Archives

Be Not Afraid

The merchants of fear are busy on social media in the wake of the Paris tragedy. ISIL has cast suspicion on every innocent refugee trying to flee its cruel regime. People are assuming that every one of them is a potential agent of terror. I feel sickened and saddened  – not only by the carnage in the City of Light, but also by the vicious campaign being waged against innocent people in a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable impact. Are there any quick solutions to this situation? No. It is a logistical minefield. However, the response to catastrophe should not include intolerance toward those caught up in it. Anti-refugee bigotry is being promoted all over social media. It touches people I know; it strikes locally and it strikes internationally.

We have opened the gates of our hearts – to let out compassion; to let in hate. And thus the terrorists win. Hatred is their currency. It is cheap to mint and readily-accepted by far too many of us. But the faces stamped on these coins are quite often our own.

A number of these refugees – Syrians, at any rate – are professionals in various fields. Contrary to popular belief, there IS an education system in Syria. These folks read, write, study, have hopes of a better life. They’re not warriors of any sort. They lack access to arms – unlike the forces to whom certain more powerful nations are quite willing to sell weapons. Since 2011, as of this past September, American munitions makers have sold $7.7 BILLION dollars’ worth of arms to Syrian forces! Sadly, the US has accepted only 1434 refugees from that country. Canada has provided $718 million worth of weaponry. We’ve accepted 2300 refugees. So-called “military aid” doesn’t always fall into the hands of freedom fighters. And a considerable stockpile of US-made weapons constitutes a legacy of the Iraq war. “Many of these same countries fueling the slaughter have also been some of the least willing to grant amnesty to Syria’s refugees.” (US Uncut, Sept. 4, 2015)

I read a poignant interview a couple days ago by a pharmacist who wanted to come to Canada. He’s not unusual. He just wants to be safe, with his family, and work toward a decent future. The majority of Syrian refugees are women and children of both genders, despite what some would have us believe. 50% are under the age of 17! Not even old enough to graduate from our Canadian high schools. 24% are women aged 18-39, and 22% are men in that age range. So to those who try to spread the disinformation that most refugees are males of “fighting age” – you are WRONG. Refer to the UN Refugee Agency. Updated statistics are always available. Here’s the link to their figures. Don’t take my word for this; check for yourselves. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

These refugees, contrary to popular misconception, are mainly families – and they’re powerless to stand against the kind of weaponry that ISIL has at its disposal (often provided by Western countries, as noted above). They cannot simply rise up and fight back. They would be slaughtered – creating a nation of widows and orphans, worse than it is now. There’s bravery and there’s futility. Big difference. Yet I keep reading posts that the men ought to “go back home and fight.” With WHAT? Sticks? They’d be facing assault rifles and explosives and whatever else ISIL has managed to acquire. Purchased, captured or stolen, these weapons can easily fall into merciless hands.

“Ah,” you might say, “But ISIL has infiltrated the refugee camps and planted their agents among these people.” Probably true – as far as it goes. However, those agents would most likely constitute a small percentage. One Syrian passport found near a suicide bomber’s corpse does not equal four million terrorists. Two, or five, or a dozen passports still don’t signify that most refugees mean to do harm. But people bent on inflicting devastation are very good at disguising their intentions. They learn to blend in. Otherwise, it would be too easy to spot their presence. They surround themselves with innocents, knowing full well that when they do act, those innocents will be instantly burdened with their wrongdoings. Suspicion is terror’s constant – and in some ways, far more insidious – companion.

I did some fact-checking and discovered that right here in Canada, 10% of us have criminal records. While some of those crimes may have been minor, I’d guess that maybe 3 out of 10 – at least – were not. Canada is the home of Clifford Olsen, Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo, Marc Lepine, Alan Legere and a whole collection of other brutes. We’ve spawned the FLQ. We failed to prevent Babbar Khalsa from planting a bomb on Air India Flight 182 out of Toronto/Montreal and killing 329 people – 268 of whom were Canadian citizens.

Our collective Canadian hands are NOT clean! If we believe otherwise, we are lying to ourselves. And for every hateful word or deed, for every hopeful human being denied a chance to realize that hope, the stains spread and darken. We cannot distance ourselves from the bleeding. We cannot close our borders and turn away the victims of brutality and repression. This isn’t who we are as Canadians … is it?

We – together with the US and Cuba – denied SS St Louis entry to a safe port in 1939. We sent hundreds of Jewish passengers back to Europe, where many of them died in Auschwitz and Sobibor. Surely we’ve grown more civilized since that terrible time? Surely we have …

Reading Facebook this weekend, I’m no longer convinced of our Canadian cohesion in the face of fear. But I can’t generalize. That would be unfair. I’d be guilty of the same narrow-mindedness as those who try to generalize about Syrian refugees. I think most of us are still kind, altruistic, reasonable, humane. I just wish those of us who lack these qualities weren’t quite so loud about it. But in the end, we must inevitably reveal our true character, for good or ill. May the good assume the upper hand. And may we not be afraid, because this is what terror networks aim to do – make us afraid. And then will come other emotions. Fear makes us turn on each other. It fractures our unified stance against a common enemy. No wonder ISIL is pressuring us to do this. “Divide and conquer” is an approach as old as humanity.

But division can never bring peace. That has to start from within. We can’t let go of each other. We can’t break our own civil society into fragments. There will always be someone waiting to take advantage, poised and ready to hide in the spaces between. We must not allow this. Not ever.

Advertisements

Do Unto Others (or not …)

It is puzzling to watch how, in various social media (and in a wider sense as well), some Christians reach out to other Christians and interact with them as a closed circle, yet fail to extend their friendship quite so generously with those who might either be struggling with their faith, or simply not Christian at all. I suppose it’s natural to do this. Like seeks like. But when it becomes self-focused, then it also becomes less than inclusive. At least, that has been my personal observation just lately.

I wonder if this is what Jesus would have intended. The Christian Church is shrinking in membership. Is this sense of exclusivity a part of the reason? A retreat behind the barricades of faith, so to speak? A feeling that “our church” is better than “your church” because WE do it right and YOU don’t? I have heard this sentiment explicitly expressed from the pulpit. It disturbed me so much (coupled with the anti-scientific mindset I encountered) that I stopped attending services anywhere. My gardens are my sacred places these days. God – genderless and remote but still present – glimmers above my head and dances in the leaf shadows. I suspect I have become something of an animist. I detect that holy but unfathomable presence in almost everything, from the stones and water to the air and light. It doesn’t wear the skin of either a man or a woman. My fundamental Christian acquaintances will no doubt be concerned for my soul and consider me damned for eternity. I have done many things worthy of damnation, after all. But is this one of them?

I’ve belonged to a “traditional” church but now live at some distance from it and am no longer a participant – although I hasten to note that these are fine people with beautiful hearts. So it’s not their fault; I’m just standing outside the circle. My home congregation from childhood is in another region entirely. I have been exploring the Jewish roots of my father’s Levy lineage, with considerable and increased attention. That is the surname I’ve carried from infancy and its history is undeniable.

And then there’s Yeshua, Jesus, the Jew at the foundations of Christianity. He never once claimed to be anything else but Jewish. I think too many Christians have forgotten that over the years. Western society harbours a groundswell of anti-Semitism that I find frightening. The situation in the Middle East has some bearing on this, but it’s not the whole story. There’s this knee-jerk reactionism that gets directed at a much broader spectrum. So I quietly research my name and its ancient antecedents and wonder if we will ever truly be comfortable with our own identities, any of us, regardless of beliefs or cultures or places of residence. I doubt it. Contention is inherent in humanity. We do not play well with others. If we believe otherwise, we are lying to ourselves. No one ought to get too smug about our capacity for committing acts of goodness.

Meanwhile, my family’s home in Yarmouth will become increasingly our “prison” owing to my husband’s physical deterioration, thanks to ALS. Its address is not far from several mainstream churches. People from these congregations know us and many also know what we are dealing with. Yet David has received nary a visitor from any church, except Mormon – and they were total strangers to him until then. He appreciated their attention. Otherwise – nada. Nary a card. Nary a knock on the door. Nothing. He is confronted with mortality and it will be a terrible conclusion to a life bravely lived. His atheism is, I suspect, more along the lines of agnosticism. He has a keen intellect and his mind closes no doors entirely. It doesn’t need to. The religious community closes them for him. We have been the recipients of generosity from many sources but all of them were secular. I do find this curious.

Still … he can hardly hike out to the nearest place of worship these days. And he’s probably not alone. Well, yes, he IS alone in that terrible sense. On his hospital admission forms, he always writes “Anglican”. He was born in England although he deems himself 100% Canadian but that one tie remains. I believe the last time he saw any clergy member one-on-one was in a hospital setting. And for a religion that originally emphasized outreach and conversion, this strikes me as rather sad.

corberrie church IMG_3731

 

The former Catholic Church in Corberrie, NS – now unused and no longer consecrated.

I took this photo on a recent drive around the area. I have never attended this church, however. 

A Salute to Seafarers

Lobster-Trap Dumping Day
(Sandford 2012)

The moon swims on an indigo sea, a drift
of mist across the horizon’s swell and shift,
star-gleam, wave-play, foam-sigh on breakwater.
I gaze from the wharf and shiver with my daughter
to watch the boats process below our places,
traps bright as candy, ropes, far-looking faces
already out there, already somewhere ahead

on the open ocean. No fanfare here – instead,
just a scatter of women, a quiet man with phone
to capture the moment. We move to the rocks, alone
in the gathering silver. A last boat leaves us there.
Its trail of light is hung on the edge of air
as we turn to go, while moonset drags the sky
with a wrap of cloud. We smile – my daughter and I –
and stumble back to our car in the rising dawn.
When we pause for one last glance, the lights are gone.

Brenda Levy Tate

Living by the ocean, as we do in Nova Scotia, entails both risk and reward. The rhythms of the tides lap our shores and pulse through our bodies, even when we’re far inland. There’s always an awareness of this regular beat, the monotone that never ceases keeping time. Click – high tide – click – low tide – and all the suspensions between: these are the measure of our days and years.

Whether or not our own families include those who fish or otherwise make their living from the waters, we all know people who do. Most of us enjoy their catches and support their efforts by purchasing fish. It is a fair exchange although, sadly, the market prices seem to have little bearing on what the fishermen receive.

And yes, I call them “fishermen” as opposed to “fishers” which, to me, are small and rather mean animals. Furthermore, I admit that in the Bible, the term “fishers of men” is used. That doesn’t make much of a case for “fishers”, though, because “of men” is pretty exclusive too. 

Women participate in the fishery as well. They’re included here. Language that is reshaped by political correctness can sometimes turn rather ugly and, to me, that’s the case with something as ancient and honorable as the fishing culture. When I was a child, catching brook trout, my Dad always used to call me “a good little fisherman” and I was fine with that. It’s just a term. I will continue to use it, because “fisherwomen” sounds so awkward … and besides, the “men” ending is part of “women” too. 

For those unfamiliar with this particular occupation, the first day of the lobster season probably holds little significance. For us, down in Districts 33 and 34 in southwestern N.S., it is a time for both celebration and anxiety. Termed “Dumping Day”, it signifies the placing or dumping of traps in each boat’s assigned grounds. They’re hauled by the thousands – up to 400 per boat, divided into manageable numbers and dumped on more than one trip – then cast into the sea, attached to buoys that mark their locations. The early morning of this day is observed by those on shore, who gather at wharves and other coastal sites to see the boats off. At Yarmouth Light, there’s always a crowd, enhanced by music and photographers and a breakfast for all present. The boats parade past, gleaming in the pre-dawn darkness. Their mast lights float like stars.

On the wharves themselves, closer to the actual departure of the boats, friends and families assemble to watch and bear witness. I prefer this; it allows me to see the action close up. It’s a more personal experience to stand, wave and wish good luck. My camera catches the foam, the crew balanced on the gunwale or standing on deck, the stacked traps, the procession of boats in a line of hope that strings across the horizon. No diamond necklace is as beautiful as this sight. I enjoy reading the inventive and often comical names given to these sturdy Cape Island craft: EZ-Go-n; Full of Bull; Obsession; Knot Too Shore. Then there are boats named for loved ones, usually children or wives. The family’s story rides on the waves. One cannot separate the boat from those whose lives depend on its bounty.

Almost inevitably, there will be some kind of mishap. The boats are heavily-laden and now and then, one will be swamped and come to grief. It is a good first day when this happens only once, or not at all. Sometimes, an engine will fail, or a crew member will be injured. At the very worst, during the several months of the season, a boat will be lost and her hands will perish in the bitter North Atlantic swells. This is the unthinkable; this is the knife-edge that touches every fishing community with its tracery of fear. Every seaside town or village has its own monuments to those whom the ocean has taken: some are visible, others carved on the hearts of the people. The list of surnames often contains considerable repetition – fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons, nephews and cousins, all gone from the world but never from remembrance. When we sit down to a lobster dinner, we are partaking of an accumulated heritage. We are also commemorating courage, determination and danger. No fine thing comes without its price.

But another Dumping Day has passed. The boats once more ply the Gulf of Maine and offshore currents, hauling traps, bearing their harvests, returning again and again. I often walk the shorelines here and step past washed blue and orange gloves, bits of wire mesh, rope, buoys. On a rough sea, it’s easy to drop something overboard. Lines and cables break. The evidence floats back to these rocky beaches where it lies unclaimed.

Here’s to a successful and safe fishery from now through to the end of May! Or, in the words of a Yarmouth business whose sign would probably be taken the wrong way in most inland places:

“Have a Good Dump!”

Image ImageImageImageImageImageImage

For further reading:
http://thisfish.info/fishery/15/

For All the Broken Butterflies

Image

For All the Broken Butterflies

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow. – Pavel Friedman, “The Butterfly”, June 4 1942

You are old now, torn by air and the too-sharp petals of every false flower                                
in the world. Nothing about you will stay any longer than your paths                                       
through the wet grass. Hopeful to the final probe, you prickle your tongue                                    
with sweet beads. Cobalt and ochre dust sifts through the morning’s thorns.

God writes your kind on parchment – haiku of a single hour. Early sun
burns through your dénouement. Foils turn to deltas of dry rivers.
Yet you fear no evil in the vacuum beyond this last garden.
Since you cannot hold memories, I would offer a few for each
of your journeys, my friend.

A woman grips her own innocence – round fruit on an open palm. Raised
hands,  juice between fingers, sticky lure you must never try to drink.
Shake free: clouds and walls, slam of a gate below you.

Taste now Ishmael’s wrist. Lick the salt desert from his skin.
Feel Hagar’s laugh, its bubble like water rising. Her son opens a spring
with his heel, bends toward the wet stones. Tremble your heart
against his pulse, then blow away.

Settle as a leopard on Khadija’s robe, companion to the slow
sandglass of her breath. Your veins are stitching gold and shadow.
Habibti, she murmurs – My own beloved. But you have such a tiny voice,
not made for love. Eyes on your wings open to watch her leave.
Their bruised edges she has chosen not to see.

Rest on a Roman’s plume, bring a kiss from his daughter. He cannot kill
you this time – evader of flags, hooves, spears, fire. You, the stroke
of light beyond an old man’s window. First visitor at a rolled tomb,
even before the women.

Wisp caught on a barb at Terezin. A small boy points and cries,
Mameh … look! He calls you angel, pinned on unforgiving wire.
Not even the bravest of all malachim will fly to this place,
his mother answers.

When death arrives at last, it always belongs to someone else.
So it is best not to remember everything I tell you.

Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2013
~ posted in an exhibit at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Western Branch ~

*The community of Terezin was the location of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where 12,000 children were kept prisoner during the Holocaust. 90% did not survive. Pavel Friedman, from whose poem I quote at the beginning, was one of those children. He later died at Auschwitz.