Saturday, September 23, 2017

Foreigner Gives Way To Friend

I had wanted to be entertained with some laughter before bed, so planned to watch the opening dialogue of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The TV opened on the Public Broadcasting Channel, where I sometimes go to watch the news. The documentary Vietnam, by Ken Burns was playing on PBS. Immediately the film mesmerized me. Although thinking, "no jokes here, not funny," I could not turn away.
There are ten segments to the 18 hour broadcast.

On Dec. 1, 1969, my senior year in high school in Washington DC, the United States held its first military draft lottery of the war. It gave young men a random number corresponding to birthdays—366 per year. Those with lower numbers were called first and told to report to induction centers where they could be ordered into active duty and possibly sent to fight in Vietnam . When the draft started I was too young, but by 1971 I received a draft number 105.

In 1970, when I finished high school I wore my hair long, occasionally smoked pot and considered myself a hippie. I opposed the war in Vietnam. In 1971, my first year at University, I became a member of the Baha'i Faith. The teachings required members to obey their government, but in case of war to serve as a non-combatant, such as medic. The summer of 1972 at an enlistment center in DC, I registered as contentious objector. Thankfully, the war wound down and ended shortly after. I felt a clean conscience, knowing I would not evade duty even though the war repelled me.

The period of war gave rise to stark divisions in America. I knew almost nothing of Vietnam or its people. The slogan "Make love not war" was a common counter-culture refrain on the street. I was against the military/industrial complex.

In 2008 I traveled to Vietnam and spent almost a month, going overland from Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) in the south to the northern capital of Hanoi. I made some close friends and felt warmth among the people, despite being American. ( See my blog post : Beauty and Adventure ).

The next year I went back. ( Mister, What Are You Looking For? )

The documentary brings up many emotions for me. Having been to Vietnam and come to love its people, I can't imagine warring with them.

Mankind is one family. Foreigner gives way to friend when we seek to understand and put aside differences in favor of the stronger bonds of unity.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Seed of Life

It was a spring Saturday, I was sixteen years old, my father and I were out on the front lawn, pulling dandelion weeds out of the grass. During our casual conversation, I confided I had yearnings for happiness. His response startled me: “Why should you be happy when so many people are suffering in the world?”.

My father, Richard Boone, who died two years ago, was a social scientist—a problem solver determined to bring about justice and a better world. His entire adult life was devoted to action in the social arena. He was instrumental in empowering and improving the lives of masses of people in America. He invented the term "maximum feasible participation" and used it like a mantra. A close confidant of Robert Kennedy, he helped develop President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty and the Food Stamp program, initiated the Foster Grandparent program, uplifted disenfranchised southern black people to vote and gain representation . . . started an organization called Citizens Crusade Against Poverty, became executive director of The Field Foundation, helped found the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington DC and much more.  He did not believe in God, and quoted Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” He told me that too much was made of Mother Theresa. She helped the poor and sick in India but did not attack the root social causes of their plight. He liked Mahatma Gandhi more.

Sometimes I am shocked to tears by news of what happens on our planet. As calamities grab the headlines I see my father’s perspective.

Enlightened beings tell us to accept sufferings along the way in life, but be happy in our closeness to our Creator. Our human side suffers, but finds mercy and light in the spiritual realm.

The other day, I heard a news story of a conflict in Africa. A village had been caught up in hatreds. A woman told how her father was tied to a tree, then had his throat cut. Next she was raped in front of her children.  How does this woman now find “happiness”? She must forever live in a broken, haunted world.

During my youth, I did summer work in the inner city in Washington DC. One day I was tasked with spending time in a school office, helping a troubled boy from the ghetto. As he sat next to me it was obvious something terrible was within him. He had no emotional animation, was crushed and could not conceive lessons. A heap of abuse scarred him from his earliest days. Though in a physical form, he seemed gone . . . liked a bombed out building that stands but is charred and desolate inside. All I could do was make simple lines on a sheet of paper and have him copy as best he could. He did that with great effort.

Bahiyyih Khánum (1846 – July 15, 1932) was the only daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. She was given the title of "Greatest Holy Leaf". A saintly woman, she is regarded as an immortal heroine in the annals of the Baha'i Faith. Because of the persecutions of her Father, much of her adult life was spent as a prisoner or in exile.

During her darkest hours, she wept:

“O God, My God! 
Thou seest me immersed in the depths of grief, drowned in my sorrow, my heart on fire with the agony of parting, my inmost self aflame with longing. Thou seest my tears streaming down, hearest my sighs rising up like smoke, my never-ceasing groans, my cries, my shouts that will not be stilled, the useless wailing of my heart.
For the sun of joy has set, has sunk below the horizon of this world, and in the hearts of the righteous the lights of courage and consolation have gone out. So grave this catastrophe, so dire this disaster, that the inner being crumbles away to dust, and the heart blazes up, and nothing remains save only despair and anguish . . .
O my Lord, I voice my complaint before Thee, and lay bare my griefs and sorrows, and supplicate at the door of Thy oneness, and whisper unto Thee, and weep and cry out.”

Before she died at the age of nineteen from cancer, my daughter Naomi endured the utmost pain, misery and heartache. During the last two years of high school, she had a tube, called a port, dangling from her chest. It went into her heart for administering chemo.  At one point the drugs were administered in such great doses as to destroy her bone marrow. She was a Make-A-Wish Child, and modeled fashions on a nightclub runway in New York City. A talented artist, she was accepted to a prestigious art college but died the year she was to begin. When times were the worst for Naomi, she dug deep and wrote in her journal: "Show up and be lovingly present, no matter what it looks like out there or inside of yourself. Always speak the truth of your heart."
The day before she died, Naomi remarked to a friend, "I love my body, it has been so good to me.”

I believe God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. And this is why when terrible things happen in life we carry on . . . we continue to "show up." Just as a forest that is burned down and obliterated leaving only charred earth is able to regenerate because the seed of life survives beneath the surface holding the blueprint of renewal, so too, every human being has a pureness within that is beyond destruction.

"Have patience - wait, but do not sit idle; work while you are waiting; smile while you are wearied with monotony; be firm while everything around you is being shaken; be joyous while the ugly face of despair grins at you; speak aloud while the malevolent forces of the nether world try to crush your mind; be valiant and courageous while men all around you are cringing with fear and cowardice. Do not yield to the overwhelming power of tyranny and despotism. Continue your journey to the end. The bright day is coming." ~'Abdu'l-Baha,

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Too Late To Turn Back Now

Too late to turn back now. I have bought my tickets, except for my return.

A thousand small, cautious voices voices tell me to stay, don't go. I can hear them: What you are doing is dangerous, extravagant, foolish. Money will be lost. You will be lonely away from home. A thousand things could go wrong and you won't even speak the language. You will go missing, be taken advantage of by strangers. People will hate you because you are American. You might get killed in unknown parts of the planet.

The voices of the crowd that have seeped through my unconscious aren't my own voice. At times I have heard the words spoken from someone's lips. 

My authentic inner voice says to go back to Venice, Italy, a place I love. Go when the tourists have disappeared and the fog comes. Take photographs and paint. Re-unite with friends there. On the way, stop and see brother Wade and family in Washington DC, where I grew up. Mingle and rejoice with him, his wife and two children. Go to Paris and kick around on the cobbled streets of the left bank that I know. Roll around in the subway . . . take the train and discover Versailles. Be entranced. Let the creative juices flow. Take a cheap flight on Air France and arrive in Venice. Stay a month.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the deeper pull of what you truly love. -Rumi

Montmartre street, Paris, France
Egypt is poor and has been convulsed by the Arab uprising that has roiled the middle east. Yet, whenever I go I am welcomed and feel at home. Sure, I don't speak Arabic, look different, don't know my way around . . . but that is part of the fun. After two visits, now when I arrive in Luxor, there are two families waiting with open arms to see me. Each family has five children and is extremely poor by western standards. But I love being in the earthen homes with the animals all around, the children sitting next to me, relaxed, drinking tea . . . all the while the Nile River flows just steps away. I am drawn by this; it is what I truly love. 
Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt
I can stay a couple weeks, a month, who knows? It is cheap to live there. My home in Santa Fe will be rented. Hopefully, my gallery will have sales enough during the slow season. 

I will dream, be absorbed in the ancient land of the Pharaohs' near the Temple of Karnak, photograph, paint and write.

Masai young men and boys, Serengeti
I want to go back to the land of the Masai people in Kenya and Tanzania. I believe I will go to Arusha, in Kenya. I can find the Masai . . . and maybe hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Sure, I might get mugged or have something stolen. But the local newspaper here in Santa Fe has a daily police report, and those things and worse happen regularly.

So, with a full heart I will go forth.

What you seek is seeking you. -Rumi

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. -Rumi