Geographically, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery was closer than that of Elijah McClain because it occurred only an hour’s drive from where I grew up and where people who mean a great deal to me have family members. But for some reason McClain’s death, although it occurred all of 1,600 miles away in Aurora, Colorado, felt closer. I did not understand why until recalling two poems written more than a decade ago. The memory of both forced me to sit down and wonder how it was something written so far in the past was having such a powerful impact on my life in 2020.
The first composition is a song lyric titled “ELI-JAH” originally published in the first edition of the novel Songs from the Black Skylark zPed Music Player (sung by a character named Ruzahn), and later in the poetry collection titled Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black. It is about a man who refuses to accept reports his brother has been killed so he keeps singing his name, Eli-Jah, to let him know he’s committed to finding him. The complete lyric is too lengthy for the purposes of this post but these are the last 2 verses:
The second text which surprised me with an unexpected emotional connection to McClain is 2 lines at the end of the poem “Vampire Song: The Last Bloodfeast,” also from Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black. I recalled when writing the lines that they sounded strange and I changed them several times but always switched back because somehow they felt honest. Reading them, now, I’m stunned at how close they come to an image combination frequently associated with Elijah McClain: the violin and kittens, for his compassionate practice of playing for them on his lunch breaks. This is the quote from “Vampire Song”:
“Soft upon my right thigh, an oddly-colored kitten
There is a possibility I’m making more of these parallels than I should and some might even argue I am forcing them where there are none. They would have a right to that belief.
Before identifying the subconscious links stirring within me such a strong response to the shooting death of McClain, I considered writing a blog titled Music for a Black Skylark in Mourning to express the lingering grief. So I looked for a music video with the words “Black Skylark” in the title and found two. Either one, I felt, could serve as a worthy tribute to McClain and believe he would have appreciated either. The one with which I’ve chosen to close is from volume 5 of the China Meditation Ethno Music Project and titled “A Black Skylark.”
Author of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.
Compassion provides the means by which we walk a mile in each other’s shoes and learn to value our common humanity enough to invest in its immense potential. This is something many of us know very well, but which a lot of people choose to avoid for different reasons.
One motive behind the choice to sidestep this awareness is because when walking, or recognizing the value of, the path of another person’s life we sometimes discover tracks leading back to our own door. When such trails take us to the beginning of a joyful or healing experience in someone else’s life, it is easy to smile at the revelation and quietly celebrate the triumph.
But if they guide us to a point of disempowering trauma which our actions, words, or biases helped trigger in the existence of an individual or the collective being of a nation, acknowledging one’s role in the creation of their suffering can become more difficult. Apply this idea to a variety of scenarios and we begin to see why many might have a problem approaching situations from a perspective based on compassion:
Shaka Senghor and the Transformational Power of Compassion
A second reason someone might hesitate to embrace exercising compassion as a basic component of their daily practices is the perceived price we pay when holding ourselves accountable for causes as well as effects. That price may be viewed as an existential risk, or a stress-laden sacrifice that could comprise anything from hard-earned financial resources to time-consuming labor and fragile relationships.
Why? Because practicing compassion in the 21st century means going beyond logging accusations of social, political, or domestic injustices, and taking the additional step of volunteering ways to correct them. Holding oneself accountable for producing a healing or restorative effect upon deteriorating lives or conditions can be a difficult thing to do. And yes: a challenging sacrifice to make.
Settling into the Year 2017
As the world settles into 2017, opposition opposed to presidential administrations even before they get underway, war-hawks eager to assert dominance over distant lands, increasing disease, and expanding poverty provide many opportunities for modeling what President Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Taking the risks and confronting the agonies, however, is not something we do to proclaim ourselves as heroic or saintly. We do it in answer to the needs and demands of our times, following the examples set by so many before this present hour.
For men and women to comfortably adapt to a state of nihilistic indifference is to declare hope itself a sad delusion and compassion a spiritual fantasy. None of us are wealthy enough to pay such a fatal cost.
We declare a partnership in mindfulness with citizens of the global community because these words remain true: Compassion saves lives, builds communities, and restores nations by minimizing tendencies to glamorize hatred, and by maximizing the capacity for manifesting love. Compassion––keeps hope alive.
January 1, 2017
Bright Skylark Literary Productions
PLEASE NOTE: This book review is an extended version of the one previously published on Goodreads:
When I first learned the author of Already Here, the Matter of Love, had used quotes from my work in her new book, I thought for some reason that the entire project would be a collection of quotations by diverse individuals. I was definitely mistaken.
Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised by her choice to use the quote in the Postered Poetics art graphic above. It is from the poem “Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying.” The poem contains a number of haikus which readers seem fond of sharing on social media but this one is generally ignored and I sometimes if I possibly overreached with the imagery, which is in fact intended to encourage the kind of awakening discussed in the subject of this review.
Revising Your Habitual Life MO
Already Here is a passionately-considered and beautifully-presented work on staking your claim to joy and sanity in a world where so many are now convinced that the opposite must necessarily be the norm. From the book’s very first pages, Kelly Corbet invites her readers to “Think Again” and cautions them that, “What you’re about to catch a glimpse of will probably not match your habitual life MO.” Why does that turn out to be a good thing? Because the habitual life MO for so many of us denizens of Earth within these early years of the 21st century is one defined by war, terrorism, poverty, domestic violence, xenophobia, disease, and other atrocities that do not have to exist.
Imagine if we chose as eagerly to cultivate practices which increase the presence of Love and Joy in the world as we do to engage actions which hasten the destruction of our fellow human beings. That is within realm of possibility for everyone. Corbet is too wise a writer to promise a cure for all of humanity’s current failings. But she happily offers an important contribution to the body of literature illustrating ways to position ourselves to experience as great a sense of delight in our lives as we do sorrow or tragedy. For starters, she suggests the following 4 points as the “foundational essence” of Already Here:
Different wise souls have shared similar insights but when confronted by overwhelming chaos in the world (consider the gun violence crisis, the apparent total absence of ethics in various industries, mass kidnappings and epidemic rapes in different countries, etc.) many find themselves without the strength of any meaningful convictions. Then someone comes along to stoke the flames of forgotten wisdom and bit by bit we start to find our way back to more humane frames of mind.
If the author did nothing more than spout wishful generalizations throughout the pages of Already Here there would be little reason to take the book seriously. As it is, however, she backs up her core principles with rigorous (and yet somehow playful) examinations of language, philosophical ponderings strengthened by scientific reasoning, and short exercises intended to increase your capacity for experiencing a deeper sense of delight through everyday living.
On the Orlando Massacre and One Pet Peeve
I received a copy of Already Here (beautifully autographed with hand-scripted calligraphy) just a few days before the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. While meditating upon the painful senselessness of the killings, I couldn’t help wondering if the shooter might not have made a profoundly different choice if he had taken time to tap into an innate sense of thrilling wonder within his own being instead of building up deadly rage against others based on imagined slights or rejections. Certainly he––and far too many like him––would have discovered more reasons to simply enjoy sharing the available music than latching onto delusional motives to end the lives of 49 people who had never caused him harm.
My primary criticism of Already Here, the Matter of Love, is that it deserves a good index but has none at all. That does not make reading the book or taking useful advantage of its exercises any less gratifying. It would simply provide a helpful tool for scholars and researchers looking to quickly locate specific exercises or key references.
Among those references is the highly-intriguing selection of authors quoted throughout the text. These include: Simone De Beauvoir, Pierre Theilhard de Chardin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Albert Einstein, Kahlil Gibran, Vincent Van Gogh, Dr. Amit Goswami, William James, Kabir, John Lennon, C.S. Lewis, Nelson Mandela, Jalal al-Din Rumi, Mother Theresa, Walt Whitman, Marianne Williamson, Pharrell Williams, and quite a few more.
Despite any purported shortcomings, there are those who may be inclined to describe Already Here as an instant modern classic of its kind. They just might be right in that assessment.
© July 2016
Bright Skylark Literary Productions
“If the idea of loving those whom you have been taught to recognize as your enemies is too overwhelming, consider more deeply the observation that we are all much more alike than we are unalike.” ©2015 quote and art by Aberjhani (from Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays) Art inspired by original sculpture by Marie Uchytilováe
After learning about the amazing works of the late sculptor Marie Uchytilová (1924-1989), especially her masterpiece “The Memorial to the Children of Lidice," it became easy to see why a growing number of people are inspired by her. Yet she should be much better known and more celebrated than she is at this time.
Is the lack of recognition of her powerful creative contributions to humanity because of her gender, or due to her national origin of Czechoslovakia? Or might it be because humanity is still committing in so many different ways the atrocity she documented through her great historical work? Whatever the reason may be, the overwhelming evidence of the artist’s singular accomplishment speaks for itself. The minimal credit allotted her implies a case of guerrilla decontextualization by omission.
The “Memorial to the Children of Lidice” is also sometimes referred to as the “Memorial to Children Victims of War.” On days such as the United Nations’ Human Rights Day, or Day to End Racism, or World Peace Day, it can be difficult to think of such children. They’re the ones who never lived long enough to fight for their rights. They never got to present humanity with whatever unique gifts of creative vision, persuasive leadership, social influence, or scientific aptitude they may have possessed.
What can be most difficult, when thinking of them, is that we have made such little progress since the horrendous massacre (part of an act of retaliation ordered by Adolph Hitler) that occurred on June 10, 1942, in the Czech Republic village of Lidice, not so very far northwest of Prague. That massacre which “The Memorial to the Children of Lidice" documents so hauntingly.
One of the great miracles of those who sacrifice everything––as Marie Uchytilová did––for the sake of creating an enduring masterwork of consciousness-raising art is that their voices always manage to reach hearts eager to hear what they have to say. What Uchytilová’s voice had to say to this author’s heart inspired the creation of the quotation artwork posted with this essay.
Someone might very well rummage through hidden details of her life and come up with reasons to challenge my assertion that the gifted sculptress deserves greater acknowledgement than has been granted. I would, then, still have to contend that while one might choose to dismiss her, it is hardly possible to imagine ignoring the intensified brilliance of the souls of 82 children emanating from the bronze splendor of her tribute to them.
© Human Rights Day 2015
Bright Skylark Literary Productions
You can enjoy part 1 of this article by clicking here. Part 2 begins now:
Impressive 21st-century technological advances notwithstanding, we have no reasons at present believe our modern global version of the Tower of Babel is about to crumble and then reconstruct itself any time soon. Terrorists, warlords, and state governments alike would do best to include within their strategic plans sufficient measures of sanity beyond the impulses to attempt to coerce each other into unlikely forms of submission.
Different values and worldviews do not have to mean inevitable violence or conflict. They can mean greater enrichment of each other’s lives. Leadership theorist Max De Pree wrote as truthfully as anyone has when he stated:
“We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion” (Leadership is an Art).
That holds true in modern times whether you propose to be a leader of young malleable individuals eager to become catalysts for positive change or of more established groups dedicated to securing a specific legacy. What matters, above all else, is that everybody matters.
Diversity is an aspect of human existence that cannot be eradicated by terrorism or war or self-consuming hatred. It can only be conquered by recognizing and claiming the wealth of values it represents for all. The situation would be quite different if the violent extremism which has come to characterize anarchistic terrorism and government-sanctioned warfare actually resolved anything. The problem is they do not. Advances are claimed on one front and then annihilation––physical, mental, and spiritual–– witnessed on another. Global poverty, dis-empowering illiteracy, health crises, and human trafficking linger like the ultimate toxic nuclear radiation. The hearts of infants beat their last, blood dries on abandoned corpses, and souls take their leave of now useless broken bones.
Of Love and Bridges
The 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, whose poetry in Persian has been translated into superb English versions by the 21st-century American poet Coleman Barks, told us that “Love is the bridge between you and everything.” Those are marvelous words to contemplate when struggling to make sense of the avoidable carnage in Paris, Syria, Nigeria, Mali, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Equally marvelous to contemplate is the confluence of sensibilities that has bypassed time, space, and nationality to make Barks’ name virtually synonymous with that of Rumi’s.
Paris in particular is known in part for its many bridges and is legendary as a place that evokes mesmerizing creative expressions of love, in both the greatest of artists and the most ordinary men and women. However, if the idea of loving those whom you have been taught to recognize as your enemies is too overwhelming, consider more deeply the likelihood that we are all much more alike than we are unalike.
Individual cultures and ideologies have their appropriate uses but none of them erase or replace the universal experiences common to all human beings. What civilization does not contain within its histories tales of sons, daughters, husbands, and wives who have been lost to conflict, and whose deaths left gaping voids that could be filled with nothing but grief? In what land do people not hope that the coming New Year will bring with it fewer reasons to bow before fear or despair and greater inspiration applied to an empowered sense of hope and dignity? The more healing options do not have to be dragged into a disposal bin designed for unrealistic dreams and desires.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.