Humanitas

Reconciliation, perhaps providence: Toward a Middle East of the heart

In his column, Humanitas, Ed Mendelowitz offers something of a Kaddish, or mourner's prayer, in the aftermath of the horrors we have recently witnessed in Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East.

By Edward Mendelowitz, PhD

"Her Tears Will Quiet Them" Mele 3/98

“Her Tears Will Quiet Them”

Mele 3/98

 

I

 

One morning, perhaps 15 years ago, 20-year-old Kristina, a dissociative identity, sends me these reflections on trauma and memory, fragmentation and peace, turbulence, cadence and music. It is the inner guide Cara who writes, dubbing her thoughts “The Inner Ocean”:

Knowing deeply what is lost, the past that brings us closer to knowing despair more fully is directed also at understanding—accepting what caused this broken connection between heart and mind, emotion and knowledge, understanding and experience.

I am at the shoreline of a wide ocean moved by life. At times it crashes to the shore, breaking and destroying. In wonderment, this power is respected and left alone. Other times, rolling in, the ocean slowly changes the sands and people play happily in its serenity. All is a symphony. In my mind, I hear its rhythm. The waves are the composition, beautiful and breathtaking in their fervor, renewing in their tranquility.

Inside is like this ocean.

Cara Peale

II

Not long after receiving these poetic reflections on reconciliation and what we may call the “trauma of being,” I find myself driving to Providence (the one in Rhode Island) to celebrate Easter Sunday with friends and friends of friends. On the radio there is an NPR story about a youth camp located somewhere in Maine, its mission to provide a meeting ground whereby Arab and Israeli children can get to know one another in ways that are all but impossible in that blood-soaked world back home. The camp directors see their program as a chance for youth and the future, a Middle East of the Heart. “It's going to sound really simple,” says one of them; “We try to teach the children how to listen.” She goes on to point out how discussions, particularly of the political variety, quickly devolve into mental acrobatics—tests of rhetorical skills and powers of persuasion (one listens, really, only to win)—but rarely a letting down of cortical guards that might allow interpenetration, sympathy, and care. My mind wanders momentarily to Nietzsche and his aversion to politics for this very reason, his predilection rather for the creative type's politic of the soul. It is moving to hear Palestinian adolescents speaking of their stereotypes about Jews and Israeli counterparts their prejudices about Arabs, to hear children discuss life in refugee camps and stories with which they have grown up about the death camps of Europe.

One of the directors relates a story about a young girl who, like many others, had been changed by her experience in this more enlightened camp here in New England. The girl turned to the visitor who was sitting beside her one particular day, her own King Hussein of Jordan, saying, “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to go to war with yourself.” The ailing king, it is said, was moved to tears. He had been waging war in that Middle East within all his life and must surely have recognized in his youthful subject a fellow freedom fighter. By the time of his sad death, the king was firmly located, in Melville's apt words, in that “Providence in the other,” of which the ones in Rhode Island and the Middle East are but “horologe” reflections. The child herself, should she survive the madness about her, will have no need of Nietzsche, whose metaphors of strife we now, nonetheless, more easily surmise. What more can we ask on a day commemorating a wisdom teacher's long-ago resurrection and exodus, a movement, as William Barrett once put it, “from closed to open worlds”? Is there, perhaps, life after death after all?

III

In Great Eternity every particular Form gives forth or Emanates

Its own peculiar Light, & the Form is the Divine Vision

And the Light is his Garment. This is Jerusalem in every Man,

A Tent & Tabernacle of Mutual Forgiveness, Male & Female Clothings.

And Jerusalem is called Liberty among the Children of Albion.

William Blake,
Jerusalem

We merely discuss these matters, too often abstractly, rhetorically, with self-justifying pieties and simple-minded slogans. And, indeed, no antipollution law will clear the air of all the hysteria, the abusive words, the apocalyptic warnings, the sly appeals to hate, the open calls for violence; as long as we remain free, our ears will suffer the noise of wily and banal propagandists.

Robert Coles,
“Still and Quiet Consciences”

 

Suppose that the world's author put the case to you before creation, saying: I am going to make a world not certain to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own ‘level best.' I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done. Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk?

William James,
Pragmatism

The new sounds are there if someone wants to listen.

Eric Dolphy