Tag Archives: Boston

5. Survive love and loss (part 1)

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said, “The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” I first became acquainted with Kübler-Ross my freshman year in high school – quite accidentally, and by osmosis. My freshman English teacher was Joanne Fahey, who also taught an upper-class elective on Thanatology that used Kübler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying” as its primary text. Seeing students with copies and finding a couple of copies in Ms. Fahey’s classroom, I eventually picked it up and read parts of it. I also think Jiddu Krishnamurti’s “Think on These Things” entered by consciousness the same way. I was very lucky to land in Ms. Fahey’s Freshman Honors English class, by the way. As a transfer student (we had just moved from Ohio that summer), by the time I got to pick my first year classes, the Honors classes were full with a long waiting list. I therefore landed instead in David Spaid’s regular freshman English class. It is to Mr. Spaid’s credit that upon reading my first assignment, he pushed to have me reassigned to Ms. Fahey’s class almost immediately. Both of them saw something in me that I certainly took a long time to recognize myself, and I will never forget their encouragement (and often, gentle scolding).

When it comes to surviving love and loss, I suppose everyone feels they’ve had their share. Of course, it’s a very subjective measure in any case. Throughout our lives what we call “love” and what we consider “loss” evolve almost geometrically, and often in directions that make both states probably unrecognizable to us at any other time of life.

When you’re young, love and loss are different from when you’re older. Maybe not different, maybe just profound on a different scale, measured by a different yardstick. When you’ve only had one friend in your short life, losing that friend is monumental – regardless of the reason. When you don’t make friends easily to begin with, a life that involves moving every seven years or so results in a pattern of loss that establishes how you interact and entertain people for the rest of your life. It’s hard to put down roots anywhere when you’ve been repotted several times. You learn to get your nourishment nearer the surface.
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Your Children, Art and Earth Day

Address to the Second Annual Day of Artists in Support of Human Rights Celebrating Earth Day
Boston, Massachusetts
April 25, 1992

The following speech was intended for delivery at the Second Annual Day of Artists in Support of Human Rights, celebrating Earth Day, April 25, 1992. The festival was intended to encourage free expression, a concern for the planet, and also to focus on children. You may think that such a wide spectrum of issues tends to dilute the effectiveness of gatherings such as this — after all, a lot of people are into free expression that don’t give a damn about the Earth — they’ll use their oil-based paints and flush them into their city’s water supply. They may have behaved irresponsibly towards children their actions have brought into this world. Perhaps in response, the earth and its attendant Weather decided not to cooperate. Therefore, the speech was not given. A loss? Perhaps. But maybe these things should be related. That’s the point of the speech, written by one of the administrative staff for the festival, who resigned his duties about a week prior to the event due to political differences with the main organizer. Something about a lack of organization, and perhaps too much focus on widening the event JUST to get sponsors. Whatever. The time is long since past. So pretend it all went smoothly. Close your eyes and picture downtown Boston, City Plaza, a warm spring day. The Hare Krishna’s and Food Not Bombs have supplied food. There are canvases, easels and water-based paints throughout the streets. There is a stage, where drummers drum, flautists flaut and every once in a while, someone gets up to remind them it’s not just a big party.

In the midst of our celebration of music, art, sculpture and artistic endeavor of all varieties, let us pause for a moment to contemplate why we are here today.

We are here today in Boston City Hall Plaza to show our solidarity, to show our common desire for art and free expression and to emphasize the importance of what Thomas Jefferson called our “inalienable” human rights. Inalienable, which means “intrinsically part of and inseparable, incapable of being donated, surrendered or transferred,” which means that even if you are not aware you have them, even if you choose not to exercise these rights, they are part of your being, part of your body and soul, as close to you as your own eyes and ears. These human rights, that could not be surrendered to another even if you wished it, the Declaration of Independence goes on to say, include among them “…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Some would say that the wording of the Declaration of Independence leaves room for doubt as to who is the recipient of these non-transferable rights. The pure strength and beauty of the intent leaves no room for linguistic or semantic argument. Whether Jefferson intended it to be so or not, “all men” must refer to all those among us who have learned to walk after crawling, who have the skeleton and structure of homo sapiens sapiens, who were the children of other human beings, and who reproduce no other species than the human animal.

When we look at it from this level, at the HUMAN level, above the level of the other rights that we choose as surrogates, such as children’s rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, or any other label we may choose to give to less than TOTAL human rights, there can be no distinction between race, color, creed, orientation, sex or age. It is better to say, “I am asking for my rights as a human being,” than to say “my rights as a [child, woman, hyphenated American].”

Your child, the human creation spawned by your human actions, has in these human rights a birthright, just as you have a birthright, just as your grandparents, your ancestors, held these rights. We are all human beings. How could it be otherwise?

“Among which” are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.

“Among which,” meaning there are others, too numerous to list in a hastily composed document which was written with a sense of urgency that was not to be left waiting. Indeed, without this urgent sense in mind, Jefferson might have added a few thousand more items to his list. It is unfortunate for those among us, who tend to read such documents far too literally, that he did not. But we who have lived on this planet, especially those of us in America, have had ample opportunity to increase our “Freedom vocabulary.”

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression — that’s what we’re all enjoying here today. Freedom of religion, freedom from tyranny, freedom from unlawful search and seizure. Freedom to choose the government that helps us to achieve our goals, our pursuit of happiness, and the freedom to speak when that government makes mistakes. Governments are made of human beings equal to us; no better, no worse. It is only natural for them to make mistakes. After all, none of us is free from error.

But freedom is not created by governments, nor should it be denied by them. No “government” has that right, and no people or person has the right to deny human rights to any other.

The freedom to raise families, to provide for those families at a wage which is fair for the work performed; freedom to worship as we please, to act according to our desires, freedom to achieve our goals, to love, live and thrive as we choose. We have the freedom to control our own destinies, to see our children achieve not what we have not achieve, but even more than we could even imagine.

And it is largely with concern for our children’s rights that we are here today. Children are entitled to the same human rights as we, their progenitors. Freedom from fear, from hunger, from oppression and hatred, from abuse and abandonment.

Some might say, enough about human rights, and what about Earth Day? Well, I am just coming to that. In answer to your question, I ask you this: what greater human right can belong to any of us, what greater promise, than that of a planet on which to live?

As long as the seas are polluted by humankind, as long as chemical and other toxic disasters threaten our world, as long as the resources of this planet are ravage and plundered and foolishly squandered, the human rights of every inhabitant on this earth are threatened.

As long as we continue to stand aside and let the travesties of the past continue until tomorrow, we are not completely free.

As long as human beings, you and I, those in government and those outside it, continue to let this storehouse of opportunity, this wondrous source of our every convenience, this beautiful and varied land, this Earth, suffer from the short-sided uses to which we have already put it, then we may have human rights, but nowhere to exercise or enjoy them.

This must then be our call: One Purpose, One Planet, One Human Race!

And just just for our time, but for all time. For our children have human rights to be cherished, and their children, and their descendants as well. If it were not for the future and its promise, the first child might never have been conceived. You and I, proud carriers of the torch of human rights, would not even be here to celebrate today.

But we are here today. And tomorrow, when we return to our homes, our lives, our families and friends, our children will smile when we tell them about the music, about the art, about the wonderful people we met today.

But in their eyes, behind those smiles, will be three questions for our hearts:

“What have you done for me today?”

“What have you done to protect my future?”

“What have you done to help the rest of the children, everywhere, in Boston; in New York; in Johannesburg, South Africa; in Ethiopia; in Sofia, Bulgaria; in the Russian Republics; in Nanking, China; in Los Angeles, California; in Buenos Aires, Argentina; in Atlanta, Georgia; in Shreveport, Louisiana; in Selma, Alabama; in Washington, D.C.?”

And if today you have enjoyed the music, the dancing, the artistry, the sense of community; if today you have given just five minutes of serious thought to the reasons these things were possible, you will be able to give them an answer to their questions.

Your answer will be, “Everything that must be done.”

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A Boston Busker’s Tale

I sang a song for sixpence in the streets of Harvard Square
Like Tracy Chapman did — I needed food
But you need some extravangance to make your money there
Most likely, all you’ll earn is attitude

I tried it in the subway, on the Blue line, heading back
and got a few more pennies in my hat
Enough to pay the trainfare, but not more to end my lack
A Boston busker’s seldom sleek or fat

And on the Green line, give it up, that’s penny pinching land
For people listen, but give up no dough
Your voice will ring and echo, for the reverb is quite grand
But the rate of earning is so very slow

The Red line from JP to Alewife, that’s a risky route
through Roxbury deep pockets are not found
And often the performer there is looked upon with doubt
If there is not a subway cop around

Through Chinatown, the Orange line is overcome with noise
There’s not much point in playing down that track
And visiting the strip-clubs, often poncey college boys
Will need to bum the fare on their way back.

My favorite spot? Along the Charles, despite the rotting stench
that floats above the river like a cloud
You may not get much money, but at least there is a bench
where you can sit and play, however loud

In short, there’s not much money to be made just playing songs
Unless you are a juggler or clown
And even then, you’ll draw a crowd, but not a paying throng
It’s never been an all that giving town

So sing for sixpence if you will. And me? I’m now employed
With cash enough to grocery shop and dine
If I see you on the street, I will be overjoyed
And to your meagre coins, add one of mine.

17 AUG 2003

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In Boston

In Boston, where I cut my teeth
on the raw meat of delusion,
and watched myself in disbelief
live penniless out on the street,
my college days found conclusion.

There on the green line, Brookline bound,
I took a job dispensing meat,
catching the train just above-ground
where the fare was free, and found
my way back home on snowy streets.

I lived on brown rice and boiled beans
(having not the funds to acquire
the steaks I hawked) and sorted greens;
and turned my hard earned meager means
over to an ex-friend and liar.

There were many ex-friends those days,
all concerned that I might impose,
asking a spot to store my clothes
watching the clock during my stays;
there were better guests, I suppose.

Not like the early summer time,
when I first moved into Beantown
and thought to turn my life around —
in Berklee’s halls to find sublime
music, and perhaps write it down.

But who you are will seek you out
despite your best efforts to change,
and every granule of self-doubt
you own it will bring out, and flaut,
making your thoughts crazy and strange.

And then all you can do is leave
behind those tattered dreams, that place,
knowing yourself no more deceived.
Then, in memories later retrieved
there is no point in saving face.

15 AUG 2003

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