Sunday, January 3, 2010

Once in a blue moon

Reflections on the Gaza Freedom March

Blue moons were once thought of as an absurdity. We were just granted the chance to see one, and here in Juneau Alaska we got rare clear skies so it could grace our landscape through the night and into the morning. It reflected peace on our waters and the light of love on the snow draped mountain peaks. The natural world should remind us that all which is possible must first inspire wonder. Peace is possible too if we wonder deep enough into its mystery. And freedom is still calling for the people of Gaza.

Freedom and peace took a major blow though as the Egyptian government denied 90 percent of the international peace delegation access into Gaza. "Word from Gaza is that 6,000 marched — the maximum allowed by Hamas in absence of international shield.”

That's far less than the 50,000 the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March had hoped would march. But does this mean it was a failure. Absolutely not. To imagine it was is to deny the meaning of Gandhi's work on behalf of peace because India and Pakistan are in a constant struggle still and both now possess nuclear weapons.

To imagine the Gaza Freedom March failed is to ignore the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., for have we eliminated injustice based on race, religion or ethnic differences yet? And what about his passionate call to end the Vietnam War? That's in the past, but have we created his dream of a "worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation [and] is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind."

Does putting failure aside though mean we have to redefine success? I suggest we ignore that line in the sand. Nature doesn't draw such lines, it wanders the shore as each individual wave comes and goes with variations as infinite as the contours between high and low tides.

The direction King saw for us is still here today - "We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace ... and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

Martin Luther King Jr. is and always will be a hero for our cause. The question is, what is next, what new ways are there, if we are followers of his ideals. I propose the first step is always self examination. Who are we and are we really called to this cause? What does calling even mean?

To King, the truth of the words he spoke that day at the Riverside Church in NYC were beyond doubt, but he also said "the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do … we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on."

We move on because we must, the first step being to fight the urges of apathy. After all, if King and Gandhi couldn't make a lasting difference, who are we mere common folk to think we can? That is the question, indeed the voice, in our minds that we must silence.

Here I offer another philosophy. For those of you who read why I went to Gaza, you'll recognize the words of American poet Wendell Berry - “protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

A few days ago I spoke about the Gaza Freedom March in front of a mere 30 or so people in the windy and frigid Taku air in downtown Juneau. It would be easy to imagine I wasted my time, especially after so relatively few marched in Gaza . It would be easy to swap my dreams and realize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is either beyond hope, too complicated, or outside of the spectrum of true American interests. I will not acquiescence though, because I believe seeking success, or to be part of the success narrative, is a phantom, a ghost of apathy's curse, and for too much of my life I gave an ear to that voice.

I choose poets like Rainer Maria Rilke to trust instead. Yes, as King says the mission is a most difficult one, but it is Rilke who reminds me that the easy is a trap which weakens the heartbeat of life.

"People have, with the help of conventions, oriented all their solutions toward the easy, and toward the easiest side of easy. But it is clear we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in nature grows and defends itself in its own way, and characteristically and spontaneously seeks to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us."

And I trust dreamers like John Lennon, so I imagine the world living in peace. I imagine we each take Berry 's wisdom to heart and chase away the grand expectations and find it our own necessity to follow King and Gandhi, so as to preserve the goodness deep in our heart and spirit. Because as each of us do genuinely discover this secret, we will begin to see more and more people standing in solidarity with the many already there seeking the dreamer's dreams, and maybe, maybe someday will arrive when enough of us do to make the impossible possible. Then Gaza too will be free from the siege, the occupation and the violence of war.
by Rich in Juneau