Saturday, August 24, 2013

XC: I will be heard

I’ve often observed that artists (though not they alone) have the touching and child-like habit of believing their personal affairs, most especially their recent sales records, to be a reliable indicator of the state of human civilization.  Even allowing for that, I think anyone who watches, or studiously avoids the news must feel a little adrift of late.

This was on my mind while walking at Teaneck Creek this morning, and admiring the handiwork of (likely) a local young man, who made a legitimate effort to tag the words ‘I will be heard’ on my in progress wolf totem. He can’t really be said to have succeeded from a strict artistic standpoint. I’d advise switching to a fat sharpie, and practicing his technique a bit more; all the letters in a word being on one line is often felt to be important in achieving communicative force.  But I actually do understand the sentiment. It’s a very basic human desire, to be heard, acknowledged.  Access to that basic right is often controlled not by human bonds, but by the structure of money and power.  Young people who would in another time another society be adults already should rightly resent being stripped of opportunities for meaningful action. The most basic of human responses is to break something. Believe me, I get that; but it doesn’t make it right.

Scores only a LE for Legitimate Effort as protest, even that is graded on a curve.
I also had on my mind an essay I’d just read by Dorothy Day, quoted below. I’ve been reading a lot of her writing lately, among other reasons, psyching myself up to install a wordpress test environment and start on a new website for the guild for her canonization. The essay was written as an epitaph for Roger LaPorte,  a 22 year old man who to protest the Vietnam war on Nov 9 1965 doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in front of the UN, dying from burns the next day. The struggle in her writing to separate noble intention and violent action is touching

There is not much really in common in these two acts, but they both speak to how we face the unfaceable in the world around us. Artists often have a less endearing trait, which is the belief their job is only to be heard. For all of us it is to listen too, a harder task. To both demand being heard, then speak so we can be understood, and  to listen without demand is the only way I think to take ones part in healing the world, to respond to the damage around us without breaking things more. God strengthen us to pick up that task, and forgive us when we flee from it, by violence or other means.

Main branch of the contentious Cedar lane tree laying at Teaneck Creek. About at my knife tip in 1965 Roger LaPorte set himself on fire. An atom or two might have drifted across Manhattan and the Hudson, and be locked there right now.

“One day at our Catholic Worker farm, John Filliger, talking of drying up the cow a few months before she was about to calve, said, "The only way to do it with a good cow like this is to milk her out on the ground. She gets so mad at the waste of her milk that she dries right up." That may be an old wives’ tale, -or an old farmer's tale, in this case- but there is a lesson in it: if we waste what we have, the source of supply will dry up. Any long-range view of the colossal waste of the resources of the earth and human life points to an exhaustion of our economy, not to speak of man himself.

On the other hand, witness Roger LaPorte. He embraced voluntary poverty and came to help the Catholic Worker because he did not wish to profit in this booming economy of which the Wall Street Journal speaks so gloatingly. 

Roger LaPorte was giving himself to the poor and the destitute, serving tables, serving the sick, as St. Ignatius of Loyola did when the laid down his arms and giave up worldy combat.

And now he is dead -- dead by his own hand, everyone will say, a suicide. But there is tradition in the Church of what are called "victim souls." I myself have known several of them and would not speak of them now if it were not for the fact that I want to try to understand what Roger must have been thinking of when he set fire to himself in front of the United Nations early Tuesday morning. There had been the self-immolation of the Buddhist monks in Vietnam. A woman in Detroit, and a Quaker in Washington have done the same- all trying to show their willingness to give their lives for others, to endure the sufferings that we as a nation are inflicting upon a small country and its people, to lay down their own lives rather than take the lives of others. It is the teaching of the Church that only in the Cross is there redemption.
May perpetual light shine upon him and may he rest in peace.” 

The full text (in fact what seems to be a totally different draft of the same essay). Day, Dorothy. "Suicide or Sacrifice?". The Catholic Worker, November 1965, 1, 7. The Catholic Worker Movement.

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