“Men and women who dedicate their lives to the realization of their gifts tend the office of that communion by which we are joined to one another, to our times, to our generation, and to the [human] race.”
––Lewis Hyde (The Gift)
I am ending the year 2017 the same way I started it: by recommitting myself to life-affirming values and productive best-practices. The hope is such commitment will help me and others continue to steer our way past the debris of political chaos and social nihilism which characterized too much of 2017 and thereby make 2018 a time of much greater unity and productivity.
In 2017 this translated into doing anything and everything necessary to complete a nonfiction book project on which I had been working for nearly a decade. It also meant increasing efforts to encourage the use of compassion as a primary tool for nonviolent conflict resolution.
Being able to say I met with significant measures of success on both fronts is a good feeling. These individual accomplishments, however, become much less satisfactory when considering how little an impact the call for compassion had on those who throughout the year 2017 convinced themselves that mass murder, as uselessly insane as it is, was a viable approach to achieving some kind of victory. Or some form of favor with divine authority.
Historic Tipping Point
While striving to reach certain goals (about which more will be said a little later) that component of history known as current events frequently interrupted my plans with its own agenda. Like authors, journalists, and artists all over the world watching the clashes between political uprisings and humanitarian urgencies, I responded in the best ways I could.
Some, like the massacre of 305 people at the al Rawda Mosque in Egypt on November 24 and the killing of 58 people (along with the loss of millionaire gunman Stephen Craig Paddock’s life) on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada (USA) on October 1 (just to give two examples) left me speechless for days; I was astounded at our collective inability to evolve beyond an apparent addiction to the cruelest kinds of pandemonium.
In addition: extreme alt right politics (often equated with white supremacy), scary fluctuations in the climate, and the ongoing disclosure of unacceptable sexual aggressiveness within business environments have created what many consider a historic tipping point for humanity. The question is whether we’re going to tip forward toward healing progression or tumble screaming backwards into even more aggravating mayhem. A certain president’s—that would be U.S. POTUS Donald Trump’s––decision to re-tweet inflammatory anti-Muslim videos and repeatedly bate unstable dictators has not been particularly comforting.
Various transgressions stirring furious indignation are not new. Does this mean they must remain unceasing? The level of expanded public outrage prompting corrective responses to perceived, and often confirmed, injustices represents a powerful shift in humankind’s shared awareness of its potential plight. And that in itself is reason to keep hope alive and kicking.
A Bridge of Silver Wings Reconsidered
Of all the issues worth pausing my writing and art projects long enough to join fellow citizens in public protests and advocacy, the one which actually prompted me to do so was the historic Renaming the Talmadge Bridge Symposium sponsored by the social justice advocacy group Span the Gap and the Beach Institute of Savannah, Georgia. Originally, I was slated to join participating panelists on stage at the Savannah Theatre along with the moderator, former Mayor Otis S. Johnson. Health issues, however, forced me to limit my participation to taking a front-row seat in the audience and accepting Span the Gap’s gracious acknowledgment of my contributions to the ongoing campaign.
The panelist who did go on stage included: civil rights attorney, pastor, and educator Francys Johnson, president of Georgia state NAACP; community organizer Bernetta B. Lanier; Connect Savannah’s community editor Jessica Leigh Lebos; former Chatham County commissioner John McMasters; Savannah Morning News columnist Dr. Mark Murphy; community activist Pamela Oglesby; and chairman of SCAD’s Architectural History Department Robin Williams.
My participation in discussing the need to change the name of the bridge from that of someone who openly championed white supremacy to one less racially antagonistic was less robust than I had preferred but I took some consolation in knowing I had helped create this momentous event through the publication of various essays and articles prior to it taking place. Among them:
The Renaming the Talmadge Bridge symposium did not end with any kind of firm commitment to immediately change the name of the causeway. The event did help raise public awareness of what’s at stake if it remains unchanged. It also inspired me to begin work on a play about the dynamics of inter-generational legacies and embracing the battle to correct social injustices.
Vigorous Applications of Compassion
The practice of compassion sat either at or near the top of the list of most crucial life-affirming values to which I re-committed myself in 2017. Working with partners at Charter for Compassion, I strove to drive home the point that a vigorous application of compassion in daily personal or professional encounters, the composition of government policies, and religious considerations could go a long way toward solving many of our most egregious dilemmas.
The following is a list of blog essays in which I attempted to present my case for advantages of applying a philosophy of universal compassion to everything from global warming and violent conflicts (domestic as well as international) to creative maladjustment, poem-making, and the agony of historic cultural shifts.
So: why all these diverse explorations of the application of the golden rule? Because there’s a lot more wisdom in doing unto others as we would have them do unto us than most people take time to consider.
NEXT: Chaos of 2017 sets stage for growth and greater unity in 2018 (part 2 of 2)
On any given day of the week, the creator of Postered Chromatic Poetics and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Aberjhani, may be found wearing any number of hats: historian, visual artist, poet, advocate for compassion, novelist, journalist, photographer, and editor. Having recently completed a book of creative nonfiction on his hometown of Savannah, Georgia (USA) he is currently writing a full-length play about the implications of generational legacies as symbolized by efforts to rename the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
Astonished might be the best word to describe my response to the extraordinary gif featuring the reportedly blind Native American George RedHawk’s amazing animation of Polish artist Tomasz Alen Kopera’s 2014 oil on canvas titled “S14.” That it had been posted by the TedX Colombo chapter along with the following quote from The River of Winged Dreams doubled the intensity of my surprise:
Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.
The image of the flame-breathing eagle (or possibly hawk?) atop the head of a man appeared to me like an angel of the more fiercely hybrid variety described in traditional texts of the King James Bible. I was struck by the parallel that the TedX Colombo group drew between it and the quote. And then the sense it made not only became very clear but reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s famous lines:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
Hope in this New Year 2016, after the carnage and heartbreaks that have dogged humanity since 9/11, cannot make a difference in the form of nothing more than passive contemplation. It has to exercise strength in the manner described by Charter for Compassion as compassionate action. But before anything else can be employed to make a meaningful difference, hope itself has to remain intact within the hearts and souls of individuals.
The word hope (or a form of it) appears some 29 times in The River of Winged Dreams and 39 times in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry. On this first day of the year 2016 I find myself invoking the word not so much for myself––though there are many reasons I probably should––as for all those who may have reached a point where they feel there is no such thing as hope. Or if there is, that it is meaningless in the face of calamities currently overrunning humanity. Those who believe that to be the case are at liberty to give it meaning of significant applicable substance.
Consider, for example, the millions of refugees whose determination has gone beyond redefining their individual lives to changing the course of history itself. Think of the wrongly-imprisoned men and women whose faith saw them through years of agonizing injustice and whose examples of forgiveness inspire so many others. Witness those whose struggle to breathe the toxic air of outrageously polluted cities have turned their desperation into rallying cries for nations to take definitive action to correct the extreme destructiveness of climate change.
The Bridge of Silver Wings
The short excerpt below is from the introductory essay “Deliverance in Action” which was first published in The Bridge of Silver Wings poetry collection and later included as part of The River of Winged Dreams. It is shared at this time with the hope that humanity in 2016 can reverse the deadly trends of the past and create new life-sustaining legacies truly worth celebrating:
The truth is we do not always know how we go from falling off the edge of one cliff to running with determination beside the ledge of another. The Bridge of Silver Wings is what I’ve come to call the unknowable unquantifiable process of deliverance in action.
Is the happiness that everyone wishes each other at the beginning of a New Year possible? It certainly would not seem to be for the millions around the world who find their very existence threatened by potential immediate deletion with every second that passes. The good news on this day and every day of the year is that those conditions do not have to remain the same.
© New Year Day 2016
Bright Skylark Literary Productions
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.