; incomprehensibly not observed in time to forestall events.

Speeches still exalt the bravery, the compassion, the kindness seen around the world that September: Life is celebrated in the ordinariness of the moment.  Or in the valor of risking all to render aid.

The flag draped stages proclaim platitudes of unexamined patriotism.  Proponents of power pronounce dominance unassailed.

We feel the shock again as we stand in line at the airport, witness radiation invade the body of our child.

What is private, since that day, has gained new meaning.  What is lawful for the police to take is new as well. To be christian, to be muslim: it clearly matters.   Whom you visit, who you know, what you read  is viewed with patriotic zeal.

Under palm trees, men, facing no charges, sit in cages recalling sudden capture, cruel detention,  perhaps torture. Too many dead in wars begun,  amid cries of vengeance, fought, as rich and poor at home reached a new divide.  Sons and daughters return with dreams exploding in  blood and gore and desert.    Children, playing in the sand, fall; slain  by unmanned drones they grew  up fearing.  USA has a whole new meaning around the world.

We honor the brave one who ran into the building.  We  esteem the passengers who downed their plane.  We celebrate the neighbor helping neighbor.

Can we be  again who we were that sun filled Tuesday? Older, clearly, and  so we surely must have more judgement.  But can we reclaim the courage we surrendered  in the trauma?  The confidence:  freedom is a birthright, or it is attainable by all?   The understanding that too much  fear has engulfed us since that September morning.

The highest honor, the finest memorial is to cast that fear aside.

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cropped-dscn0281.jpgI am diminutive in the chill, May sunshine outside the mushroom colored tower which surges towards the morning sky.  Wedged among stiff perfumed dresses, shadowed by white-gloved hands reaching out for the flowers, I shiver as though in a slow motion film and watch my mother receive a white carnation:  Her mother is dead.  Some day she will die too. The dilatory notes of the reluctant organ no longer sound cheerful.  Sights appear as through fine ivory gauze which wraps a wound.  There only remains the smell of roses, the scratchy feel of  a freshly starched cotton dress, a flutter inside my belly like an itch I cannot reach.

Bodies gathered closely like a patchwork quilt: young, old, mostly white and strong.  Intermittent raindrops bleed colors from homemade signs punctuating blocks of denim draped frames.  Children perched on shoulders whimper or laugh as orators’ calls to disarm echo,  linger, then settle on the crowd. Under the elegant shade tree, an infant suckles, undisturbed by disapproving glances of strangers on the street dressed in Sunday finery to absorb the urban experience.  Off-key singing stirs the close air, words inspire, we believe we all aspire to a universal dream.

Three small heads, one white, one gold, and one a saffron color, bodies close, faces deep inside the down.  Dawn just announced, sleep not yet fully departed from me, but the energy of these children already unbounded by the hour.  Giggles high, so confident, so self-conscious, as if they know already that they must treasure  moments which will not stay.  Skin so soft, unblemished, and richly colored, each one a different tone in the morning light.  One begins a song, the others join and it’s a choir.  They all jump, we shriek together and he comes rushing.  Coffee hot, bed covers tousled, attention fading.  Cuddles, kisses, small arms clinging.  A camera clicks, time cannot be packaged nor moments frozen.  Too soon it’s evening, the bed is empty of children once again.

Los Angeles, Paris, Philadelphia.  White carnations now for nine years or more.  Still a child stands out in a sunday churchyard.  Women march as ever to forge a peace.  Children laugh inside the heart each day, all rough, all tumbles. Not a festival, a sentiment nor a static instant, mothering is a process of awakening to life.

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Women,Violence and Education:The Politics of Empathy


Only when lions have historians will Hunters cease to be heroes.    African Proverb



This Spring delivered worldwide tragedies,  collecting western press attention, sometimes obsession, often releasing waves of compassion and support into the international community.

A Malaysian plane disappearing.  A South Korean ferry filled with celebrating teens capsizing. Deadly mudslides and tornadoes in the United States.  Earthquake and fire in Chile.

These much documented events developed as Syria, Central Africa, the Mideast, South Asia, in fact the world, continued to roil in conflict.

US media zealously displayed the emergence of a “new cold war” between the United States and Russia, a monumental clash of personalities: Putin and Obama.

But world media largely ignored the capture of hundreds of young women and girls in Nigeria.  The international press  highlighted the horror almost immediately. Leading United States outlets such as the New York Times and NPR gave consumers brief  note of the tragedy.  But, the “missing schoolgirl crisis” did not become a media event until two weeks of “inadequate response ” by the Nigerian government.

Some suggest the grief-stricken cries of  the parents along with the empowering challenge of  the female education activist, Malala Yousafzai, engaged the Nigerian diaspora triggering world-wide political protests, online campaigns and a twitter hashtag program engaging celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Justin Timberlake.

Nicholas Kristof on Sunday called for United States intervention.  The United States Government, on the eve of a  Global Economic Conference scheduled in southern Nigeria, has agreed to offer support along with France and Britain.  Promises for assistance do not suggest immediate results will follow despite the well appreciated powers of the US anti terror machinery. Headlines across the press, television, radio and online media herald United States intervention.  Few understand initial efforts are limited to ten specialists.

One may be justifiably perplexed about how a world power which can locate a well protected target such as bin Laden can be limited in abilities to find young women in difficult terrain.

United States relations with Nigeria are not simple.

Black hats are easily placed on the criminals.  Boko Haram, generally translated as “forbid western education,”  as a  group initially represented protest against a class based society in which the wealthy alone were educated, generally in western capitals.  The educated returned as leaders who, to the founders of Boka Haram’s view,   impoverished and subjugated the population.  There is general agreement that this political mission has been abandoned for a criminal enterprise of murder, rape and greed.

The issue for the media and the US government has been whether or not the Nigerian establishment can justly wear a white hat and be “deserving” of US assistance.  Nigerian ties to “radical” muslim groups, its own repressive policies and history,  and the economic challenges in the country suggest strategic and opportunistic issues for the government.  The sincere may also raise human rights concern.

But the young women remain in danger.

The abductors and torturers of the women and girls are alleged to have connections with international organizations interested in imposing sharia law on populations. The Nigerian government is also alleged to have abused women and girls of the Boko Harman to punish its militants.

Raping, mutilating and enslaving women is a time-honored tradition of war across society. This is a fact which should not be lost as the world finally turns its attention to the plight of these young women.

Of course, education is vital to any society.  Like the water of the natural world, education serves as the basis for any and all development.  Without education of the population, a civilization cannot be sustained.

Fundamentally, however, the abduction and torture, the enslavement and sale of these  young women is not an issue of female education.  It is an issue of violence against women.

We need be watchful of campaigns such as “protect our girls” for the implicit paternalism which has historically generated cultures of violence. We need to  also speak loudly and unequivocally for peace, for a refusal to tolerate sexual or physical violence against women.

This terrible tragedy has caused pain and loss to parents, brothers, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, cousins.  We must be mindful of the personal nature of that pain which surely must be fraught with images of the horrible violence inflicted on the child.

Ironically, in the massively educated west, media and government manipulation of this tragedy seeks to suggest appropriate targets for empathy and political action.

The resulting campaign for educational access for women is certainly vital .

It is difficult to learn to read, however, at the point of a gun.

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What Reconciliation Looks Like on Film


                 The Past is never behind us.                                                                                          Robert Bolaño, The Part About Critics

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.                                                                                         Eleanor Roosevelt                 


April accepts longer hours of sunlight,conceding with ambivalence cold winds will warm and whisper life into the dead and barren trees.  The hillside regards the once frozen canal which, halting, softens until the sepia waters offer sanctuary once again to tadpoles, turtles and walleye and permit refreshment to geese and songbirds returned for summer.  Bordering ridges  carpeted with shaggy bits of lifeless foliage  spawn shocks of color: purple, pink, yellow: Violet, Sorrel, Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Anemone. The sound of life is silken, subtle, an orchestration  at once unpracticed and sublime.  Springtime perfumes with intoxicating simplicity.  The moment offers unconstrained contentment.  Spring absolves  past cruelties of other seasons, nurturing life, generous, assured.

Traffic on the street fractures contentment. The horn shivers theatrically down the small town street.  Shoppers tote packages marked with identification:    “I am expensive,” “I am chic,” “I  am  used goods.”  Cell phones supplant conversation between partners and among families as the time for the excursion concludes.  Acquaintances smile at one another across the asphalt, and then each one quickly demonstrates preoccupation and turns away.

The radio names yet another aggrieved person, fallen victim to the endless cycle of domination for the right or might of the Other group guided by religion, wealth, nationality, political philosophy  or control of land. Justice is reported denied by protesters on the corner who demand a life sentence, not twenty years, for the convict who drunkenly extinguished the life of the child.  A vast  amount of dollars are awarded to the survivors whose river land was despoiled  by thick, black  oil.

The actor struggles to contain a rage which contorts the handsome face that fills the screen.  Provincialism spawning shame he could acknowledge.  Shame punished as a crime he could not accept.   For crime committed against the shamed, he would have vengeance.  The greater retribution as the outrage is compounded by deceit.

Philomena privately recalls  the  precise contours of  her injury.  Its depth, its size, its never-ending pain.  She shields herself as a simple-minded woman.  Her full heart accepts a world she has never known.  She apprehends that her son, too, endured ritualized shamining to protect the power of those in charge.  She possesses her experience, her pain and her trauma as her personal history which no other can apprehend nor own.  This empowers her to confer forgiveness upon  her aggressors.  She chooses to move beyond the moment of her loss.

Philomena’s story is not one of reconciliation.  It is a story of a woman’s power to regenerate against all odds.