Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writing and Reflecting During the First Week of Ramadan

The first week of Ramadan is drawing to a close, and it's been a time of reflection. Monday, August 23, marked the third month since my wife passed on, and I found it more difficult than I had thought. For the first time in many weeks, the pain of her loss returned, and tears flowed.

My plan for this month had been to spend time writing, so I looked over our cancer notebooks, which I hope to turn into a book. Re-reading this journal proved to be too much for me to handle. I became quite sad, and finally called up my dear friend Bill Miller, a retired pastor who lost his wife to cancer many years ago and has since remarried. We got to know Bill, an dedicated peace activist, when we lived in Whittier. I often stayed with Bill and his wife in their Whittier home while Kathleen was at the City of Hope, and he always has a very sympathetic ear. I realized that it would probably be best for me to work on the Brinton book rather than the Cancer Journey book during this still sensitive period.

The Brinton book concerns Howard and Anna Brinton, a Quaker couple who were directors of Pendle Hill from 1936-1950. Howard authored some of the major Quaker writings of the 20th century and is probably the most important exponent of liberal Quakerism of this era. I started researching this book nince years ago, and was planning to complete it at Pendle Hill during our sabbatical leave. God had other plans, we were obliged to stay in Santa Monica, and I nearly gave up this project because I thought I needed the resources of East Coast libraries at Haverford, Swarthmore and Pendle Hill to complete the work. But in March I decided to try writing up something in preparation for a workshop I was supposed to teach at Pendle Hill in May. As soon as I began, my old enthusiasm for the project returned, and words came pouring out. Within two months, I had written nearly 50,000 words.

The Brinton book also brings back memories since much of it was written in the two months prior to Kathleen's final hospitalization. During that period, I wrote nearly 1000 words per day and read my daily output to Kathleen, often while walking through Palisade Park. She was my inspiration. (She always has been!)

It has taken me much of the week just to gather together the pieces of this project and set up my office so that I can begin writing again. I am finally ready. It helped to receive an encouraging email from Peter Bien, a retired professor of Greek from Dartmore College, who has served on the board of Pendle Hill for many years, focusing mainly on publications. Peter is a kindly as well as extremely intelligent man--he translated Kazantsakis's "Zorba the Greek" and is one of the leading experts on modern Greek literature. I feel blessed to have his friendship and support.

Along with writing, I've also been working on Parliament business and getting ready for Melbourne. A Quaker from Berkeley named Ketih Barton informed me about an obscure gnostic sect called the Mandaeans who are followers of John the Baptist. They lived more or less peacefully in Iraq until the Americans invaded and sectarian violence broke out. Then this pacifist group was persecuted and forced to leave the country. 5,000 of them settled in Sydney. It's a fascinating story, which is told on Australian radio:

The story of the Mandaeans reminded me of the Doukhabors, the Russian pacifist sect that attracted the attention of Tolstoy and the Quakers, who helped them to escape persecution by fleeing to Canada. The Doukhabors became somewhat infamous because of their habit of going naked as a witness to their faith and the Quakers were called in to mediate. But therein hangs a tale, as they say.

Keith has informed me that the Mandaeans are in touch with the Parliament and will be present at this gathering. Meanwhile, I have been in touch with Friends in Sydney and hope to meet the Mandaeans when I visit that city.

Last night I went to the Activist Support Group, led by Jerry Rubin (not the famous racical from the 1960s, but a local peace activist of the same name). Shown in this picture are Jerry and his wife Melissa, Maricela Guzman (AFSC), and yrs truly.

Jerry the local activist likes to tell the story of a radio interview he had with the famous anti-war radical. This icon of 60s radicalism and founder of the Yippies went into business and became a millionaire, and the radio interviewer asked him if he regretted his radical days. "Hell, no," responded Jerry, "Opposing the immoral war in Vietnam was the best thing I ever did in my life!"

A few days later he was struck and killed by a car and died. Jerry (the local) went to his funeral, along with Abbie Hoffman and Dave Dellinger.

During last night's Activist Support the focus was on Quakers and the theme: "Avoiding Burnout." The speakers were Laurel Gord (a member of Santa Monica Meeting who spoke about Friends Committee on Legislation), Maricela Guzman (a young peace education staff person from the American Friends Service Committtee), and myself (a freelance Quaker peace activist). We each shared our stories and concerns.

My cure for burnout consisted of three bits of advice: 1) Focus on friendship rather than achievement. Friendships nourish the soul. As a Muslim peace activist once said, "Peace is created one friendship at a time." 2) Avoid judgmentalism and self-righteousness. Negative feelings sap your energy. 3) Take time for medication and silent reflection. Gandhi said: "In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness." He also said: "Prayer is not ...idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action." The more active you are, the more you need to spend time in silence and in prayer.

On this note, let me close so that I can go to my meditation session at the Self-Realization Fellowship!

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