My focus in this blog has been & will continue to be on Story & Creativity. However, today, Trickster has decreed that I must speak of something different, though — when you stop to think about it — intimately related.
In 1969, I took a job teaching in the American school in Tripoli, Libya. I arrived more than a week before school started and enjoyed preparing my classroom & beginning to learn about this part of the North African coast. When I stepped out of the house on Monday, September 1, thinking happily of the students I was about to meet, a neighbor called over the wall [we had no phones]: “No school today. There’s been a revolution.” “Oh,” I responded cheerfully, “I’ll bet you tell all the new teachers that!” No, came his response, this is real. And it was.
Muammar Gaddafi had staged the coup d’etat that put him in power for the next 42 years. I continued to live and teach in Tripoli for 5 years. To keep this short, I will just say that during those years I experienced good times and amazing adventures. I also experienced, besides any normal ups-and-downs of life, some traumatic times, large and small.
I am deeply saddened by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Living under a dictator is a matter of life and death.
These deaths include not only those that are not physical but also mental & spiritual, gradually approached through cumulative wounds. For example, one day the school where I taught was notified that all references to Israel must be removed from our library and all teaching materials, including encyclopedias, atlases, and globes. To cover up words with a black marker — to censor — is just such a wound. (Needless to say — but still worth saying — recent moves in the U.S. to selectively ban books and the teaching of history in schools has re-opened that old wound & made me fearful for us and for the children.)
During the recent rise of authoritarian movements (here in the U.S. and around the globe), these past experiences have been vivid & active in my being. I wonder about where this story will go and about how Storytelling and Creativity will fare — how they will be perverted and how they will be used to heal & to open new and better possibilities.
The following litanies & pictures are taken from a thin, not widely-published booklet from 1959 called Song of Peace. It is one that I have treasured since high school, when the optimism of youth made disarmament and peace seem both plain common sense & just over the horizon. The block-prints are by Anton Refregier. I believe that the litanies I quote are by Walter Lowenfels:
"For people to live long for farmers to have plenty of milk for fish never to dry up in the river in my village or yours I sing a song of peace." "For your child not to go pale at seeing the Big Birds nor tremble before soldiers anytime it does something naughty I sing a song of peace." "For lovers to dance and to love and a mother to rock her child in a cradle of her own I sing a song of peace." "That the lilac of the sky shouldn't turn into a parachute of an assassin I sing a song of peace." "For the fisherman's adventures for the bright berries of children's eyes for the magic mirror of unexpected birds and swallows chirping in the eaves I sing a song of peace."
"...On all pages anyone ever read on all ... pages made of stone blood papers or cinders I write your name. On jungles on deserts on eagle's nests on echoes of my childhood I write your name. ..... On the springboard of my door on every common object on the top flame of the fire I write your name. On my each body I love on my friends' foreheads on every outstretched hand I write your name. ..... On absence without loving on loneliness behind bars on the stairway to death I write your name. On health won back on danger passed on baseless hope I write your name. And by the weight of one word I start my life over again I was born to know you and to call you by your name PEACE!"
May it be so.