Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In Our Country

In our country

Our feet are the feet of the people.

Our fists are the fists of the people.

Our voices are the songs of the people.

Our words are the words of the people.

The poor people in our country.

We are the tear on the hungry child's cheek.

We are the callous on the old farmer's hand.

We are the wrinkle around the worried mother's eye.

We are the blister on the campesino's foot. 

We are the yearning in the peoples hearts.

And yet...

We are the cloth that wipes away the tear.

We are the hand that joins the work.

We are the word that brings courage.

We are the feet that walk beside the poor.

We are the heart of the people.

In our country.

We are the freedom song.

We are the fist.

We are the feet.

We are.

We are their feet.

We are their fist. 

We are their voice. 

We are their song. 

We are their words.

We are them, and they are us.

In our country. 


- Trevor Scott Barton, Advent, 2017



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Notes from the Field

I was driving in downtown Bamako, the capital city of Mali, and stopped at a red light. Children with water bottles and squeegees ran up to our truck and the vehicles around us, pulled up our windshield wipers, and cleaned the windshields.

A little girl ran up to our truck. She had cocoa colored skin and long hair the color of a moonless African night. She was young, maybe five years old, but her face seemed old, lined with a determination and concern. “Her small face is too full of care for the carefree days of childhood,” I thought.

She was small, so small she couldn’t reach our windshield with her water bottle and squeegee, so small I almost didn’t see her.

Her squeegee was an extension of her thin arm but even together they couldn’t reach the glass. She squirted some water on the hood of the truck instead and scrubbed it back and forth with the squeegee. She struggled to squirt and scrub. She wasn’t strong enough to clean off the thick coat of dust that clings to everyone and everything during the dry season in Mali. She tried so hard. I watched her humbly squirt, scrub and struggle. My heart ached for her. I put all of the change from my pocket in her tiny, frail hand.

The light turned green. People in cars, trucks and mini busses behind us honked their horns, impatient to get somewhere, in a hurry to go nowhere. I revved the engine and eased out the clutch. Our small, aspiring window cleaner stepped away, back to her small place on the sidewalk, in the middle of many other small, aspiring windshield washers, waiting for the light to turn red again, waiting for another opportunity to try to wash a windshield, or the hood of a truck, waiting for a someone to give her some small change for her big effort.



Notes from the Field

This is the season for the picking and eating of mangoes. As I stand at the front door of our hut, I look out over the land before me and see thirty foot tall mango trees draped with thousands of yellow mangoes. They make the trees glow, as if the trees themselves are saints with rings of soft light around their heads. The mangoes hang on the trees as if they are giant drops of rain after a storm, drops of rain frozen in time as they fall off of the leaves and begin their descent to the ground.

I watch a child with a long hook ended stick, two pieces of bamboo tied together and used to pick ripe mangoes from the tree. From my writing place I see the stick dancing and weaving it’s way around the tree in search of the crisp, sweet fruit. Sometimes children climb into the trees and shake the branches until the ground thumps with the sound of falling mangoes. 

When a strong gust of wind blows, ripe mangoes fall from the trees to the earth. Groups of children scramble to the ground under the trees and search for the much loved fruit.

During mango season, women cut the mangoes and cook the fruit with peanut sauce and serve it as a meal. I love it!

My Malinke friends believe if you eat too many mangoes, you will sleep for a week. If you eat too many mangoes, you will do something for a week but it doesn’t involve sleep!

Even though it is the hottest part of the year, I love this time because it is mango season. This is one of God’s many kindnesses to us, to bring us the hope of mangoes in the hopelessness of the dry season. And this is one of my Malinke friends many kindnesses, to share their mangoes with me.

For this I am thankful.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Notes from the Field

Today a boy came to the mission. Several weeks ago, the inner part of his leg from his thigh to his ankle was burned in a fire. He comes to us for the cleaning and care of his wound. I am the one who cleans and cares for him.

He screams and cries as I wash the burn and apply the Silvadene cream a kind doctor left for me to give to burn patients who cannot access or afford hospital care.

I have heard people say, “Africans are so poor, but they are so happy.” The liberation theologian Gustavo Guttirrrez teaches us that the word ‘poverty’ has three meanings: solidarity with the poor, along with protest against the conditions under which they suffer; spiritual poverty, in the sense of a readiness to do God’s will; and real poverty as an evil - that is something that God does not want. My small friend is living in real poverty and it is evil. As tears roll down my cheeks as I see his pain and hear his cries, I know his poverty is something God does not want. There is no happiness in that kind of poverty. 

I make a promise to the small boy to work against that kind of poverty in the world for the rest of my life.

“What can I do to help him?” I thought.

After the treatment was done and he was resting beneath the thatched roof of the bamboo shelter, I went to my house and got a baseball cap for him, my favorite old, battered Detroit Tigers cap that I have had since I was his age. That cap has been all over the world with me. 

“I’ll give my favorite hat to my small friend.”

We know the mustard seed, when it is planted, becomes the largest of all plants. It’s branches become so big, well, the birds can sit in the shade on it’s branches.

Giving my favorite cap to my small friend is a small thing. It’s just an old, battered cap. But it was my favorite cap. And I gave it him because I love him.

I will always remember his smile when he put on that Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap.

Sometimes small things are big things.


Notes from the Field

Our mission station volunteered a truck, a driver and me to assist the Kenieba hospital with a polio and vitamin A vaccination program. My friend Kaba came along to help me communicate with the doctors. They spoke French and Bambara, I spoke a little French and a lot of broken Malinke and Kaba understood us all. He helped us understand each other.

We gave the vaccinations to newborn babies up to five year olds. I was responsible for giving the polio vaccinations to them.

As we were making our way from village to village in the remotest parts of western Mali  I felt good to be a small part of such a big undertaking as to eradicate polio from the whole continent of Africa. 

It is good to be a part of something that is bigger than me.

The name of the polio vaccination program is “Kick Polio Out Of Africa.” The symbol is a child kicking a soccer ball. Everyone loves the symbol because everyone loves soccer.

The polio vaccination were in small plastic bottles that looked like Visine bottles. Mothers lined up with their children under giant baobab trees. I squeezed two drops from the bottles under the children’s tongues to protect them from the dreaded disease.

Most of the children were terrified to receive the vaccination, and most of them were terrified of me! We were so far out into the bush, the children had never seen a white person before. As you know, white people have harmed Africa. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Albert Schweitzer and do something good for the people.

I hoped the children could see that in me.

Their moms had to hold them still and I had to squeeze their jaws with my left hand until their mouths opened and I could drop the vaccine with my right hand. 

Sometimes, I had to hold their noses and blow into their faces to get them to swallow the vaccine! “The cure can be more painful than the disease,” my grandpa used to teach me.

Not in this case, though. Polio is a powerful and fearful disease.

One little four year old girl was struggling against her mom and me with all of her might. Just as I got the first drop of vaccine under her tongue Kaba yelled, “Bakary (that is my African name) watch out!” A stream of pee came out from her little dress all over my sandaled feet.

I didn’t blame her.

“I love you,” I said in Malinke. She looked at me through tearful and defiant eyes. “You have a strange way of showing it!” she must have thought.

I hope my small moment with her with the polio vaccination under the baobab tree will help her live and remain a beautiful life for the world.


Notes from the Field

We walked to a village called Kenyandinto. Actually, we climbed up to it because it is on one of the mountains that surround Kenieba and for most of the way the path is straight up. We were joined by our friends Yambi and Suliman. Yambi guided us because Kenyandinto is his village, the place in the world where he was born. Suliman came along with us because he is new to Kenieba and wanted to climb the mountain to see the beauty of land.

We planned to leave at 10:00 A.M. but so many people for first aid we didn’t leave until 1:00 P.M. That meant we had to walk and climb during the hottest part of the day. During our journey, we noticed that Suliman, Robin and I were soaking wet with sweat while Yambi wasn’t sweating at all. He was carrying our backpacks, canteens and his bag of clothes on his head! He had been climbing up and down that mountain all of his life and he can make the journey with little or no effort at all. He didn’t even drink any water while the rest of us gulped down whole canteens full before half of the trip was done. Going home again makes you swift and strong.

As we climbed the steep path I was astonished by the sight of millet and corn growing on the side of the mountain. I can only imagine the difficulty of farming on a steep incline, the aching in your back and legs at the end of a long, hot day. Yet the millet and corn were there, growing tall and coloring the mountain a young, strong green.

I was also astonished by the sight of children guarding the crops. Here in the Kenieba circle, it’s the responsibility of the children to keep birds from eating the ripening millet and corn. In the early morning, mid afternoon and evening you can hear them playing their “balifondingolu”, wooden xylophones the sound of which scares away the birds. The clinking and clanking sounds make me think of the small guardians, the little children who spend their days like little monks in their solitary fields under the Malian sun. What do they think about on those long, lonely days? What are their hopes and dreams?


Notes from the Field

At around 3:00 P.M. we arrived at Kenyandinto. We were greeted by people who were working in the village instead of in their fields. “Ilu ning sege,” they said, which is the Malinke way to say hello to people who are passing by. It literally means, “I see you traveling. You must be tired.” We went to Yambi’s family’s courtyard where they offered their best chairs for us to sit in, water for us to drink and peanuts for us to eat. 

From now until the end of my life I will always think of my Malinke friends when I see a peanut because peanuts are one of the main staples in their diet and one of the most important gifts of their hospitality. The humble peanut from my humble friends reminding me to always give my best to everyone.

There is no pump from which to draw clean water for the village. When my friend Mike Krahwinkle was digging wells for the mountain villages he tried to drill there but the ground is too rocky and water is just not there. The village collects it’s water from streams that run through the mountain during the rainy season. The people have a difficult time with water during the driest times of the dry season. They have to bring in water from far away. 

Robin and I are afraid to drink the water from the streams because our stomachs haven’t built up a tolerance for the microbes that live in it. We strive to be as hospitable as our Malinke brothers and sisters but we don’t want to invite those microbes into our stomachs!

I explained our fear to Yambi. He asked three of his young sons to take three containers on a two mile hike to a neighboring village with a deep water well and bring cool, clean water to us. It is difficult to carry gallons of water on your head over rough terrain but the boys were content to help us.

I am always humbled by the people’s willingness to take care of us.

There is a small group of Christians in the village. In the Malinke language, a Christian is called a “Yesu karandingolu” which means “student of Jesus,” a good definition, I think, of what a Christian should be. The Christians meet on Sunday mornings and Tuesday nights to sing songs, study the Bible and pray together. 

Only a few people in the village can read, so the readers are the natural leaders for the group. They always pray that people will learn to serve each other joyfully and know God’s love in the deepest of ways.

Amen.

We met together with the Christians as fellow “students of Jesus”. As we sang to the best and rhythm of the drums I felt peaceful. I looked into the faces of my Malinke friends and saw the face of Jesus. “Jesus himself is with us,” I thought, “Loving us and caring for us. He must be enjoying this as much as we are.”

Robin taught us from the first chapter of the book of James in the New Testament about perseverance in the face of suffering. To hear her teaching in her broken Malinke made my heart feel whole.

We all prayed and it was wonderful to talk with God together.

To close our day the village had a big celebration for us. A drummer began to play a giant drum and women and children began to sing and dance around us. Dancing is one of the great ways people here express their joy. They asked Robin to join them. After a long day of hiking she joined them in their expression of joy and danced the Malinke dance with them. They asked me to join in but I was content to sit and watch and smile. I felt their joy in my heart. It was the perfect close to a good, good day.

We closed ourselves into Yambi’s mud brick hut that he gave up for the night to us. I listened carefully and heard some whimpering babies, bleating sheep and hushed talking of old men and women. I felt the cool night air blowing through the open windows. I smelled the smells of the fires that cooked the evening meals and the straw that made up the thatched roof over my head.

I knew I was in Africa.

I was thankful.


Notes from the Field

I have always wanted to be a doctor, and I have become one at our mission.
Actually, I am more like an Army medic, treating people with minor injuries and sicknesses, sending those with more serious illnesses to our hospital in Kenieba. 

Mostly, I treat laborers who are working in the fields around the mission when they cut themselves with their hoes. I also treat babies, making a rehydration drink for them to drink when they have “runny tummies” and giving children’s Tylenol to them when they have a fever.

My good friend Musa was the doctor until the first of the month. He is the day guard on the mission compound. He just joined a guard service from Bamako (the capital of Mali) and they requested that he only guard and stop doing first aid work. 

Musa is very knowledgeable about treating injuries and sicknesses. He is my teacher, helping me learn how to help people. He is especially good at treating burns.

A book entitled “Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook” is also my teacher.

Prayer for a Village

Dear Lord,

I wish I was a doctor. I would heal sick people. I would remove diseases from their bodies. I would prescribe medicines to help them feel better. Yes, I would heal and help.

I wish I was a farmer. I would grow peanuts, millet, corn and rice to give to hungry people to eat. I would teach people to work and care for the land and feed them for a lifetime as well as for a day. Yes, I would grow and teach.

I wish I was an engineer. I would dig deep wells and build big pumps so every person could have cool, clean water. Yes, I would dig and build.

But, I am not a doctor or a farmer or an engineer.

I am only myself.

Here is my heart. Please use it to love people.

Here is my soul. Please use it to befriend people.

Here is my mind. Please use it to teach people.

Here are my hands and feet. Please use them to serve people.

I am only myself, Lord. 

But here I am.






Saturday, October 21, 2017

Revolution

He laid down beside her. The curves of her body reminded him of the gently rolling hills below the mountains where he lived as a boy. Her brown eyes were the land and life to him. She was beautiful like that land, like the flowers he found as he roamed the countryside, like the soil he walked over barefooted as his grandfather turned the earth with a donkey and plow, like the leaves of the trees that sparkled green after the rains of the rainy season. He moved close to her until he felt the breathing of her breath upon his face and the beating of her heart upon his chest. He closed his eyes. 
     
He felt the heartbeat of her as a little girl. 
     
She had lived with her landless family on a farm in a neighboring village. Her weathered Father was a campesino, with wrinkles on his face for all of the times he had  walked down long rows of beans in the hot sun to hoe away weeds. There was a kindness in his eyes that welled up from the deep feelings he had felt as he worked to keep his family alive. His hands and feet were calloused and gnarled for they had been blistered and broken and used as tools all of his life. He had worked from the time he had toddled beside his own Father and the workers of the plantation of his childhood until now, in the time of the middle of his life, when the same land, the land of the wealthy owners, had bent his back to make it appear as if he were continually genuflecting to God, or to the wealthy, or to the land itself. He was not a political person. She had observed his life, however, for she was a gifted girl who saw deeply into the lives of people and knew, simply knew, the inner workings of their minds and hearts and the true meanings of their words and actions. In that observation she saw the life of her Father eloquently speak, "I am a human being...no person is more important than another...my family has a  right to food, shelter, clothing, school, and medicine...We are human beings," and those words grew with her and were watered by the laughter she laughed as she was playing with friends in her community and the tears she
cried as she was laying in bed hungry from only one meal from the day.

He felt the heartbeat of her as a young woman. 
     
She had been there at the mass rally at the university in Santiago de Cuba the week before the struggle began to overthrow the Batista regime. He had been there, too. Their voices joined together with the voices of hundreds and thousands of students, campesinos, professors, and rebel leaders and rumbled across the night sky to the furthest reaches of the island. "We ask for a fair price for beans and rice...we ask for a fair price for a room to sleep...we ask for a fair price for shirts and shoes...we ask for schools for our children...we ask for care from doctors and hospitals...we ask for work so we can build up these things for our people because we need them to live...we need them to live!" It was then that he had seen her for the first time. Her fist was clenched and raised to the sky, her black hair hung down along her back, her brown eyes glistened under the lights of the field where they shouted and sang their hopes and dreams for their country, for their poor families, for their people. Out of all the people there around him, she was the one...the one his eyes could not leave...the one his heart could not forget. He knew then that their courage and compassion would draw them together and bond them as friends and lovers. In those first days he thought of what it might feel like to be with her, to feel her hunger for his body, for her to feel his hunger for hers...to be with her, to hear the stories of her childhood, to share the stories of his...to be with her as they were together now, naked and holding each other, loving each other, protecting each other.
     
He felt the heartbeat of her as she was now. 
     
One week ago, he was sitting in a barracks in Santiago de Cuba, shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee with compañeros, under the watchful eyes of Batistas henchmen. Those government soldiers had fired their guns in the air and jammed them into their backs as they left a mass meeting demanding rights for the campesinos and a new, democratic government for the people. The prisoners had been stripped down to their undershorts, slapped across their faces and heads, and spit upon by the soldiers. One soldier had taken his hands, hands he had used to write the speech that was delivered that night at the mass meeting, hands he had used to build up instead of tear  down...the soldier had taken those hands, tied them to a table, and hit them over and over again with a heavy, jagged rock until they were swollen and sore, broken and bleeding, until tears streamed down his cheeks and fell off onto the dirt floor like drops of rain from a heavy sky. The prisoners had not eaten for three days and drank water from a bucket and a rusty, dented dipper set down in the middle of the room early in the morning and late at night. His eye was swollen and blackened from the abuse, his stomach hollow and cramped from hunger, and his tongue so dry he could barely speak. It was then, as he held his head in his arms, hunched over, falling into despair, that he heard explosions and gunshots around the camp. The guards ran this way and that way in confusion. The prisoners moved en masse toward the door and spilled out into the night. He made his way to the barbed wire behind the barracks and she was there. She leaned close to him, catching her cheek on a barb, and took the wire into her own hands and pulled it apart until he could step one leg and then his whole body through to freedom. She pulled him to her and kissed him softly on the cheek. "Hola, mi cariño," she had whispered. "Gracias," he had breathed. "Estoy aquí," she had gently sang, "Estoy aquí," as she rocked him back and forth in her arms, and he had wept as if he were a boy lost but then found by his mother, and the tears fell again but not onto the dirt floor of the prison but onto Gabbys dark, tender skin. In all of the chaos around them, she took his arm. "Vamos, tenemos que ir," she said and pulled him away.
     

For one week they had made their way west across the island toward Havana, finding clothes and shelter in the homes of friendly, frightened campesinos along the road, eating sugar cane and drinking water from rivers and swamps, sleeping in the swamps covered with mosquitoes but surrounded by stars by night, making their way to the great city where they would continue their work in the revolution. Now they were here, body to body, heartbeat to heartbeat, in the morning light of a rainy day in Havana.



Monday, September 25, 2017

Brown Eyes

The teacher looked into the eyes of the little girl. They were brown, the color of the soil of the countryside around the city, the color of the weathered bark of the guava trees in the courtyards around the capital building. "Ah, these eyes could grow the humble, helpful beans that fill plates and bodies and help us live," she thought to herself. "These eyes could produce the beautiful, bountiful guavas that hang from the trees like tiny gifts from the servants who planted them." Yet she saw in those eyes a hurt and hopelessness that came from the underside of the great city, the place where the owner of a sugar plantation drove around the streets in a sparkling, new Chevrolet from el Norte and a worker on that plantation walked around on those same streets in broken sandals made from used tires from a broken down, old Chevrolet...at the same time, together...but as far apart as one world from another.

She listened to the stomach of the little girl. It was empty, the emptiness of the poverty of a family with seven children and low wages, the emptiness of one meal a day for days, weeks, months, years, a lifetime. "Ah, this grumbling stomach could be filled with beans and guava," she thought again to herself. "It could be filled with food and hope if only she had a chance to become a person instead of a thing, to become the owner of a small piece of land instead of the servant of a large landowner, to become all that she could become instead of all that could be used for by another...to become, to become."

She welcomed the child, kissed her softly and tenderly on one cheek and then another, and sent her into the classroom with 50 other children with the same eyes and the same stomachs.

She became a friend of the revolution on that day she looked into the eyes and listened to the stomachs of her students. She closed the door to her classroom in the late afternoon and walked the miles to her own apartment and her own family. Her children, eight-year-old Luis and four-year-old Ashley grabbed her legs and pressed their kisses into the flowers on her dress. Her Mother and Abuela greeted her from the kitchen, where they were cooking the beans and rice that would be their evening meal.

"Hola, mi corazons," she said. "How were your days?"

"Bueno, Mami! Bueno!" they answered.

"I made this picture at school," said Luis. He held up a picture of a lopsided cello with seven strings, drawn with a pencil and colored with bark from a tree outside of his classroom. Underneath the picture were the words - "I want to make an instrument. I need wood and wire to make an instrument like a cello. It might be small and broken looking but it would make beautiful music. I would play it for my friends. I would play it for my Mami."

She kissed Luis on top of the head.

"It is so beautiful, my hijo. The picture and the words are so beautiful. One day, I hope to buy a cello for you so you can play music as beautiful as your picture and your words."

"Look Mama! I made a picture, too!"

Ashley held up her picture. There was a trace of her little hand in the middle of the page. It was painted in blues and greens like the land and oceans on a map. Her name was written in large, leaning letters beneath her hand.
"Oh, mi Amor, it is marvelous...as marvelous as you. Perhaps one day you can take me by my hand and show me the wonderful world.

She dragged her children into the kitchen, each wrapped around a leg and standing on a foot.

"Hola," said her Mother and her Abuela in harmony. "How was school today?"

"Honestly," answered Maria, "It was a sad day for me."

She told them about the eyes and the stomach of the little girl and they lamented that there was so little for so many yet so much for so few.

"Here," spoke the Abuela. "Let me tell you a story."


When I was a little girl, a flower grew in the countryside.
We called it the flor hermosa y humilde, 
the beautiful, humble flower.
It was beautiful in it's brilliance and smallness,
and humble in the way it appeared in one place for a while
and then another place for a while,
almost dancing around to share it's beauty
with many people in many places
instead of with a few people in one place.
Now, it grows no more.
It's beauty and humility is gone from the earth,
for it grew only in Cuba.
"Why is such a flower gone from the earth?"
you might ask.
Seeds came down from el Norte.
These seeds grew a flower we named flor destructiva y arrogante,
the destructive, arrogant flower.
It was destructive in it's opaqueness and bigness,
and arrogant in the way it appeared in all places at all times,
almost marching around to take the nutrients of the land
from the beautiful, humble flower
and
the beauty of the land
from the people.

"Yes," said Maria. "What can we do for the beautiful, humble flower?"

"There are two minds," answered the Abuela. "Some of the people are of the mind to use fire, to burn the destructive, arrogant flowers into ash and use the ash to fertilize the land for the beautiful, humble flower again. Some of the people saved the seeds from the beautiful, humble flower, you know. And some of the people are of the mind to use hoes, to dig up the destructive, arrogant flowers and let them decompose until there is room to replant the seeds of the beautiful, humble flowers."

"Can there be three minds?" wondered Maria. "Is there another way?"

She looked down at the Havana Post on the table that the older women had retrieved from a trash pile as they were meandering around the market bartering for the beans and rice they were cooking for the evening meal. 

There, on an open page of the newspaper, was an advertisement by Simmons International Ltd., the sellers from el Norte of the Beautyrest mattress. The advertisement displayed a large drawing of José Martí, the great writer and icon of Cuban freedom. He was in a serious pose with a quill behind him and a book in front. Below the picture was the quote - "What is important is not that our cause should triumph, but rather that our motherland should be happy."

She sat in stunned silence.

Happiness was an expensive mattress? An expensive mattress was the purpose of life, when her own family slept on corn stalk mats on the floor and her students ate one meal a day?

Later that night, as she woke and thought about the question she asked to her Abuela, she remembered her husband Josef.

He was a person who could see clearly and feel deeply. That clear sight and deep feeling led him to join the Revolution, to leave his work as a teacher, to leave the city...to make his way to the mountains to join the Red Army and become a part of the vanguard that would give Cuba back to the people again.

Gone five months, she had not heard from him. This was the time she missed him most, the times she woke in the middle of the night with a question or a feeling to work out in her mind and heart.

She closed her eyes and remembered the night before he left for the mountains. She laid naked on her back and he laid between her knees. He kissed her softly on her thighs, his lips and breath brushing against her skin. With the kisses he recited a poem from Pablo Neruda. 

Amo el trozo de tierra que tú eres,
porque de las praderas planetarias
otro estrella no tengo tú repites
la multíplicación del universo.

I love the handful of the earth you are.
Because of it's meadows, vast as a planet,
I have no other star. You are my replica
of the multiplying universe.

She opened her eyes again and stared into the darkness and felt the emptiness around her. "Can there be three minds...is there another way?" 


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Beauty

'Beauty' is a word, a noun that is quality in a person, place or thing that makes people sigh a deep sigh and say, "Wow." Today, for me, beauty is a person - my son, Zeke. He is dancing in his tenth dance recital, for this year makes a decade of dance for him. He is in his thirteenth year of life, and for 10/13 of those years he has given his life to dance, and dance has given life to him.

When he was a baby, he wouldn't crawl. So many times, I would set him up on his hands and knees, get up on my own hands an knees beside him, and say, "Come on buddy, follow me!" I would take off across the floor, giggling and calling, hoping he would crawl after me. He didn't. I would turn around. He would smile at me. Then he would plop back down on his tummy, roll around onto his back, and reach up to the stars.

When he was a toddler, he wouldn't walk. So many times, I would set him up beside the table with his feet on the ground, and stand beside him with my own feet on the ground, and say, "Come on buddy, follow me!" I would take off across the floor, giggling and calling, hoping he would walk after me. He didn't. I would turn around. He would smile at me. Then he would plop back down on his hiney, and reach up to the stars.

One day, though, he took off across the floor, first at a crawl, then at a walk. As he was walking, the radio was on and music filled the room. He stopped. He looked at me. I didn't set him up. I didn't stand beside him. No, I simply watched in wonder. He twirled. He flowed. He danced. I was as surprised as if I were seeing a shooting star across the sky. He was the star.

Now, today, as I watch him twirl like a leaf in the wind, flow like a river, and dance like a star, with power and persistence, with greatness and grace, I am reminded of something Dostoyevsky said, "Beauty will save the world."

He must have been thinking of Zeke.



Monday, September 18, 2017

Superheroes

Superheroes

I have a coffee mug with the words "I write. What is your super power?" on it's side. I was thinking about those words as I was drinking my morning coffee at the kitchen table watching the sun rise out the kitchen window.

As a writer, I try to hold COMPASSION and JUSTICE in a kind of tension. I write of the world as it is, and as such I try to suffer with it, I try to climb into its skin and walk around in it, as Atticus Finch counseled us to do in To Kill A Mockingbird, I try to simply become more human. I also write of the world as it could be, and as such I try to bring justice to the world, I try to put myself in spaces of injustice and fight against it with stories, I try to simply build a more human world.

If I am a superhero, and if I have a super power, it is because I can walk around in other people's shoes, I can become their laughter, I can become their tears. I knew I had this gift from the time I began knowing, and I spend my days nurturing it. Maybe it is the greatest superpower in our time, for the greatest evil seems to be our inability to have empathy for each other. Tears drop from eyes and I tenderly kiss them and taste the salt in them, and in this moment I am me - who I am and who I want to be.

It is in the tenderness and tasting that I write - of the immigrant child, the homeless neighbor, the lonely migrant, the LGBTQ person, the frightened man, the human being. And in this moment I am me - who I am and who I want to be.

This is my super power. This is why I am a superhero.








Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Imagine...let it be

Brenda is a fourth-grader at my elementary school in South Carolina. Her father and mother moved here from Mexico, and Brenda speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Fluent in both languages, she is a quiet, thoughtful child with contemplative eyes and attentive ears. Like most other fourth-graders, Brenda laughs when a friend tickles her. She cries if she falls and scrapes her knee. And she has stories to tell if you will listen. She is also a scholar and a saint in the wonderful ways a 10-year-old can be scholarly and saintly. She reads anything about everything at every opportunity and volunteers her early mornings to read to struggling first-graders.

I took a few minutes to ask Brenda about her hopes and dreams.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.

"I want to be a doctor," she answered.

When I talk with students, I often use the "5 Whys" strategy to get a better understanding of what they are thinking and feeling. For each answer a student gives, I ask why until I have five answers to the initial question.

“Why?”

"Because I think it would be a good job."

"Why?"

"Because I like to study and I want to help people."

"Why?"

"Because I want to help babies grow and experience more in the United States."

"Why?"

"Because I want them to live."

Brenda does not want power, prestige or position. She wants to help people...live. It is as simple and as complex as that.

Her answer helped me think about “Imagine a World Without Hate”™ a video the Anti-Defamation League created to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

As John Lennon's song “Imagine” plays in the background, people read, browse and watch news with such imagined headlines as:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 84, Champions Immigration Reform

Anne Frank Wins Nobel Prize for her 12th Novel

Harvey Milk Expands LGBT Equality Globally

Daniel Pearl, 49, Journalist, wins Pulitzer for "Uncovering Al-Qaeda"

James Byrd, Jr., 63, Jasper, TX Resident Saves Young Girl From Burning Building

This video asks a simple question: "What could these people have continued to do for the world if bigotry, hate and extremism hadn't cut their lives so short?"

It's a great question.

But the question for me, as a teacher and a writer, is not so much: "What could have been?" It is: "What can be?"

What can be for Brenda? I hope she takes up the work these people started and carries it forward with her life. She wants to become a doctor so she can help people live. With that spirit, she will help these martyrs live, too.

It is my job as a teacher and a writer not only to help students imagine a world without hate, but also to help them find the tools and the heart to build it. That is how I can build a world without hate.

Imagine...and let it be.






Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women and the Civil Rights Movement

I read and discussed the book "Women and the Civil Rights Movement: 1954-1965" by Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon in a Civil Rights class while I was working on my Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Converse College. The women in this book show me that if I use my life to serve the lives of others, especially the lives of the poor, then I will become a seed in a fallow ground that is bringing life to those who believe that all people, regardless of color, nationality, socio-economic status, sex, ability, or sexual orientation, are human beings and of inestimable worth. They remind me of the women whose beautiful feet and strong hearts marched in the Women's March on Washington and around the world (or were in solidarity with them) this past weekend and who are the seeds of movements of civil rights, human rights and community building today. Women like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was one of the seeds that grew into the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Septima Poinsette Clark, who was one of the seeds which created the Citizenship Schools upon which the Civil Rights Movement was built, Modjeska Simkins, who was one of the seeds that grew into the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, who was one of the seeds that grew into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Ella Baker, who was one of the seeds that grew into the SNCC, are people who planted themselves in places of white supremacy, despair, and hate and gave their lives in seemingly small ways to bring faith, hope, and love to the poor people around them. To use biblical language, they were like the tiny mustard seed that grows into the trees so tall they have room many birds. Look what they did! Look what the women women and their allies who marched this weekend are doing!

I think we live in a “celebrity culture” today, a culture that looks for a charismatic leader to help us know what to think and know what to do in all of the areas of our lives. I think this is dangerous, so I especially appreciate the thoughts on “group-centered leadership” in the chapter by Carol Mueller titled “Ella Baker and the Origins of ‘Participatory Democracy.’” Baker has become one of my heroes because she worked toward the idea that the Civil Rights Movement was about people struggling together in a democratic society to make American society a more human place for all people (and democratic work is indeed a struggle) rather than about Mosaic type leaders leading an oppressed people to a promised land. I found these words by Baker to be profound –

The inclination toward group-centered leadership, rather than toward a leader centered group pattern of organization, was refreshing indeed to those of the older group who bear the scars of battle, the frustrations and the disillusionment that come when the prophetic leader turns out to have heavy feet of clay.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Feet

I am one million with my feet on the ground.

I am one million with my fist in the air.

I am one million with my voice on the wind.

I am one million words for freedom.

I am one million.

I am one.

In my country.

My feet are the feet of the people.

My fist is the fists of the people.

My voice is the song of the people.

My words are the words of the people.

The poor people in my country.

I am the tear on the hungry child's cheek.

I am the callous on the old farmer's hand.

I am the wrinkle around the worried mother's eye.

I am the blister on the campesino's foot.

I am the yearning in the peoples hearts.

And yet...

I am the cloth that wipes away the tear.

I am the hand that joins the work.

I am the word that brings courage.

I am the feet that walk beside the poor.

I am the heart of the people.

In my country.

I am the freedom song.

I am the fist.

I am the feet.

I am.

I am their feet.

I am their fist.

I am their voice.

I am their song.

I am their words.

I am them, and they are me.

In my country.

- Trevor Scott Barton, Ordinary Time, 2017