Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August, 2011: Tastes of Sunshine

Over 200 people attended this years` Hiroshima Day commemorative event In Portland Oregon, which featured Kathy Kelly as a featured speaker (seated in the foreground of this photo), Dan Handelman (local activist on camera upper right), and flags flying from the U.S. Veterans for Peace (that drew over 300 people to their conference the week before). This was one of many opportunities this summer to enjoy a taste of sunshine, both physically in warm temperatures and emotionally in the inspiration we give to one another.

The sunshine Kathy brings to her audiences does inspire both reflection and action. With a humility that is transparent, she speaks of experiences she has had over the years that include working in a meat packing plant as a youth and growing up with a catholic mother who immigrated in poverty from Ireland, working as a religion instructor in a parochial school and inspired by friends in Chicago to engage in a protest against nuclear weapons that gave her one year imprisonment in a maximum security prison, and then working as a peace activist breaking U.S. sanctions policies while traveling illegally to Iraq (throughout the 1990s) and to Palestine, Afganistan, and Pakistan many times since the World Trade Center bombing of 2001. Inspired by others, including Mohandas Gandhi and Dorothy Day, Kathy wages her own war on terror in tandem with others associated with Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. With over 60 arrests now in her record and a long history military tax resistance, it is clear she cares far more about living in conscience than winning prizes. She inspires by practicing radical nonviolence, not primarily talking about it.

Kathy shared a Chicago apartment with Kristine, my wife, during our courtship nearly 30 years ago. Not at all famous then, she was still full of sunshine with a sense of humor than warms the heart. As she stayed in our home during part of her recent visit to Portland, we enjoyed a potluck event where laughter came easily. No one could match her story about how, a few years ago, she was arrested while getting off an airplane in New York City: ``There I was, about 100 lbs light after fasting for something or another, and I see this gang of police coming at me with their dogs! Me, little old me! It seems that I had 5 outstanding warrants for my arrest in New York State. It had been a busy year… Anyway, there I was, shaking a little in front of all the passengers from my plane who were watching the spectacle of another arrest. And it happened. I had lost too much weight in the fast. My skirt simply fell to my feet. So there I was, hands locked behind my back and unable to pull up my skirt!`` At that point I had to interject: ``So Kathy, was that your arrest for indecent exposure?`` That comment may have at least doubled the already side-splitting laughter.

Sunshine. We can bring sunshine into each other`s lives. We all taste it from time to time, and it is very sweet!

Dan Handelman (in the featured photograph filing the Hiroshima event) is another person who inspires more people than he likely realizes. Taking care to usually be out of the limelight himself, he shines behind the scenes, organizing planning meetings, getting demonstration permits, distributing information a tables, taking time to supervise volunteers… Coming from a Jewish cultural background, he is among the most vocal at insuring Muslim speakers at anti-war events. Reflecting outrage at each new death caused by lethal police use of force, he leads a group called Portland Copwatch which has earned the respect of local politicians who would (no doubt) prefer to ignore it but cannot. With a wry smile Dan also is full of stories that include traveling to Iraq with Kathy Kelly to distribute toys and medical supplies – and having his film taken by the U.S. Government (only to be returned to him later under court order).

It was primarily Dan and I who set up a speaking engagement for Kathy at Portland Community College (where we were able to secure a nice auditorium and parking free of charge). Those attending included several students enrolled in my summer classes, and a few other faculty and staff that were challenged to reflect not only about what Kathy shared, but also by the presence of a large number of other war tax resisters and other local activists. Many tastes of sunshine for all, and over $800 raised by voluntary contributions for Kathy`s work as well as (half) for funding a group planning more public demonstrations for Portland in September and October. So it is, when summertime ends, the sunshine will continue!

Course grades for my two summer classes were due yesterday, and the deadline was met. Today I will complete my Fall Term syllabi. Tomorrow the day is set aside for me to pick my year`s worth of blueberries (about 100 lbs.), and a former student at PCC (Tom Worth) will move into the house to stay for a week or two). The day after that, our friend Stany and Shanty arrive from India to begin their adventures in the U.S.! Our household has been preparing for their visit for weeks and all are excited. Although my back has been in pain for the last two nights (due to me being too cheap to hire someone else to shampoo our rugs), even that pain reminds me of how much I look forward to seeing these two wonderful people who showed us so much kindness while we were in India last year.

Even as my Fulbright experience may have helped a few people during our travels, it is clear to me that I have learned much more than I have taught – and it is always amazing me at how much more I have to learn! It may be that Stany will feel something similar during his time as a Fulbright Scholar from India to the U.S.. One of only 25 so honored this year, he is the only one assigned to teach at a community college. For that college to be Portland Community College (PCC) has many folks excited as this year we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of an institution that has grown to serve over 80,000 students each year. Stany will be a big celebrity here – able to give a lot of people a taste of the sunshine that radiates from his gregarious personality!

Beginning in the first week of September, Stany and I will collaborate in providing weekly updates to our experiences together during the four months of his stay in the U.S.. He (and I through him) may gain more insights worthy of sharing. Not knowing what even that near future will hold, we both hope light may at least be shed by sharing. May those who read of these experiences also be warmed by a few tastes of sunshine!

P.S. The day after posting the entry above, our family received some startling sad news. This regards Peter, a friend of my son Shaman who had stayed in our home for over a week in July and had planned to return to be with us in September as he intended to relocate to Portland. Peter has left this life at the early age of 25. The cause of death is not yet clear. Our hearts go out to his parents in Los Angeles as well as to all those who feel the loss of his presence. May the light that shone in him continue to inspire us to live as well as we may with what time we have left. Soon enough each of us will join him. Peace be with you Peter. May the God that is both Truth and Love continue to both enlighten you and embrace your spirit.

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