Dawn comes to everyone. Is this morning different? It is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. This week yet another automatic rifle aimed at anyone who is Other. How is our time in history singular? Or any different from all the terrors that have come before: Auschwitz, Salem, Pearl Harbor or Paris? Once again, we are faced with the human ability to make the Other into something we can justify annihilating. And once again the human heart, which is the only organ built to hold paradox, rises: a German pianist drags a piano around Paris and plays John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ outside the Bataclan Theater.
Also in Paris, a piano was set up inside the train station Gare du Nord for anyone to play. Gare du Nord was under a security threat, and police were everywhere. Issam Djouad, a young man with curly dark hair and a multicolored scarf, sat down in the midst of danger and chaos and played a song called ‘Rising Sun’.
What do we do with our sense of powerlessness over these now almost commonplace eruptions of violence? The effort required to come to terms with cruelty and mayhem is a timeless struggle– and one that poets, painters, musicians, writers, teachers, students, all of us, must bring as clay into our work. As Borges said: so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so.
This poem, On Angels, from Czeslaw Milosz speaks to me, when the world is turned inside out:
All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,
There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.
Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.
They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.
The voice -- no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.
I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:
day draw near
do what you can.