“Death wins nothing here,
Continued from PART 1
Rodger told himself in particular that “women rejected” him and therefore deserved punishment while knowing nothing about these anonymous women’s personal realities. And most damning of all, the mental model on which he relied convinced him that destroying life was the only way to conquer life. The possibility that he might discover joy and live peacefully outside his extremely narrow conceptions seems to have never occurred to him.
I had undertaken the completion of Journey through the Power of the Rainbow in the first place partly to help individuals, in general, construct healthier perspectives for looking at and dealing with existence as we know it in the 21st century. Rodger’s deadly rampage was a vicious reminder––not that anybody required one with the civil disruptions in Ukraine and Syria still disturbing the collective peace–– that humanity itself still needs to “get the work done” when it comes to dismantling belief in violence as a solution to disagreements or disappointments.
An Affirmation of Humanity’s Potential
News of the massacre on May 23 shoved communities across the globe even deeper into pits of despair already made fatally toxic by escalating conflicts, the intensification of climate meltdown, and the heartbreak of #BringBackOurGirls. Yet, in one of those strange ironies that no one can ever anticipate, news of Angelou’s death gave the global village a reason to celebrate her astonishingly triumphant life. Hers was the towering example of a mental, spiritual, and literary model that affirmed humanity’s potential to transform the self-consuming shadows of emotional chaos into the healing light of inspired affirmation.
She had spent almost nine decades “getting the work done,” creating a legacy that enhanced rather than diminished people’s capacity for embracing faith in life. In Angelou’s own words, her mission was “not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Her example had been set as beautifully as a Thanksgiving table covered with a feast of grace large enough to feed an entire neighborhood. It should be easy enough to honor that example simply by enjoying the splendid wonder of its incredible beauty.
4 June, 2014
“To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity.” –The Charter for Compassion
You could say I recently received a double dose of compassion. The first came in the form of a friendly reminder from fellow wordsmith Barbara Kaufmann that the founder of the Charter for Compassion movement, Karen Armstrong, was going to be a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday program. The second came in the form of a photograph of the late much-loved actor Paul Walker assisting a group of children. Reach Out Worldwide, the organization founded by Walker, had paired the image with one of my quotes about compassion back in September and it resurfaced on Twitter and Facebook following Walker’s tragic death.
1. Paul Walker
For many, the death of the late actor and humanitarian was a shock as well as a revelation. It was a shock partly because he was so young and partly because people generally prefer Hollywood scenarios where the beautiful heroes and heroines triumph over brutal opposition rather than succumb to it. Most––would prefer that reality were a better respecter of persons. But it––like gravity, time, or disease––is not. Reality as we live it most often takes on qualities like mercy, grace, and yes, dynamic compassion, when we choose to endow it with such powerful elements.
Walker’s death was a revelation in the sense that millions recognized him from his action-hero, dramatic, and comedic roles in an acting career that spanned almost the entirety of his 40-years-long life. What millions did not know was that he did much more than lend Reach Out Worldwide his name. He gave it his living presence in dedicated attempts to alleviate suffering in the lives of others. It is neither a sentimental statement nor an exaggerated one to say that Walker apparently chose to commit as much of himself––not just his money or his time or talents but HIMSELF–– to living as much compassion as he could. Surely that is one of the better ways anyone might wish to be remembered.
2. Karen Armstrong
I first became aware of Karen Armstrong in my days as a bookseller. Her publication of such audaciously-titled works as Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (1991) and A History of God (1993) were also revelatory. It seemed unlikely that anyone should come up with anything new to say about spirituality or religious practices after centuries of human beings seeking to overcome human tragedies through studied devotion to the ways of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, different schools of philosophy, and other disciplines. However, as a former nun whose writings sidestepped culture clashes to affirm the essential spiritual unity of the major religious traditions (much in fact the way definitive passages in Rumi’s poetry does) Armstrong had a great deal to say.
And she did so even as calls for “holy wars” in the form of terrorist attacks and retaliations in the form of full-scale military battles soaked the opening pages of the history of the 21st century with the blood of men, women, and children alike. Upon receiving the TED Prize in 2008, she shared with the world her vision of compassion as a tool for nonviolent conflict resolution:
“I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.”
As ironic as it may sound, I was, unknowingly, so immersed in service to a similar vision through Creative Thinkers International and diverse literary endeavors that I remained unaware of the charter for far too long. The really great news is that although the charter itself has already been composed by contributors from across the globe, the perfect time to charge ahead on the “propagation” aspect of Armstrong’s request by sharing and signing it is right now. With that in mind, I consider it not an honor but an extraordinary blessing to add my name to the ever-growing list of supporters for the Charter for Compassion.
After kicking off the Text and Meaning Series with an article on Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech in August, the latest installment is on Albert Camus’ classic book, The Myth of Sisyphus. The Text and Meaning Series is one reminder that some of the battles we've found ourselves struggling through in 2013–– as if thrashing while asleep and trying to wake from nightmares–– have been fought before. In many cases it was believed victory had already been won.
I started the Text and Meaning Series largely as a way of introducing classic works into conversations on current topics and events. It presently consists of the following:
1) Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech
2) Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
3) Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
4) Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus
Employing MLK’s I Have a Dream speech to launch the series made sense because the year 2013, now drawing rapidly toward its end, marked the 50th anniversary of the speech. Focusing on it also provided a way to help amplify dialogues on multiculturalism and race in America. That such dialogues must not be stifled have been made disturbingly apparent this year by several high-profile events, from the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin to the glaring lack of diversity at the Emmy Awards and subsequent reports in Huffington Post on racial divisions in Hollywood.
The article Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus takes me into somewhat new territory as an author. Outside of my writings on W.E.B. Du Bois for the Philosophical Library Series and my profile on Alain Locke for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, I’ve written very little about philosophy or philosophers. However, with November 7, 2013, marking Camus’ 100th birthday, I had to expand the scope of my focus.
It is well known that Camus generally considered himself more of a novelist than a philosopher. The extraordinary power of The Stranger and The Plague have led many people to agree with him and to think of him more as a serious author whose works in fiction and drama were heavily influenced by his study of, and passion for, philosophy. What I appreciate the most about him is what I tend to appreciate the most about all writers who achieve the levels of mastery and accomplishment that he did. I respect the way he gave such huge chunks of his life to his art. I admire the way he structured his art as a form of service to humanity. And I treasure the enduring excellence of the example that he fought, endured, and labored to provide.
4 November, 2013
“We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
War is an addiction to chaos that shreds human souls into tattered rags of trauma. In acknowledgement of Rumi’s 806th birthday, I’m all for Syria, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and all other countries and organizations at war with each other to exchange their guns and bombs for poems by Mevlana. Replace tanks and drones with open mics and let everyone brave enough go at it. Whoever spits the most verses, quatrains, long poems, or quotes by Rumi wins the right to proclaim peace and throw a feast in honor of sanity, brotherhood, sisterhood, and childhood.
Is that likely to happen? No, not very, but the ecstatic beauty and soulful grace of Rumi’s poetry inspires human hearts to believe in possibilities beyond the predictably fatal. So does the Herculean effort it took for him to produce the works for which the world now reveres him: the ever-astonishing Masnavi, his discourses, the Divan of Shams of Tabriz, and various letters and sermons.
As one of his most celebrated translators, Coleman Barks, has noted with amazement, Rumi seems to have composed no less than a dozen poems every single day for the final 12 years of his extraordinary life. Within that incandescent corpus are works that address nearly aspect of what it means to be human and what it could mean to embrace life with a sense of divine co-creation. This last idea, in modern terms, is much less mystical than some might think when considering the environmentalist concept of people as stewards of the earth rather abusers of it. (continues below after video)
Rumi’s legacy is one of many that remind us there are options to giving violence control over our individual and collective destinies. Moreover, life- and history-altering transformations can take place when we least expect them to occur. One such transformation in Rumi’s life was when he met Shams of Tabriz, the man whose influence is generally cited as the catalyst that caused Rumi to evolve into a whirling light of divinely-inspired creative genius. For those who daily discover and rediscover his work, it sometimes happens with the sudden realization that the idea of “us versus them” may be less accurate––and far less important–– than the idea that not only are “we also them” but “they are also us.”
Sept 30, 2013
Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, first published by Facts On File in 2003 and through Infobase Publishing in 2010, is now available as a Kindle Edition on Amazon and that is big news for a lot of good reasons.
For one, 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance’s publication and a new edition of a new edition of a modern award-winning classic is always a good way to celebrate such occasions.
Secondly, advances in technology proved a powerful component of the Harlem Renaissance just as it has in the contemporary era. During the 1920s and 1930s, important developments took place through the growing radio and the recording industries. Those advances not only allowed African Americans to showcase and preserve the marvels of black music such as jazz, ragtime, and the blues. It gave also them a foothold in an industry that allowed many to earn a living (though just barely for some) and a few to attain wealth.
Another significant development during the period was the growth of the publishing industry in New York City and other urban locales. Without that expansion, the odds of authors such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston becoming as well known to readers as they are today would have decreased considerably.
The Kindle story is one of the defining chapters of the digital era. In many ways, it represents the same kind of growth in publishing that the establishment of important literary houses did during the Harlem Renaissance Jazz Age. It has helped make more titles available to more readers while simultaneously increasing opportunities for more authors to publish their books. It has not––and should not––replaced the print industry but it is now an integral part of publishing overall.
The Harlem Renaissance as a whole meant forward movement in regard to the practice of democracy in the United States and astonishing social and political progress for the generations of African Americans who, with substantial cross-cultural assistance, made it happen. A Kindle Edition of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance means forward movement of different kind: for this specific book and toward the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.