Q: Will you…respect the dignity of every human being?
A: I will, with God’s help.
– From The Baptismal Covenant, The Book of Common Prayer, page 305
Whene’er, by a name other than your own, I call you,
a name I deign to bestow
(one I deem descriptive of an attribute, nay, a deficiency
I perceive you to exhibit, verily, to embody,
thus, I presume to be emblematic…of you),
then I no longer (for I cannot) see you
and much less do I (still less, can I) know you;
even though I do know
(yet choose to ignore)
that we, in our inarguable share of our essential humankindness
alway, our differences notwithstanding, are far more akin and far less alien
(than I’d like to admit).
And whene’er, by a name other than your own, I call you,
I also (actually, primarily) no longer do (or can) see myself.
For whene’er I defame your God-given dignity,
thus, deny your humanity,
I already have dishonored, still more, I already disbelieve mine own.
2 thoughts on “A comment on our current, discordant public/political discourse”
Thank you for this poem, Paul. It strikes a place in me still very tender from an excruciating play Ted and I saw yesterday at a theater in Minneapolis known for its strong social justice foundations and voice (as it exists as part and parcel of a very active and activist community center). It was an early (1960) play by Athol Fugard, the South African playwright who may be best known for Master Harold and the Boys. This play was called Blood Knot and was a two-man show about two brothers, one whose skin was black and the other, white. Essentially, the play reduced the agonies of racial prejudice, white supremacy, apartheid, and the resulting damage to human beings to the scope of the relationship of two people in one room in a black township in South Africa. It was two and half hours of one of the most exhausting and exhaustive experiences I’ve ever seen on a theater stage. Names were among the weapons wielded on that stage, and the play demonstrated so directly and poignantly how deadly they are, both for the namer and the named. All night I wondered how the two incredible actors who performed that show could do it over and over again for weeks without simply collapsing of fatigue and despair. But they have been friends for many, many years, and both said they could not have done the play except with each other.
Oh, if we could only recognize what we do when we give in to our worst impulses to divide, to demonize, to cast others as something we invent and manufacture, a kind of twisted self-definition to cover and salve our own deep wounds. This play made that process so clear; it was like watching someone deliberately destroying everything he cares about in order to exorcise self-doubt and self-hatred.
Thank you for your poetic picture of the essence of what we saw yesterday afternoon. Both artworks are a part of what I was referring to in my post to you yesterday, the increasingly visible and encouraging response to the casual cruelty, the viciousness, and the amorality that are currently regularly sanctioned from places of power and influence in our country and in other places around the globe. May all of us with ears to hear, and with voices to speak, continue to listen, to read, to speak, and to write in order to demonstrate that we will not accept what we see happening all around us, to our brothers and sisters, to our institutions, and to our mother, the earth. We haven’t forgotten either who or whose we are or the sacred nature of the ties that bind us one to the other and to our home.
With love and gratitude to you, Paul, for being such a key voice in my life. You encourage and strengthen my belief in the future and in Love as the primary force in the universe.
My Dearest Karen,
I thank you, most sincerely, for these words. In reading and rereading your message, I am struck by what, at least, initially, I perceive as a paradox, which I frame in the form of a question. Why is it that one of the most obvious lessons of life and nature, that is, the oneness of all created things and of all creation, given our human proclivity to segregate ourselves one from another (aye, from ourselves) has to be retaught and relearned over and over again? I ponder this, which, again, I consider a paradox, indeed, a mystery, that is, irresolvable by human reason.
Athol Fugard’s, “Blood Knot,” indeed, is a searing experience both for audience and actors. St. Mark’s Church, Capitol Hill, where I served for nearly 17 years, had and has a resident community theater troupe, The St. Mark’s Players. Each academic year, the group performs three productions. Usually, in the spring, a drama. One year, that drama was Blood Knot. I still remember my bowels wrenching as I sat uneasily throughout the production. I once had the text on my shelf, but discarded it – after reading it several times – for I found (I never found!) any peace in seeking to absorb the words. Nevertheless, on instant reflection, again, in the light of your words here, I realize that deeply I internalized Fugard’s message, which, in this my latest post/poem pours out. (For I do not believe – at least, consciously – that, until now, I made the connection between my denigration of another and my denigration of myself, aye, my self.)