"Older Men Make the Wars, and Young Men Fight Them."

October 19, 2008


You
have probably heard that Colin Powell, on Meet the Press this morning, delivered an eloquent endorsement in the presidential race: a thoughtful, very personal, and and carefully reasoned explanation of why his vote will be cast for Senator Barack Obama on Tuesday, November 4, 2008:


The rare thing about Colin Powell, to me, is that he is a politician who can be believed. He spoke up with a human voice about this demonization that has been allowed to run rampant in this Country’s culture, blending “Muslim,” “Arab,” and “Terrorist.” He spoke of the human cost of this type of thinking. He spoke of having seen a photograph that touched his heart, of a mother grieving her son, head leaning against his cold tombstone. He had quite probably seen many such photographs, but this one was different.

On this headstone, he said, he saw no cross, nor star of David. Here he saw an Islamic crescent and star. Though he did not know their names, he was speaking of Ms. Elsheba Khan, grieving her New Jersey-born and reared son, Kareem. Kareem was 14 at the time he saw the towers collapse on September 11, and waited until he had come of age to enlist and to serve his country. If actions speak louder than words, he could not have loved his country more, nor committed his all to a more noble impulse. And he was Muslim. He gave his life, his blood was shed, for this country. Here is the picture that had touched General Powell so:

To view photos larger, click on image. Return to browser with back arrow.

I wanted to share another photograph as well, I believe taken by the distinguished Chuck Fadely, a photo journalist with the Miami Herald. I sort of hate the photograph; it is too true. Yet when I opened up the Miami Herald that morning as I sat down to breakfast and saw this beautiful heart-broken soul, so vulnerable and so lost in her grief, I cried. I cut the photograph out of the paper, because here was something too important to be tossed out with Tuesday’s recycling. I have looked at it, and looked at it.

“Oh, my God, oh, my God,” I thought. “She cannot even begin to contain her despair. Here is one who has truly lost all. Here is the real face of this war.” I placed the photo for many months on a small shrine I keep upstairs, in my library, for those in my prayers. Her name is Sheila Cobb, and she lives in South Florida. I have tried to find her, to write her a letter, but have not been able to.


So
say a prayer, people, if you will, for Sheila and for Elsheba, and for the tens of thousands of other parents and family and friends left equally bereft, in utter desolation. For the love of God, for the love of Allah, what DIFFERENCE does it make that these two womens’ traditions led them to refer to the Greatest of Mysteries by different names?

Thank you, General Powell, for your contribution to America today. Let’s prove ourselves worthy of his call to awakening. What I’d love to see: zero tolerance for fear-mongering at anybody’s expense. There is no shame in any approach to the sacred, and part of us knows that. Christ was put to the cross, in large part, because he dared to be different. Those who profess to follow him should know that. We should know better.

May this be the hour for true change. A sea change of the heart, to openness. A return closer to center, a country in which decisions are based not on fear used cynically as a strategy, but rather on trust and honor. Trust: what a sweet word, how nearly forgotten. Oh Beloved Christ, Dear God, Allah Great and Good, may this be Your will.

May we have a future. All of us, together.

Amen.

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"Older Men Make the Wars, and Young Men Fight Them."

October 19, 2008


You
have probably heard that Colin Powell, on Meet the Press this morning, delivered an eloquent endorsement in the presidential race: a thoughtful, very personal, and and carefully reasoned explanation of why his vote will be cast for Senator Barack Obama on Tuesday, November 4, 2008:


The rare thing about Colin Powell, to me, is that he is a politician who can be believed. He spoke up with a human voice about this demonization that has been allowed to run rampant in this Country’s culture, blending “Muslim,” “Arab,” and “Terrorist.” He spoke of the human cost of this type of thinking. He spoke of having seen a photograph that touched his heart, of a mother grieving her son, head leaning against his cold tombstone. He had quite probably seen many such photographs, but this one was different.

On this headstone, he said, he saw no cross, nor star of David. Here he saw an Islamic crescent and star. Though he did not know their names, he was speaking of Ms. Elsheba Khan, grieving her New Jersey-born and reared son, Kareem. Kareem was 14 at the time he saw the towers collapse on September 11, and waited until he had come of age to enlist and to serve his country. If actions speak louder than words, he could not have loved his country more, nor committed his all to a more noble impulse. And he was Muslim. He gave his life, his blood was shed, for this country. Here is the picture that had touched General Powell so:

To view photos larger, click on image. Return to browser with back arrow.

I wanted to share another photograph as well, I believe taken by the distinguished Chuck Fadely, a photo journalist with the Miami Herald. I sort of hate the photograph; it is too true. Yet when I opened up the Miami Herald that morning as I sat down to breakfast and saw this beautiful heart-broken soul, so vulnerable and so lost in her grief, I cried. I cut the photograph out of the paper, because here was something too important to be tossed out with Tuesday’s recycling. I have looked at it, and looked at it.

“Oh, my God, oh, my God,” I thought. “She cannot even begin to contain her despair. Here is one who has truly lost all. Here is the real face of this war.” I placed the photo for many months on a small shrine I keep upstairs, in my library, for those in my prayers. Her name is Sheila Cobb, and she lives in South Florida. I have tried to find her, to write her a letter, but have not been able to.


So
say a prayer, people, if you will, for Sheila and for Elsheba, and for the tens of thousands of other parents and family and friends left equally bereft, in utter desolation. For the love of God, for the love of Allah, what DIFFERENCE does it make that these two womens’ traditions led them to refer to the Greatest of Mysteries by different names?

Thank you, General Powell, for your contribution to America today. Let’s prove ourselves worthy of his call to awakening. What I’d love to see: zero tolerance for fear-mongering at anybody’s expense. There is no shame in any approach to the sacred, and part of us knows that. Christ was put to the cross, in large part, because he dared to be different. Those who profess to follow him should know that. We should know better.

May this be the hour for true change. A sea change of the heart, to openness. A return closer to center, a country in which decisions are based not on fear used cynically as a strategy, but rather on trust and honor. Trust: what a sweet word, how nearly forgotten. Oh Beloved Christ, Dear God, Allah Great and Good, may this be Your will.

May we have a future. All of us, together.

Amen.


"Blessed are They That Mourn," He Said

February 21, 2008

Now, why would Christ have gone and said that, about the walking wounded? What might he have seen that we are missing completely? What exactly is so blessed about the agonizing journey of grief, that awful and all-consuming process of coming to terms with a damnable, incomprehensible fact: the always-present felt absence, forever, of one without whom life cannot be imagined?

“Blessed?” Thank you no, I’ll pass. That’s one club I sure don’t want to be part of. Yet I am, for I have loved, and loved well.

“…His mother loved him dearly, and used to rock him to sleep with her trunk, singing to him softly the while.” The Story of Babar

The greater the love, it seems, the more intense the sadness at its loss, the sharper and more various the shards of its ruins. There are no words for the whole experience, really. Those suddenly left bewildered in that desolate landscape wander within the shadows of a night that seems beyond the cycle of coming daylight, and thus unnatural and out-of-place. They are “mad with grief” in the words of the late great Paul Monette, and beyond real consolation. They are paying the price of their love.

The wicked hunter shoots Babar’s mother The Story of Babar

They are having an experience, truly an ultimate experience, but it makes “the rest of us” uncomfortable because we have no idea what is to be done. It’s not like we have not suffered grave losses of our own, often in the same deaths. It’s not even really that we don’t understand. The challenge may be more that we do. And we are utterly horrified. So we start watching the calendar and making pragmatic assessments as to “stages of healing,” we pass along to one another books on “Death and Dying” and “Grief,” we consult the experts and think about whether to start them on medication, and when. We love these lost souls so dear to us, and feel their pain. With all of our hearts we want to help them, to really reach them. We pray to see them back to their old selves, really enrolled in life again, to want to be here.



Yet we have no clue how to help get them there. All we find at hand are cliches in clusters, misunderstandings, and judgmental pronouncements that may be easy to pass, with the best of intentions, yet serve no useful purpose. The Human heart must rate high among the most mysterious of things. It is strong and deep. It is amazingly resilient. And utterly fragile.

Scott Richard Gillen Sept. 27 1959 – Mar. 1, 1996

I have lived through it myself. In a very real sense, when Scott took his last breath that morning I died too. At least the “me” I had always known. A new journey had begun, birthed in pure mystery and thus one of great power, that is still very much always unfolding, taking shape. Along the way I have come to understand that some part of my purpose is to help others lost in grief, those inexplicably “left behind,” those now feeling as pain the love that should have died along with their beloved, but (most cruelly) did not.

“Oh, Paul,” she wrote me in one of her beautiful, nearly illegible letters from California, “You really can’t know what it’s like.” My first reaction was to bristle, ever so slightly. “How can she say that?” Then, I settled down and stopped to listen to the thought she’d expressed. I realized, “That’s true, I really cannot.” Each experience of grief must be unique, exactly as much so as the relationship that gave it birth. So I wrote to her and said, “That’s true, Carol. I thought about what you said, and you are absolutely right. If each love is unique, and they certainly are, then so must be a survivor’s experience of its loss.”
“But for that very reason and in that same sense, Carol,” I wrote,” with all due respect, you cannot ever really understand the nature of my loss.” And it seemed true; it seemed to address her unspoken cry.
This is the way it is. We are all in the experience, together and alone.

But as I see it, It is love that led us into this mess and it is Love that will see us through. I feel more than I see, and know more than I understand. But this I see, feel, and know.

________________________________________________

Blessed are they that mourn,” he said. Blessed how?? Maybe because this is the human plight: the highest and best that we can hope for is to be left utterly heartbroken. Because the greatest dream that guides and lifts us is that one day (and may it be soon, we pray) we will find the one that will complete and fulfill us. Yet we cannot, need not, really forget that all things are temporary, and that as a matter of certainty death will part us, sooner or later. Is it not insane to give ourselves over in love, fully and without reservation, knowing the rules of the game? Part of us pales and gasps Yes!, while another deeper, more ancient voice says No, it is all right. It is in love alone that we are to seek our salvation. Relax: we have no choice. We are here to live, not engage in a decades-long preparation for our deaths.
If we are only here for a while, let’s not keep fear as our chosen companion. It offers no real safety, anyway. And it cannot keep us warm at night, or give us a reason for awakening with gladness unto a new day.

Blessed are they that mourn, indeed. For they have not only loved, as in past tense. They love still, though they may be enshrouded in pain unbearable with no hope visible on the horizon, and have no idea what to do with their love. My God! How they love. And their longing is not in vain. It may be heard in Heaven like the most sweet, soft kind of music. Received as a parched flower bed drinks in the falling rain. Received as a prayer.

But for those that mourn, especially, Heaven or anything remotely like it can seem impossibly far away. It is for these people, the lost and love-scarred, it is for myself and for you that I have told my story. I have written a book about my journey of life and death, about finding and losing my soul mate, and then (much to my astonishment) finding him again, forever. It is a story about healing, and the presence and everyday involvement of angels. Its essential message is Listen to your heart: it will tell you, sure and certain as your heartbeat: Love never dies. Follow love where it leads you, holding nothing back. This is what we are here for, and somehow, some way, all shall be well.

Maybe not exactly the way you might imagine it (but then again, what ever has been?), but all right. I have learned that Death ends a life, but not a relationship. And holding on to that assurance in your heart, still and small, can change everything.

Commissioned Mosaic by George Fishman, Miami Shores, FL


My book is called Death is an Impostor: Life, Death, and the Path of the Heart.

I will start sharing it, here.