Our place in history ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting out of bed...

I have written many potential blog posts over the course of this year. Some were not published because my nonprofit, noncandidate, nonpartisan role as Southwest Voter Registration Education Project’s National Youth Vote Director became very public, and my televised, radio, and print appearances became more and more frequent. Others simply failed to reach the status of anything more cohesive and well shaped than feverishly written pleas, rants, supplications, screeds, hopes/dreams/prayers, observations scribed from a telescopic or panoramic lens of cultural critique. But the weight of this day and the gravity of the social, political, and economic environment that couches it, are extracting these words.

I feel hurt today. I am frightened that the sheer sadness of loss, as well as the stress provoked by the struggles that come at present as a result of the health issues my mother presently confronts, and the personal challenges I face at the hands of immediate financial pressures, and what appears to be an uncertain professional and personal path have exhausted my resilience. Not long ago, the tears I shed on every anniversary of this day were silverlined. I remembered my college mentoring program hermanito, Juan Cisneros, and believed that I might be able to carry his goals and aspirations forward during the course of my life. I did not pass on the burden of championing his vision of the world to anyone else who knew him, to the many he befriended and inspired. I felt it was mine alone to carry. I did by best not to wave his flag, or draw attention to the fact that I molded it to my being, I just tried to move it forward. But it was not long before I began to sense that I was failing in this commitment to Juan. In fact, it became painfully obvious that I was not advancing the aspirations of any of the dear friends I had been forced to say goodbye to long before their time.

Those of you who’ve spoken of life and death with me know that I take very personally the loss of friends with globally transformative passions, especially when they leave this earth at an unacceptably young age. Today, I feel the absence of the wisdom and guidance of Don Baer, Mont Wolf, Roger Maestas, and many family members, especially mi tía Pili, in addition to the deficit of inspiration and enthusiasm, Peter Franzek, Mary Anne Manzo, Wally Rodriguez, Zeke Webber, Phatiwe Cohen, and Eric Tang once provided. Like with Juan, I swore upon news of the passing each young person that touched my life, that I would take hold of their banner and bring it with me, make in an inexorable, inextricable, inexpugnable part of my spirit, being, and path. And as with Juan, today I feel the weight and pressure on my chest of a suffocating stillness. I feel inert, immobile, static, motionless, stuck. I feel as though I am failing in my pledge to do with my life what departing this earth way too soon prevented my young friends from doing with theirs.

What is frustrating, what is infuriating, what is tragic, is that I feel this defeat, this hopelessness on this day, when I know others who have overcome, and are overcoming much more than I face. And even if I did not know heroic, unstoppable, resilient figures, I would be a disconnected self-centered, self-obsessed, selfish fool if I did not open my eyes to the fact that the world is filled with survivors of genocide, refugees, AIDS orphans, rape survivors, and countless other heroes whose heroism is epic, legendary, and awe-provoking, but whose stories are seldom if ever acknowledged in art, song, film, media, or even by family members, friends, peers, or strangers during colloquial interactions in church pews, (or temple, mosque, etc. equivalent) by water coolers or copy/fax machines, at breakfast/lunch/dinnertables, or while waiting-in-line (forming a queque). I am still able to touch, see, hear, taste, and breathe in the olfactory textures of this world. This is a blessing. This should be enough. But today I am heartbroken, and my impulse to curl-up into a ball and hide in a corner, my desire to run away and hide on a remote desert island (like the one where Tom Hanks befriended a volleyball, not the LOST one inhabited by “others” and polar bears) knows no bounds.

Today, not even righteous anger got me out of bed—that sort of indignation that drove King David and Habakkuk to question why God allows good people to suffer incredibly scarring hardships, while shallow, dispassionate, narcissists are bestowed riches, popularity, success, respect, companionship, even adulation and adoration. I did not feel like shaking a fist at anyone, much less God. I couldn’t form a first today even if I wanted to. Not long ago, a friend asked me about my faith since I am often critical of the Catholic church, (and of most organized religious institutions) but refuse to fully divorce myself, even when egregious revelations, such as the scandal involving the practice of covering-up for and reassigning pedophile priests, afford me an Antonov AN-225 Mriya-sized landing strip window of opportunity to do so. My response: I take the Kierkegaardian leap and believe in God without demanding any Aquinasian or other proof. This makes me devout. However, while I believe without reservation, that Jesus Christ was the son of God, conceived immaculately by Mary and the Holy Spirit, I also hold that it would be enough for me, and I would learn just as much about God’s infinite grace, omnipotence, omniscience, and love, if Jesus were just a carpenter, just a man who saw injustice perpetrated by Pharisees, Sadducees, and the institutions, and the individuals with power and influence in his time, and tried to organize Jews, gentiles, everyone he could reach in his 33 years of life, to reject arbitrary inequalities and curtailments on freewill. This makes me at best, a skeptic, and at worst a heretic, but it is who I am without apology, excuse, or pretense.

At some point in my quest to know more about this world, I came across the concepts of sunyata and svabhava. As I understand it, Indian Buddhism largely flourished as a result of conversions made by Hindus who no longer wished to accept their classification as Untouchables, and these two concepts went from being confined to Sanskrit to living and breathing in the daily belief systems of those whose faith had previously lacked the inclusivity of egalitarian interdependence. Svabhava is the essential inherit nature that all living beings possess. Everyone brings the same amount of it to the table, no matter how old, how learned, how wealthy, how accomplished. Sunyata is emptiness, plain an simple. It is something that we cannot shake or get rid of. It is the reason we need one another. We need to fill ourselves with more than what we bring to the table with svabhava. Again, nothing we do by our own accord, learn in our lifetimes, experience with our senses, or inherit (whether it be wealth, property, heirlooms, or merely the metaphoric or very real blood, sweat, tears, and broken bones of our ancestors) can fill us. During our lives, we need something greater than ourselves, and we need other people, or we remain empty.

What got me out of bed today, and what will fill me with hope and fire again once the defeat I feel at present diminishes, is svabhava, and sunyata, or as Jesus Christ said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:36). While it is fair to debate whether God interacts proactively with our existential reality, or if God’s commitment to freewill is such that all the unfairness, discord, and suffering we rightly and accurately perceive are manmade, and thus require action and improvement by human will and human actions, it is clear that God is the embodiment of that something greater than ourselves. Seeking to understand with clarity what was previously murky or unknown is as much a statement of faith as finding the resilience to keep moving, keep living when hell is the only reality you know. If you never heard the Gospel, read the Talmud, prayed the Qu’ran, etc. you would know God by the simple truth of making it in a world that often falls short of even purgatory in its expressions of goodness. Maybe a more palpable narrative for this notion begins with Chomsky’s ideas on language acquisition, and continues with August Wilson’s epic question, “Why did you learn to read?”

God is that something higher, ever present, like language in the known and unknown history of human beings. But to love God heart, soul, and mind, is like learning to read and write in order to practice loving—loving to learn, loving your family and friends, loving a cause, loving a place, loving love. To paraphrase what Mr. Rogers said, it might just be that loving God, and loving your neighbor, are the very same thing. And in the same fashion as there is nothing I can do to avoid sin and imperfection as a finite, fallible, fallen, human being, I will be empty, weak and unable to follow through on what I have pledged to those I was blessed to know on this earth, if I attempt to advance without all of you. Please indulge me in as far as this request touches you: Please hold this day as a day of reflection, remembrance, mourning losses, and reaching out to those still on this earth that you have the power to touch, help, motivate. I’m not asking you to pray or meditate and call it a day. I’m asking you to do something. Speak up. Speak out. Try to forgive. Try to apologize. Try to thank everyone who does even the most minimal good. Try to tell those you love that you love them, or at the very least try to guarantee that these persons will learn of your love before they depart this earth. Try to improve the lot of some living being, or some place present in your heart, soul, and mind as you read these words.

I know nothing is ever as simple as, “this too shall pass,” or “everything happens for a reason,” or “it’s in God’s hands now/it’s God’s plan and it’s not for us to understand.” But let’s get out of bed, and fight as best we can the very large part of us that is so disgusted and disheartened that curling up in a ball or running away, caving to literal or substance-induced escapist tendencies. Its time again to make fists and shake them; it’s time again to hold hands and sing, and chant, and march, and organize. It’s time to hope again. It’s time to use our faith, in something higher, in one another, no matter how tattered, no matter how weathered, worn, or neglected, as an Aegis. These beliefs, these passions, these ideals are not naïve, stupid, pointless, or powerless. There is a reason we’ve made metaphoric or symbolic flags and banners inexorable, inextricable, and inexpugnable. Our sunyata calls us to reach up, to reach out, to find faith in something greater than ourselves, to find faith in one another. Loss and broken-heartedness are so wide, so deep, so broad, so profound, that no words in any language humans have ever mastered can fully undrown or erase the pain. But access outside of today’s very real limits to our realities is a reason to get out of bed, a purpose that honors those no longer with us, and a place where we can come together if we are willing to keep trying, stay engaged, and ask everyone we can reach in our uncertain, undetermined, and unpromised years of life, to challenge the institutions, and the individuals with power and influence in our time, to reject arbitrary inequalities and curtailments on freewill, and to seek inclusivity, fairness, symbiotic (not parasitic) interconnectedness, and democratic, pluralistic (culturally diverse) equal opportunities for sustainable, tangible, real, true blue, honest to goodness, positive change.