Why the blood, I asked.
By now we knew each other for five months, monthly meetings. The first by happenstance really, divinely obedient to an invitation for a peacemakers retreat. Sunny Birmingham outskirts, a conversation in the shade. She wore a t-shirt about the SOA Watch protest or equally possible the Nevada test site, both of which Sr. Megan had served as a resister, madly in love with the world, mystical and cosmic, she radiated a joy in her quiet and smiling nodding. I too had gone to jail for justice and was agreeing, joining, enlisting myself if I might borrow and repurpose that term. She and Greg only asked me one question that first interview, if it were that, how did I experience jail? I loved it, wrote, connected with the men in prayer groups, my Spanish employed as a translator for common requests, or as interpreter for a medical visit, finding myself almost useful strangely, and certainly I sang to anyone who wrote me, replies of mine the jotted observances of a constant and milling ferry-go-round mind. Having presented myself in this way I was only slightly to pause when they asked me to attend a meeting for a plowshares action, admitting I thought to do so would be about ten years premature.
When I attended the last meeting somehow I had changed. What marked the change? The months from March to late July were for me a contest of beautiful possibilities for resistance. Through the winter our local Occupy Rogers Park maintained connection. With respectful spring awakenings only a year old, and the War in Afghanistan in its tenth year, my Catholic Worker affiliation would realize in a direct action at the Obama headquarters during the NATO gathering, getting to know the belly of Cook County, if only treated with kidgloves. Most on my mind as I answered the question, would I be taking action? Posed at the opening of each meeting, was it this experience? I wish it was--it had the makings of a play, a political theatre that would have an-off beat fun. Though staging it would require a change of cells around me, napping in the dunk tank, sitting in lotus in a cage, in the monastic SHU beside a young black Angelino who took to the streets of Chicago for protest, taking a pause from a walk across the country, or navigating the general population where I had an encounter with a sympathetic Chinese immigrant held for violence against his wife. All the way home to Rogers Park, the strange after-effect of processing, a whole day of it since the morning when I stood before a judge, presenting my hand-written appeal to case law and pointed out the hole in the park ordinance--oops--that memory just conflated with my Occupy arrest. It seems that with the end of June, most of my reading about the plowshares affirming and wetting my desire, (for who it concerns this study was a matter of studying its history and variety with the aid of Art Laffin and more recent analysis by WILPF, James Douglass's framing Resistance and Contemplation ). The end of June has always meant a special vortex of conscience, concerning my ongoing Witness Against Torture on June 26, the International Day for Survivors of Torture. The year previous, I attended a Pace e Bene Workshop, the conclusion of a 9-month study and practice of Nonviolence. I had to return to the Salvation Army halfway house near Grant Park afterwards where I was finalizing my six-month federal prison sentence for "crossing the line" at the SOA Watch Protest. The ten year anniversary of which has now come and gone, but not without honoring. I recall the strange feeling of fire works heard from the hammock in the garden behind the White Rose Catholic Worker (then on Devon Street in Little Pakistan). To have freedom from jail, yes, this was though a melancholy and alienated consolation, one I felt in my bones, my own too personal freedom. The collective support of the community made it meaningful. That was why a year later when I said No to the question of would I act--I felt left out--that I had just severed myself from, not so much Greg or Michael or Sr. Megan or the movement, but from the consolation and the meaning-making, soul-force of defying that deterrence mechanism, jail, refusing to cooperate with the myth of violence.
When the next day I asked about the blood--after sleeping a second night in the long twin bed upstairs in the Smokey Mountain cabin, comfort in my skin had settled. I understood my place as a support person now, having spent several hours drafting the two statements that would communicate the action. One a document presenting the language of law, pursuing a line of international law that a civilian may arrest, may denounce a war crime. One document a faith testimony. If I asked the question now, addressing Sr. Megan as a highly educated religious professional who served as a missionary teacher for decades, it only came up now, that blood means life. Bio--the root of Biology she had studied. That in Africa blood--I can not recall her train of thought, whether she meant its pouring, its offering, as in a liturgical expression--certainly I had planted this in the leading question, trying to position the question as an ally, yet as a member of a generation who would ask, who could get stuck on this part of the action. She was saying about blood that the symbol is a universal expression. I understood her to the degree I understood the documentary she picked for showing the evening prior, packed in her bag presumably for this occasion, the teaching moment. It was a documentary about a cosmic outlook, if I recall. Cosmic --not sci-fi interplanetary travel, but theological, or rather decentering the logic of western tradition and looking up to the heavens in a completely "cosmic" and universal way. What uniqueness is our life! How precious and rare! She seemed to be carrying this awareness deeply, as she wanted expressed more clearly than I was conveying in my draft, attempting to follow her oral expression the day before. So this act of the plowshares would resemble other plowshare actions. The blood in plastic stored with dry ice. The blood donor, Tom Lewis, a name well known to many in the plowshare movement, an artist, member of the Baltimore Four and the Catonsville Nine, had recently died. What strikes me is that neither Greg nor Sr. Megan nor Michael Walli mentioned this. Because many decisions would be theirs alone once they went forward with the legal case or during their jail confinement, I'm sure now, this blood donation itself a decision beyond them, and another supporter close to the Jonah House community took the blood, a kind of living inheritance. This and many coda facts, unpreserved even by Dan Zac in Almighty, come to mind now. This week prior to the 76th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki I am of course continually organized by my local sisters and brothers. Susan Mirsky telling me about a pair of puppets used in previous protests for the anniversary and stored in the basement of a church in the Back Bay. John Bach inviting for the candle-float on the Charles. The petitions to sign: Let Us Observe a minute of silence at 8:15am on August 6th . Yet I balk at accepting an invitation some weeks ago to join an open mic, though I mention a sketch of my role in the Transform Now Plowshares--while the organizer chases speaking commitments, an esteemed set accept, and though it would seem to this organizer the Immigrant Voices project of the Somerville Human Rights Commission is the story I could share--I cannot seem to think of both, drawing in a line that would rescue us all from the existential perils of creation incineration and the other life line to those swimming North against the oily-spirit of evil, be it manifest in the separation of families, deportation, the broken love of neighbor and poisoning of the stranger---I cannot think of resolving in a single story the tension of the two life-lines I hope to be throwing out into the sea of chaos.
Thea Bowman shed tears in her audience, I would like to think, at the conference of Catholic Bishops where she told them in her way, from a wheelchair, proudly raising her voice from her chest, "I am Black and Catholic and fully functional--does that scare you?" contradicting the ableism of the conventional Christian priesthood. This struck me in an article featured in The Sparrow Song a newsletter of the Agape Community in Ware, MA. Just next to another article by Frida Berrigan, not only about the one hundred years of submarines built at Electric Boat and the generations of resistance to which she is joined following her parents, but about the way of joining. our bodies to the generations of resistance, from wherever we are, we have so many examples to learn from. Shirley Chisholm, in Unbought and Unbossed an autobiography rereleased for its 40th anniversary, spoke of shaking up the democratic establishment and like a political Thea Bowman, said they feared her because she was intelligent and could do the job, just give me the chance. A picture inside shows her holding a check for her campaign as she kisses the cheek of the white benefactor. For a moment I closed my eyes and felt that hospitality.
We are guests in our own skin when we do not resemble the model on Instagram. We are guests in our homes, in our workplace, on the subway, in the laundromat, at the playground. Sometimes in our own beds. Our workplace has infiltrated to our home bedroom. The division of the workplace and the personal private space was false and gendered. The way we mingle and match our identities with the spectacle, surrendering our authenticity to compromise for a common ground. We embrace alternative mainstreams, sub-cultures, elaborate our dwellings in the arborists vision of the city, which sees the metropolis as a system of systems, micro- environments. In local politics, a soil exposed by the tilling blade of the pandemic--we look at ourselves, my wife and I, checking in after another meet and greet of a candidate for Ward 5 City-Counselor, could this good thing go like a dustbowl, our good intentions turn dry dirt in the wind?
The bomb is the root of evil, an expression attributed to a Jesuit priest and spiritual director to Patrick O'Neill, when as a college student he became on high alert about how he could throw some kind of life-line to the chaos of international politics, the inheritance of the cold war, the mutually assured destruction and nuclear arms proliferation. O'Neill and Paul Magno, Sister Anne Montgomery and others pursued this analogy, the act of faith as a radical, root extracting practice of confronting evil. Sister Anne had by then served time for three plowshare actions. The Pershing Plowshare action shed blood as the actors reached a plane known to carry the Airforce's Nuke. The soldiers saw the lean fit men, the lanky O'Neill, quick to duck to the ground, as the slight and undeterred sister walked forward to confront the soldiers without stretched hands--I like to think, offering a rosary? So incongruous were the protesters, these faith people, what to do with them, held and held until the FBI could ask them and sort them out.
I learned from Dan Zac's Almighty that Sister Megan was seen as a specie of strange, yet, was the subject of an oral history taken with the help of federal funding. To hold and preserve the beliefs for the safekeeping of humanity and culture as we know it.
The car back childseats filled with the sleeping bodies of our two daughters, I told Emily of the partial conversations I had with our friends at the beach in Beverly. How three minutes can seem, among friends, and when one asks tell me about you, how are you, really? Three times I answered about my parents' recent visit, my sister and her hubbie too, and about our recent trip to Maine. But one friend was a rare sight. She said "But you stay with the girls, right?" And remembering this opened up about how truly difficult, just to keep practicing care for our kids, and while our partners have meaningful work and we do find with them joy in their interesting fulfillment, one can change gears. The author on my mind about this is featured twice in Mother Reader ed. Moyra Davey. First an essay extract from Silences (1962) in which Tillie Olsen assembles a cast of women authors from the 19th century describing "the fundamental situation" with displays of humor, vexation, and heroism--the theme of what is not written as one mothers.
"I write for the connections" said William Goyen, according to Clark Davis's It Starts With Trouble. As far as you may be concerned, friend, I jumped from a moving vehicle when I risked jail. The life preserver I wore of white-middle class was snug and I floated from a job as a mountain biker instructor to physical education teacher in a ghetto in San Salvador, back from El Salvador to a Christmas delivery runner job with UPS, into salones de clase in Universidad de Madrid, the philosophy of values quite a challenge, the study of Spanish Utopia, Don Quijote more my Ace boon coon. The overarching connection skip- kittering across a day's thoughts is this, now that the word map must be exposed in the bottom corner.
A sentence measures a year, or a minute. The paragraph, a decade or so, a persistent thought.
Earlier I skipped from life to Bowman through an unspoken thought left in the blank space. Emily and the love and honor I hold for life are talking about a third kid. "You're talking about a third kid?" she said, curious, excited, or not hearing. "Emily is and I can keep changing the conversation and I only say it now because of what you said, that the girls are just at this point I can take my eyes off them." (As I write this they jump behind me on a blow up bed for my sister and her hubbie.)
"She brought up that," Emily said. "Maybe because you did. And she said they have another embryo. They don't know. They're paying for storage."
"An embryo is when an egg and a sperm are zippered up right" I ask.
"It's already growing."
"And they pay for storage so that when they ask for it they get the right one."
"Can you imagine? You go through all that and its--"
Mock crying I say, "It's mine and it's beautiful and and it's..not yours!"
P. sits in the little green rocking chair. "Papa, look at me!" E. says. She's lifting the two three pound weights. (It's almost safe too. Her half flexes over sets them down for P. She turns three in 33 days and her older sister sometimes plays follow the little leader).
Just as I'm thinking of a connection to the Japanese Government's recent ruling to extend protections to 84 survivors of the Bomb's acid rain, after years, decades of litigation they will be entitled to the protections of the class of Hibakusha. "Dinner is ready"