Unexpectedly, my last name and juror number are called in the very first pool, within an hour of arrival in the early morning. I follow a circuitous, winding, frequently halting course from room to room, sometimes pausing to rest for a few minutes here and there, only to swiftly move on elsewhere. I feel a bit like a mouse being guided through a very large maze. We are shuttled methodically from place to place in this alternate universe. Then we are seated once again, awaiting further instructions from the judge. The deadly seriousness of court proceedings initially reduce words that would ordinarily hold shock value in any other context to merely emotionless descriptions of conduct.
One of the benefits of owning an iPod is the ability to peruse iTunes and its extensive collection of free podcasts. I'm a relative newcomer to the podcast genre, though I do see their appeal. If I had witty repartee to share with the public and the ability to ramble skillfully for half an hour, I might put my own together. My performing skills are mostly musical even though I have been known at times to speak in monologues. After all, my original life goal was to be a college professor.
My life, at times, resembles a state of schizophrenia. In the work I do, the two do not meet. In a very real sense, I have to switch back and forth between two languages. In my faith journey, I am to be deferential and kind. Conflict is to be avoided, as is confrontation. Religions, regardless of what we say about them, are usually designed to make people act nice to each other. On top of this we add my activist life, in particular my feminist life. Feminists have no problem whatsoever with being confrontational and direct.
Teenagers of my generation grew up idolizing Kurt Cobain. It would have been hard not to, for he and his group Nirvana were huge successes. Nirvana were massively popular in a way that only Radiohead, later in the decade of the 1990's, came close to capturing in its own heyday. The rise of Nirvana seemed like the changing of the guard. Implausibly, the local Top 40 radio station stopped playing Duran Duran, Guns n' Roses, and Mötley Crüe. Instead it put the Nevermind album on heavy rotation. I liked the song "Lithium" before I even knew the title, before I even bought the album myself.
Yesterday's election in the UK was a shocker. A race that almost everyone expected to be nail-bitingly close was anything but. Exit polling by the BBC released shortly after the voting ceased proved to be extremely accurate. Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party won another five years in office and a clear majority of seats in the House of Commons. It was also a stellar night for the Scottish Independent Party (SNP), making one wonder what concessions Scotland will demand from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Academy Award winning 1953 film From Here to Eternity tells the story of Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Earlier in life, before joining the army, he was a successful boxer, but he hung up his gloves due to a tragic accident. While sparring with a close friend, he inadvertently put his best friend into a coma, which left the man blind after he regained consciousness. Following the accident, Prewitt no longer wished to fight.
I wrote what follows specifically to my Quaker Meeting, but also to any who would hear my message. It is a brief open letter.
Enclosed is an open letter to activists and true believers alike. Continue the good work you are doing, but recognize that being a standard-bearer comes with its share of grief. If you see your role as the person who makes people a little uncomfortable from time to time, accept it gratefully, but know that your path will always be difficult. Most people don't work as hard as you do, nor do they want to work as hard as you do.
Today, a close friend of mine would have turned 34. He died two years ago from a severe, and rare form of brain cancer. He developed a large tumor behind the optic nerve of the right eye, which as it grew and swelled in size, eventually rendered him partially blind. Chemotherapy was nominally helpful. Though it did shrink the tumor to a fraction of its original size, sadly, the disease was too powerful, too greedy, and it eventually took his life.
Much of my life these days has me stationed inside of hospitals and doctor's offices. Part of treating a recent medical problem has involved lengthy phone consultations with a doctor. Much to her credit, she is helpful, knowledgeable of her field, and clearly loves her job. One of the things I've been adjusting to as I've continued to age is that, increasingly, some of those who treat me are now my age and some are even a little younger than that. This is the case with my gastroenterologist, a woman about my age who clearly sees me as a contemporary, else I know she would pick her words much differently.
I won't pretend to say that I understand the African-American experience as regards law enforcement, or any of it, really. But what I will say, as a white man, is likely to offend some. I've never particularly been fond of officers of the peace. This is mostly because of the hyper-masculine, macho ways I've observed myself and the priorities many hold, as though through brute force and a lack of emotion one could somehow conclusively prove oneself a man. Their stock in trade is fear, and I think that fear is a highly overrated emotion. But like many (white) people, I am always quick to couch my criticisms in terms of being grateful that someone out there is willing to tussle with legitimate criminals.
This past Easter Sunday I decided to skip Quaker Meeting and attend a high church Episcopal service instead. My religious past was low church Protestant, as is true for most of the American South. I was raised in a very humble Methodist church with a few ornate trappings here and there, most of which followed the colors of the Christian season, but no holy relics present and a modest, wooden baptismal font. So you might say there’s something exotic about the incense, the Holy Eucharist, the big booming organ, ornate music, and the layer upon layer of liturgy. It is, you might say, the very opposite of Quakerism.
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