October 22nd, 2007

Book Cover

A Special Day!

I used to be a Terwilliger Nature Guide.  Mrs. T. would discover something in nature and shout, "Something Special."  I feel that today, how special the moments at play. 

I have been reading Diane Ackerman's book, The Zookeeper's Wife, a true story about a zookeeper and his wife in Poland and how they risked their lives to  save the lives of many Jewish people when the Nazis invaded Poland.  The book is inspiring because it shows how many people did help.  People were not apathetic.  They did what they could and lives were saved.  This particular couple, Jan and Antonina Zabinski were amazingly brave and clever in saving Jewish lives.

There is a paragraph in the book that surprises me because it share so much of what I know of Buddhism, of what I try to keep in my awareness and practice.

    "Shapira's Hasidism included transcendent meditation, training the imagination and channeling the emotions to achieve mystical visions.  They ideal way, Shapira taught, was to "witness one's thoughts to correct negative habits and character traits." A thought observed will start to weaken, especially negative thoughts, which he advised students not to enter into but examine dispassionately. If they sat on the bank watching their stream of thoughts flow by, without being swept away by them, they might achieve a form of meditation called hashkatah: silencing the conscious mind.  He also preached "Sensitization to Holiness," a process of discovering the holiness within oneself.  The Hasidic tradition included mindfully attending to everyday life, as eighteeth-century teacher Alexander Susskind taught: "When you eat and drink, you experience enjoyment and pleasure from the food and drink. Arouse yourself every moment to ask in wonder, "What is this enjoyment and pleasure?  What is it that I am tasting?"

The Golden Rule seems to balance each religion.  How do we get so askew?

Thomas Merton had this to say:

The Merton Reflection for the Week of October 22, 2007

One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the [Adolf] Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it at all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing. . . . .
            The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.
            It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.

Thomas Merton. "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann" in Raids on the Unspeakable. New York: New Directions Publishing Co., 1964: 45, 46-47.

Thought to Remember:

[T]hose who have invented and developed atomic bombs, thermonuclear bombs, missiles; who have planned the strategy of the next war; who have evaluated the various possibilities of using bacterial and chemical agents: these are not the crazy people, they are the sane people.

I think it is why we must remember the words of Robin Williams.

You're only given a little spark of madness.  You mustn't lose  it.

Book Cover

If you grew up when I did -

This is a long poem and I couldn't find it on-line, so that meant typing it in, and I may not type the whole thing, but I will begin,  since it brings up so much of the childhood of those of us who were raised in the 50's and matured in the 60's.   When I lived in Florida, there was a sign, "You are only 90 miles from Communism."   The threat seems silly in retrospect but we were raised to fear.   This poem shows how ludicrous it all was, and maybe provides some sanity, or perhaps after the last posting, I should say insanity, with which to view the day.

Even the title of this poem is long.   : )

The poem is by  DAVID CLEWELL.

    How the Visiting Poet Ended Up in the
    Abandoned Nike Missile Silo in Pacific,
    Missouri, After Surviving a Morning of
    Grade-School Classroom Appearances on
    Behalf of One of the Better Impulses in the
          History of Human Behavior


Because it was lunchtime, and I wasn't hungry.  Because I asked
the man with the keys. And because most people had stopped
years ago, he gladly walked me down the road, through acres of
under the no-longer-electrifying fence to an overgrown mound of
where a pair of doors, ridiculously thick, angled into the ground.
He sprang the padlocks, and then with his crowbar we pried and
until those doors finally gave. He showed me down a long
by flashlight, until we hit bottom, standing suddenly in the middle of
another one of those it-seemed-like-a-pretty-good-idea-at-the-time
cockeyed Cold War motifs: a cavernous bunker out of nowhere,
one of four whose aim was protecting St. Louis in the tenuous
    50's and 60's.
Most U.S. cities of consequence were ringed by these underground
where Nike Hercules missiles with nuclear warheads could be
then guided to vaporize enemy bombers - a desperate last line of
to prevent the Russians from dropping their blood-Red nuclear
And never mind the ensuing blast, the politics and bombast,
the unavoidable fallout.  Maybe, just maybe, what might be a
would be visited on the boondocks alone, while the cities
theoretically were saved for a more consequential future.

And I was thinking surely this was some overblown, cartoonish
opposite of the do-it-yourself backyard shelter
that Benny the Ball's father never did quite finish building in 1962.
The Ball and I would take refuge there anyway, smoking Kool
after pilfered Kool - no end of the fourth grade, not to mention
the world, that we could see.  We were veterans of the weekly air-
drills at Hamilton School, where every kid was issued actual dog
so we could be identified in case of the unthinkable, according to
the lovely Miss Jago, our first real bombshell teacher.  In case
    worse came
to worse.  Since she'd put it that way, Miss Jago was almost all
we ever thought about. Back upstairs, bent over our desks
in the middle of New Jersey, halfway between Philadelphia and
    New York,
we couldn't help ourselves: yes, we were small, but we kept busy
doing the bigger arithmetic - what we most needed was more
    time, and then
one day our indefinite lives would finally add up to something.

The poem goes on, questioning how anyone thought these missiles could work as "salvation", and how cities were allotted "protection."   St. Louis had four, Chicago had eleven, and Kansas City had five.   The base was officially dismantled in 1967.

Seeing the home of the missile also changes the poet's afternoon lesson plan on poetry and metaphor.  He realizes these kids also face tough news:  "suicide bombings, anthrax, sleeper cells ..."

The poem ends with these lines. 

                   I promised them
there's never any great excuse for poems. But even at their worst,
they're not exactly weapons of mass destruction.  And we can always
find them if we need to. They keep appearing, inexplicably, all
    over the place.
There's no telling why that is - not even here, a moment before
grows so unnaturally quiet, in what could have been one more
misguided attempt at a last line in their defense.

I'm sorry to tease you with only a part.  Look for the whole poem, and build your own defense.