Thanksgiving Day on the Horizon

It is already Tuesday. November 14. Clarice would have turned 102 yesterday had she lived so long. She had a good run, living until aged 94 and 1/2. She would have been the first to acknowledge that she lived so long was both miracle and curse. After all there comes a day when the ones who have already gone far outnumber the few still with you. There is something about November. On this date in 1851 Hermann Melville’s book Moby Dick was published – all 695 pages! Someone may have already suggested this, that Ishmael was Melville’s own alter ego, and the one who begins the story this way:

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

The words, November in my soul, caught my attention. Certainly a truth for this human. There IS something about this time of year that lends itself to long lists, names of the remembered dead from the year just past or even from years ago.  The list trails onto page 2 and beyond. A good friend of mine used to remind me that the Church Triumphant dwarfs the ones sitting in the pews of a Sunday morning. Another truth.

The earth is carrying all the dead, ALL things once alive and no more in their active form. The earth is carrying all the living – ALL no matter what form life takes. The alive, including elected legislators, appointed officials,  the violent and the peaceful, the warmongers and the peacemakers, the family member you hope will not show up at the Thanksgiving meal. I would be lying if I did not tell you there are times I’d like to see a giant hand swoop down from a cloudless sky, grab these folks voting for guns everywhere in anyone’s hands, and watch the Hand carry them far away. Of course they would still be underfoot so to speak. If no longer in the flesh, in the sickness of their thoughts, the shortsightedness of their eyes, the distinct lack of imagination, and therefore of faith. They’d love to tell you how faithful they truly are. Go to church every Sunday. Stand up on the floor of the Senate and tell you, dear person, that you will be safer with a gun in your house, in your hand. Their goal appears to be a gun in every hand regardless of what that means.

I was out collecting signatures for the ballot initiative that may make it to the 2018 ballot in Michigan – an initiative that if it passed would change the way districts are drawn for the purposes of election of state representatives and senators as well as Federal representatives. When I begin the conversation with a potential signer I tend to ask, “Would you like to have fairer elections in Michigan?” Sometimes there is a look of total understanding. And a signature is close behind. Sometimes the person looks at me totally perplexed. “What do you mean?” Then you explain how districts get drawn, you show them a little primer on the whole thing and remind them that in 2020 the districts will be drawn again. If we have a citizen led commission we may find we have more competitive districts with fresh candidates with good ideas who have a chance to help the state recover from some questionable public policy choices over the last 30+years.

Here’s my beef: no matter who I vote for, they may not be interested in listening to me, my concerns, or the concerns of numbers of us working together to make Michigan a better place to live for all of us. When candidates are elected by a political caucus and money from all over the map, why would they listen to me who, though paying their salary through the taxes I pay, cannot give them the thousands they need to run for office? Too many of us are in this situation. Our vote either does not count because of the way districts are drawn, or, the person elected has no ear for our concerns especially if they do not match up with the caucus crib sheet that elected folks seem to memorize.

No matter the dubious nature of the bill at hand, if the caucus has the rationale, the legislator rarely thinks intentionally about the outcome of their vote should the bill pass. Are these folks zombies? The living dead? Theologically, that may be closer to the truth.

November raises such thoughts as I go about the work of living day to day in a state driven mad by some ideological mindset seduced by fear, shaken by anger at anyone who has the audacity to have a thought about social righteousness and totally resistant to the notion that we all are living on this earth and will do much better at that work if we’re not killing one another with guns, rotten water, dirty food, and lousy pay scales.

So it is November. I am listening to In the Bleak Mid-Winter coming to me over the radio station I’m streaming. It is no longer November 14. Several Tuesdays have come and gone. Even Thanksgiving has come and gone. It is December 2. It is evening. The moon will be completely full tomorrow, but to my untrained eye it is full tonight. Warm for this time of year. Last year there was snow and temperatures in the teens. Well all of that will come eventually. The family have come and gone with a stop at the Thanksgiving table, many smiles, and silent prayers for Goodness to stay by us despite the darkness of these days in the human enterprise, despite our part in the whole lousy mess.

Hope lives in the music – as in the lovely Christina Rossetti poem which John Rutter set to music. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. No one has said it better I believe. So let me accompany Christina and John along the darkened path toward light.

 

 

When you’re up against it

      Seventy-two years and one day

      Why does time feel this way

      Long then short now

      All one wonders is how?

      In the day when all was long

      And daylight for hours

      The racing bikes the silly songs

      There was no sense of death and down.

      Now the light grows short and golden

      Turn westward and consider

             How all the new things turn olden

      Slow the march, steady on feet are.

      Lucky you to be here at all

      So many dangers might have already ended

             The trodden path became the call

      Though you often despaired as it ascended.

      Each day’s trouble is enough for dealing

      Looking too far ahead never much needed

      There is no such thing as management a, b, c

              For orbits are settled, tilted axis seeded.

       Overhead the sky blushes under the Artist

       The sable-haired brush finely drawing

       All these lines whether straight or swirl

       Delight of heart however they are dawning.

 

Trying a poem today. The image of the Creator as the Artist strikes me as particularly poignant, for actually seeing what the Artist is creating, may not be as simple as you may believe. So much more happens within the chemistry of light and moisture, the angle of sun rays, the shadows of trees, the flight of wings overhead, the cry of a gull. It could be as if you yourself were being painted into the larger canvas even as you walk along, looking or not looking. There it is. All before you. And you yourself sketched into the shape of all things, bound into the movement of the grouse breathing in the thicket at the edge of the field now nothing but stubble at the end of corn season. The trucks that caught the grain have driven away. One day in spring a farmer will drive his tractor onto the ground and begin again to clear away what remains. Hope fulfilled in seed falling that may in time emerge green and living. The shadows will slowly give way to light flooding all the corners of the canvas where you may once more find yourself breathing with the grouse or spotting the first red-winged black bird balancing on tremulous blades of bunched brush, its song suddenly sounding in the sweep of sky and gusty winds and your arms swinging in rhythm as you walk along the edge of whatever the Artist has begun to re-create until you find yourself right in the midst of brush and color all one created thing together on a plane with no up or down or sideways, merely being.

 

All Hallows Eve 2017

About  2 years ago the photography class from the KIA made a trek to an antiques emporium in Kalamazoo. Armed with our phones which contained our cameras, our practice session was to photograph images up close and personal. Before the afternoon was over my phone contained photos of wooden hangers, Fiesta pitchers in an array of colors, cracked platters, wire baskets, drawers filled with every kind of handle you can think of from any old water spigot in the neighborhood. The thickness of the air in the building on a hot, sticky July afternoon covered us all like a furry blanket which we could not kick off. Amazing how many people were rummaging through all the bits and pieces of human habitation: various models of ceramic sinks decorated the dark brown wooden floor; frames; window sashes, wire and metal of all kinds; ceiling lamps.

Along an entire wall, door upon door, lined up like soldiers with not a handle to hold. How many scenes had passed before them street-side? Who had knocked upon them? Who had opened them? Who had passed through the portals they guarded sunup to sundown, in blistering heat and icy cold? Did they open to reveal a stairway to the upper floors or were their environs lacking any entrance hall? A visitor went from the outside immediately into the midst of whatever and whoever were there.

There is always a door to be opened that leads inside just as there is a door to be opened that leads outside. The question is: which is which? Maybe the truth is as complicated as how the door swings on its hinge and where you stand when you grasp the handle. Which ever way you are headed, you will find yourself both inside and outside simultaneously. At least that has been my experience.

Almost two years ago a terrible mass shooting happened in Kalamazoo on a freezing cold, snowy Saturday night into early Sunday morning in February. The shooting had begun earlier in the day. The names and photographs of the dead made a neat line on the front page of the local paper for several days after that. Six people were killed. That’s what made it a “mass shooting”. None of them were from Kalamazoo County. All came here from some other place. One group had just had dinner at a local restaurant when the killer came to the cars and began firing. He wounded one young teen girl. By some miracle she did not die that night. She is still trying to recover but her life is changed forever by a bullet to the brain.

A father with his son, browsing in a used car lot on a major street, shot and killed as they dreamed of summer and senior year. The boy’s girlfriend hid on the floor of their car as the bullets opened their bodies to frigid air. She is not counted as a victim.

A young black woman, protecting children sensing something was not quite right with the guy driving by the playground. As she rounds the kids up and sends them running for safety, he shoots her in both thighs, shattering her bones. The kids are all “safe”. The first one shot, she survived and struggles to regain health in all its forms.

Doors lined up on a frigid night opened and closed in every life. And even in the lives of all of us bystanders – those who read the newspapers the next morning. Or like we who received calls from our children checking up to see that we were both alright and safe at home behind our closed doors.

It is impossible for me to understand why anyone believes they need the kind of weapon and ammunition that kills quickly and injures so completely.

I would like to understand why the injunction “you shall not kill” seems to carry so little import in the deliberations about firearm regulations and laws.

I would like to understand how it is that a consumer product that poses such lethal danger is treated like just one more piece of equipment like a flashlight which anyone can obtain while everyone is required to register at the pharmacy if you want to buy 2 packages of cold capsules. Want to  buy large amounts of fertilizer at your local hardware store just sign this registry. (Remember Oklahoma City?)  Take off your  shoes to pass through the airport security? (Remember the “shoe bomber”)?  Thank God we don’t have to take our underwear off. (Remember the underwear bomber)?

There is more to this debacle than the puzzling words of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. As a friend remarked the other day, “You had to wait for someone to make a rifle for you. There were no stores to buy one, no manufacturers. And nothing was automatic.”  Yes. There was no standing army when this amendment was ratified. Mutual protection was the plan. Someone actually knew who had a rifle. And remember this. There were black slaves in southern states. There were scared white men. There were the battles to fight against the British for independence. And the genocide to free  up the land of native peoples for white settlers.

Eventually there were gun manufacturers. But hunters of small game and large and mutual protection is no longer the situation. Now there is a stock market and manufacturers from all over the world who build there firearms in the United States. Why? Because they can make a bundle of money here. And they are making that money in the blood of young, old, and all categories between. The dead and injured come from all walks and strata of life.

The entire situation is criminal. We are participating in criminality.

First the manufacturers, then the legislators, then the lobbyists for the firearms industry and their little clubs of people purporting to protect the Constitution. Poppy cock! All they’re doing is sowing the seeds for a future of violence and destruction of the nation. I hope the purveyors of all this harm will one day, before it is too late, go through the door that will lead them toward a better way than fear, greed, and death. And I hope everyone sitting on the sidelines understand that they too have a choice to make as well. The doors are all lined up in the emporium.  Isn’t it finally time to close some of them against the mayhem that will surely come if we continue to ignore the danger that is not just coming but has already passed through this open door?