Notes on Compassion in the Summer of a Life Infused with Democratic Vistas and Creative Resistance (part 2): Striving and Thriving

Notes on Compassion in the Summer of a Life Infused with Democratic Vistas and Creative Resistance (part 2): Striving and Thriving


Contemplating the conditions under which I was born and raised make it easy to respect the smoldering discussions taking place right now--with a lot of good reasons many believe-- about resisting the hyper-nationalist policies emanating from the current White House administration and government headquarters around the globe. The derailed rights of the free press, encouragement of xenophobic behavior, reduction of budgets for education, the arts, and social service programs, along with generally-baffling communications and misinformation have caused more unsettling uncertainty than reaffirming confidence.

How could modern-day inheritors of legacies of such advocates for freedom as: Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), and James Baldwin (1924-1987) and so many more around the world not call for resistance under such conditions?

When History Becomes Personal

The challenges with which I had to contend throughout the years of boyhood growing into adolescence and young adulthood were: being eaten alive by hunger, ignorance, street violence, drug wars, racism, and giving in too quickly to despair. The idea of surviving past the age of 24 seemed ludicrous because all around me death so efficiently and unceremoniously seemed to delete human beings at will. Churches bombed at home in America were as much proof of that as villages bombed overseas in Vietnam and a wall built overnight in Berlin, Germany.

To survive and hopefully thrive, you had to become something more, or other than, what you already were. Therefore, I instinctively adopted the wisdom of Latin American author Garcia Marquez's notion that one was obligated to repeatedly give birth to oneself. In this undertaking, my natural aptitude for creative expression was both a powerful asset and a dangerous liability while growing up. Artistic creativity within black southern males was interpreted as an undesirable form of femininity and efforts might be made to beat, or shame, them out of you.

How, then, was one to be born again not necessarily in the religious sense, but in an imaginatively sociological manner likely to increase your chances for biological sustainability? This, in part, is what it required me to do: drop any urges to dance a certain way or to embellish language with unsettling observations, then cultivate more acceptable pastimes likely to lead to practical vocations aligned with community expectations (as distinguished from community needs).

I learned to balance the two. In my environment that made me something of an anomaly: an oversized kid who could play street football with the best around but who also learned to appreciate John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost, at the age of ten or eleven; who at sixteen found a job as a janitor at a department store and worked while continuing to draw comic book figures and experiment with writing poems and song lyrics in the style of Langston Hughes.

Keeping the Pace and Faith Going


Quote by James Baldwin: “One can only face in others what one can face in oneself. On this confrontation depends the measure of our wisdom and compassion.” (from Nobody Knows My Name)

By the time I graduated high school at seventeen, I had practiced my balancing act well enough to stir some curious respectful admiration by purchasing my first manual Underwood typewriter. That may not sound very impressive to a generation that grew up with smart phones and other mobile devices with digital keyboards for pets but purchasing a typewriter was not something hormonally-charged teens normally did at the time. However, the author inside was anxiously preparing to give birth to himself.

A year later, during my freshman year in college, the typewriter reinforced basic principles and practices of compassion when students at my school in St. Petersburg, Florida, launched a campaign to raise awareness about the plight of migrant workers in the state. I happened to be one of the few, especially among the handful of African-Americans there, who actually owned a typewriter and was able to pound out batches of form letters which others could then sign and mail to members of Congress. (How's that for comparisons between the pre-digital and digital-age call-to-action campaigns?) When my hands got tired, someone else's took over to keep the pace and the faith going.

Vacuums and Values

It is relatively easy to protest policies spelled out in overtly unjust executive orders and procedures, political movements based on myopic goals, and national as well as local legislation that reduces the quality of life within a community or household. The danger is frightfully and painfully evident.

(Aberjhani's piece "Love is the Music" is available for purchase in the Charter Marketplace.)

We have, however, in 2017, become accustomed to the idea of incurring "collateral damage" in the pursuit of military goals or economic ambitions. What we possibly have not yet to come to terms with is how the absence of compassion as a basic component of daily life adds to different forms of collateral damage not always immediately visible. Call it collateral damage of the heart, or soul, or mind.

It is not without root causes that more that the number of Americans drowning in a continental tsunami of addiction to opioids and other drugs has hovered steadily since 2011 between 20 million and 24 million.

Nor is the loss of 22 veterans to suicide every day occurring in a vacuum. In our daily pursuits of individual "success" as defined by specific individual desires, we remember to protect with cyber security, guard dogs, and walls everything of noted value except what might be the most valuable of all-- our shared humanity.

How strong are notions of compassion in this present time? And what kind of differences might committing to consciously practicing it make toward achieving coexistence among the world's diverse communities?

NEXT: Notes on Compassion in the Summer of a Life Infused with Democratic Vistas and Creative Resistance Part 3: Systemic Absurdity

author of The River of Winged Dreams
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance


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