“It's Your Funeral”... and Thoughts on Humanity's Continued Search for Itself

I have never had any interest in westerns and the culture that surrounds them. In fact, I think I have only considered them something that might be worthwhile because my grandfather likes them. So when I discovered this film on the syllabus I didn’t really have much to look forward to. I recognized John Wayne from pictures and posters and country 'accents' that you can buy in stores and that's about it really. So I thought that the majority of my fun with the film happened with my experience of purchasing it. I must admit that I enjoyed my time at Bull Moose with the clerk who took me around the store looking for it. He walked me around while he wore a really crazy hat that flopped around and when any of his co-workers asked what we were doing he always answered with the same phrase, “Us? We're searching for the Searchers.” It was a bit funny :)

So I got it ordered, picked up and sat down to watch it with more than a little feelings of just blah. The first five minutes convinced me that I was in for a few hours of difficulty, maybe not boredom, but not really any interest either. I got a large glass of grapefruit juice and slouched down on the couch to keep watching but also so I could continue to watch the snow coming down outside the window and the sun slowly dissolving into the dark. I then spent two hours watching the saga of Ethan Edwards and his search for his missing niece named Debbie Edwards after she was stolen by a Comanche Indian raid. He traveled back and forth for over five years with a companion named Martin Pawley- an adopted young man who lived with and grew up with Debbie and her family.

“And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” - Matthew 2:8

Ethan was a very interesting character. All of his opinions and thoughts bordered on arrogant and... for lack of a better word, macho. His obsession- the only word that makes sense in this case- with looking for his niece was confusing when you looked and comprehended his thinking of what makes family as well as his thoughts and anger towards the “Comanche' – anger that appears to come from past experience and dealings with some individuals from that Indian group. Family, or 'kin', to Ethan is a very simple thing. Blood and blood only makes family. He can't seem to see it any other way. His views on women are very stark as well – if you live with Indians or accept them, then you are damaged and shouldn't live. These stark, unbend-able views make his obsession with finding his niece even more challenging to understand... after all, why search for a girl for years and then wish to kill her when you discover a women who is married to an Indian chief? How can a man compartmentalize his feelings so clearly that he is unable to recognize the inherent clashes his own views will cause?

Martin - “They raised me”
Ethan - “That don't make you kin”

Funnily, enough... that does make you 'kin' in my book. I see family as those who stick by you, who love you, who look out for you and with whom your life would not be complete. I have many family members who share my blood, but I know people who share my blood and who really are not family. I have family in whom no related blood flows, but in all other ways they are my kin and I cannot see them as separate. I grew up with three grandfathers and while a child should never have a favorite, I did and still do to this day. Grandpa Carlile is the grandfather that I think about, I miss, and I know I will feel the loss keenly when he is no longer able to be a part of my earthly life. Sometimes, people remind me that he shares no blood with me- that he is my step-grandfather... but that label isn’t who he is and doesn't change who or what he is to me. If he had been kidnapped and lived in another culture for a while, I wouldn't hesitate to take him back... no matter what. As with all obsessions, Ethan puts everything he's got towards his plan and desire to find and rescue Debbie, but is unable to see the reality of what he wants. When he finds her, she can't live up to his expectations (can any obsession do that?) It takes more experiences and time before he is able to learn not only about how to understand and deal with the reality he faces, but also to actually understand himself. I would wish him happiness with his new understanding of humanity and even family, but as he is really a fictional character.... I will simply try to remember the lessons of the character.

Brad – “They gotta stop sometime. If they're human men at all they gotta stop.....”

Ethan - “No. A human rides a horse until it dies and then he goes on foot. Comanche comes along, gets that horse up... rides him twenty more miles... then eats him.”

Another problem that plagues Ethan is his discrimination and dislike of Native Americans... the Comanche in particular. He is unwilling for a great deal of the film to listen to or recognize Martin as being a human on the same plane as himself (Martin is one quarter Native American). His attitude of dehumanizing the Indians allowed him to see anyone who fit in with them as bad, not worthy of even living... damaged beyond repair. This movie was made over sixty years ago and this is a problem that we all still fight – as individuals and as a society. When someone angers us or does things that we do not approve of, we strip them of all the positive traits that they have... making them almost one dimensional with only negative qualities and stereotypes. This makes it easier for us to justify the poor treatment ans thoughts that we have toward them. It is this way of dehumanizing and 'othering' different people that has caused every genocide in this world. It is how we justify discrimination and violence towards others. And it is how Ethan justifies his attempt to kill Debbie when he finally finds her at the end of his quest. Sometimes I think what we are really looking for is to appease and justify our mistakes – by blaming others or hurting them. It is our search to understand and love ourselves that can be our way to peace... or the path to hatred and scapegoating. Martin Pawley finds himself unable to stop searching for his sister and follows Ethan over the country for years – sacrificing his potential wife Laura as well as good financial prospects- even when it is pointed out to him that is sister isn't his 'kin' because he is adopted. Even when he is told that the Comanche chief Scar murdered his mother, he is unwilling to focus solely on revenge... the life of Debbie is still more important. How many of us sacrifice so much for another person? For someone who many even today would say wasn't even family?

In the end, I sat back on the couch and thought about Ethan and Martin. I thought about how Ethan feels like the side of us that is angry and fearful and courageous and doesn't really think... and Martin is the 'one who follows' and pure love... charity. He feels fear and he feels angry, but he channels it and uses it to try and do what he feels is right for others and not what is necessarily all right for himself. Like the Super- Ego and the Id, parts of the same consciousness fighting to be the dominant partner.... which part of us will win the battles that we chose? Will we approach those who believe or behave differently than us with curiosity and tolerance... or will we allow ourselves to act out our fear and hatred with ourselves and our behavior on others? We are given these choices everyday... sometimes several times a day.... how we act says a lot about us and our character. If nothing else, I learned that the struggle to be tolerant and open is a problem that we have struggled with for centuries and we do not appear to be any closer as a race to understanding. I believe that Heavenly Father gives us more information and knowledge when we are ready for it – both individually and collectively. No wonder so many people think that God has stopped talking to us... we as a race are really slow to learn so how can he give us more information? In the end, Ethan Edwards is right: it is our funeral. And how we chose to get there is our choice most of the time. So what choices are you making? Are you choosing love and tolerance... or are you choosing anger and fear? In what ways are you judging your fellow humans poorly? If you have seen this film, what are your thoughts? I probably won't watch it again... I will actually probably send it to my grandfather who will probably love it. But I am glad that I watched it. :)


Sideswipes of Ideals and the Clash of Life, Experience and Hope: Malcolm X

With the exception of knowing the name- having heard the title many times in my life, I knew almost nothing about Malcolm X. So as I sat in class and the lights were dimmed I was prepared (I thought) for learning and to discover more about the man that I knew so little about- a shame as a historian, but I will admit I am woefully inadequate on almost any topic on American history; that is semi intentional and a long story. I have seen a documentary by Spike Lee before and found it phenomenal. And each film that I have seen in class has provoked so much thought that I wondered what I would gain from this one besides a better understanding of the man's life. Here are my thoughts...

The start of the film with the burning flag was a really potent image. The flag- whether it is a stamp, a name, a picture, iron on art, etc... makes a very specific statement. It is a loaded image that creates a picture no matter who looks at it and in many cases makes a political statement as well. For some, the flag is a symbol of pure nationalism- some love America to the point of blindness and the flag symbolizes this feeling... the feeling of power and strength, the assumption of God's blessing on this, the best country. Even that God fits a profile- white, Christian, silent and unchanging through the years. For others the flag is a symbol of a country that they love and feel loyalty for, but they are also able to recognize that America and its flag can also be seen in very negative ways not only by some of those who are protected by its laws, but by many around the world. The image of the flag is seen for what many see as its true colors... the symbol of oppression towards many in the world... it's citizens, other states...anyone that isn't useful or in line with what 'America' wants. It's hard to attack these ideals and governmental policies, so people attack it's image... and that is the flag. There are many ways to insult or desecrate the flag, but burning appears to be one of the most popular. By total destruction as flames quickly like over the sewn threads and they vanish into smoke that is pulled up towards the sun. So, as I watched this image, I felt the pull of both sides of the argument.... those that I know who cannot see anything but their idealized vision of the world and those who have felt the pain and oppression that is the flip side of nationalism. And there is no middle ground- because individuals will force you be be part of one side or the other. I do not allow myself to use the flag or its images on anything. I do not use it on stamps, hang it on the wall, or even use decorations that use the colors or patterns that suggest or remind. I have been told by people that my dedication to that 'idea' is treasonous and that I am ashamed of my country, but I see a very fine distinction between love of my country and it's ideals... and the reality of what it truly is. What is truly does... and what it has done in the past. So I felt that pain and that anger as I watched the flag... and as it slowly began to burn, I didn't need to hear the world to feel the suffering, the pain and the anger. I could see it grow and build as the flag burned... a flame of heat that might never be extinguished...even though its object has vanished into smoke and ash.

So many times I heard the word 'boy'... and finally I got it. When I was in high school I used to call male classmates 'boys' if I thought they were immature or acting that way. One of them was black and the few times I called him a boy, my kind teacher would pull me aside and tell me I couldn't do that because it was racist. And I would walk away really confused and frustrated. I have never considered myself a racist and I couldn't see how the word boy could be racist... The N word, yes... but boy no. I see it now. More than twenty years later I understand and I am really horrified by my lack of understanding. As a silly white girl, I didn't get it and as an older but still silly white women I know see a glimmer of understanding and I am filled with the shame and remorse. Tyler, I never meant to really hurt you. I never saw myself as being racist or making any comment about your skin at all. I saw myself standing up for myself and calling out immaturity when I saw it. I am truly sorry. I wish I could take those words back and I will admit I do not use them anymore. Since I couldn't understand why they were racially offensive, I just didn't use them anymore. I learned new words that were probably more effective and I still use those. I know of no way to make amends for my ignorance and foolishness; in fact, I suspect that my new understanding shows how immature I was and what a small child mentally. I ask for your forgiveness and hope that whatever pain I caused was small and hopefully gone.

Elijah Mohammed : The question is -who are you?

All of us ask this question to ourselves at some point in our lives... and how we answer it determines our whole lives. His choices changed his life and the lives of many. Just as our choices change our lives. I know a few people who seem lost and I am unclear if they can answer the question that Elijah Mohammed asked. Sometimes I am not sure that I can honesty answer that question. There are times when I feel very confident of the answer, but the jargon that spews forth from my mind is a list of labels and if you think about it.... no person can be summed up in labels nor should they. Aren't labels really a way of wording or acknowledging a trait; a piece of the whole, but how can a label or lots of labels encompass the whole? I am a woman, used to be a wife, a religious observer, a writer, a mother, a celiac... and yet, none of those labels tell you much or give you a clear image of who I am, what is important to me.... anything. What a powerful individual Malcolm X was... to question and question and to work to really understand himself and develop his ideas. The self awareness and control that requires is something that many people never develop- it is certainly not one of my strong suits.

"Whites can help us, but they can't join us. There can be no black/white unity until there's first some black unity. We can not think of uniting with others until we have first learned to unite with ourselves. We can think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves..."

This is a really strong statement and a hard reality. Back at the beginnings of the women's movement, many of the leaders that we are able to look back to realized that women would never be able to get any rights as long as any men were also denied rights. That is one reason that many feminists worked and fought for civil rights for African Americans. Malcolm X understood something very essential. Until we can look and work together in our smaller groups, we can easily be divided. Look at any group of people – your church congregations, family, school mates, etc... How easily they are challenged and develop divisions, cliques, and outcasts. Look how easily the American government talked the country into going to war with Iraq – You're with us or against us, patriot or traitor, etc... no middle ground. When those that are in power want something, it is easier to distract and the less powerful majority with other things and such definitive statements. It crushes dissent, freedom of expression and gets many of us to focus on things that are not really important. It's how many of us use our votes to help people enter government who will actually make choices that hurt us and our families... we are distracted by other things and issues that keep us chasing our own tails. We can see this disunity now between not only the races and genders, but between those with economic disparity, health issues, religion, etc...

"I told you to look behind the words and dig out the truth...locked us in chains, 100 million of us, broke up our families, cut us off from our language, our religion, our history.... "

My last thought is not a comfortable one. As I sat and watched the life of Malcolm Little unfold to the adult Malcolm X to the close of his mortality, I found the same question running through my mind. Martin Luther King Jr. was a wonderful man and did some great things. I mean no disrespect to him by my next question. I wonder why we as a nation celebrate Martin Luther King and his achievement... and gloss over Malcolm X. My thoughts as to why we as a nation do that are not very polite or politically correct. I wonder if we celebrate King because we feel more 'comfortable' with him. He is easy to like and his message while hard came through a man who in many ways was nice and easy.... Malcolm X can not be seen in rose colored glasses very well. If you put both the men side by side, Martin Luther King is much more palatable for a white audience- he was Christian to boot. And so we celebrate him and what he stood for and forget some of the things that he did that we wouldn't find acceptable such as his womanizing. (Malcolm X was clearly a more responsible and focused family man.) I guess I wonder if we accept him more because we are trying to turn MLK into a 'good black person' or make him more 'white'. That is not possible to do with Malcolm X... and so as a culture we push him aside. I wish I knew more people of color so that I could ask them: What are their feelings on both men and which one do they feel more comfortable with? Which one matters more when they look at history? And which man do they think was right? A long time ago, I heard the story of the first black mayor of some city whose surname if I recall was Ford. He said that in his job, he had to be 'fairer than fair' and couldn't just try to balance things. He had to always make sure that the balance card leaned more towards his 'white' voters so that they didn't feel he wasn't caring for them and choosing the 'black' population only. How many of our politicians (mostly white) worry about that? Malcolm X was accused of being a black supremacist and a racist and I cannot agree with those labels- He didn't want to destroy or damage the white race... he only wants the black race to have the same choices as the white race.... and the same consequences. It seems that even in our modern, tolerant world.... we haven't changed as much as we would like to think. I feel a bit like a small child again and the world looks different and stark and harsh. I wonder if we will ever be able to get past race in America.... I wonder...


Merry Christmas to All!

I am not sure how I feel about Christmas this year. I certainly haven't gotten myself in the right frame of mind with all the schooling and everything. I haven't even gotten the cards out yet.... crap! So expect them late :) I did want to wish everyone a great Christmas though. I hope that during this season that you are able to bring the things that matter to you closer to your heart. That you will feel peace and some rest and be able to enjoy the blessings that you do have... even if you wish or need to have more. I ask that you take the time to pray (or have a minute of silence) for your family and those you know that struggle and who may not feel the love and peace of the season that many of us take for granted. And smile, for the solstice is past and the days are lengthening. Spring is coming. Remember the reason for the season. Both as a time of new hope for the warmth will return and as the chosen time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and the teachings and hope he gives to so many of us. I plan on spending the day with Bug and in contemplation... and in the pile of schoolwork that I still have. May you have a great day as well. :)


2013 Poetry Corner #9 - "Night Swimming"

A click and the darkness flows
quickly to fill all space
cool sheets press against my cheek
arms flayed, spread out
feet dangling in the air

a slight breeze moves the air
leaving ripples of breath and hair
floating, gliding, sinking in the deep
and even though my physical sense hasn't moved
hasn't budged, hasn't twitched

I sense the waves of exhaustion flow in
the riptide of need to rest, to forget, to lessen
A whirlpool of darkness, soft voices and purring
And you sink down, down into the abyss
the light patterns on your lids begin to fade
from white to green and blue
and suddenly you're gone and only spiritual remains

The tide flows by and pulls you in.....
… the hamster on the wheel
… the fears of your heart
… the images of film explored
… the joy of memories relived
… the revelation of things to come
together they flow, merge and tug your mind

As they merge, your breathing slows
yet your mind is full of visions
sometimes you backstroke and float unaided
and sometimes your fears win

Suddenly, the blue turns light
the darkness quickly fading
the movies gone, the images dissolve
only the emotions remain, dripping off
My eyes crash open, appendages start to twitch
consciousness and self break free

A stretch, a yawn... and the images are gone
A day of possibilities beyond
and yet I smile and think of evening
for the joys of night swimming


An Official Welcome to Bear and Mina :)

So it's time for an official introduction to the new – well, newer to me at any rate- cat siblings that I have adopted. I mentioned them in a previous post, but they are now settled in and even have names. As such, I am ready to give them a short and proper introduction.

It is certain that I didn't need any more cats at the time that they entered my life. I had Morianna- a good and deserving stray that spent most of her time hiding in my kitchen drawer. Bella the stray is thin, but pleasing and has a quite a personality. And I had also agreed to allow a few people and their cat to move in with me temporarily so I figured that was enough on top of everything else going on. But an outing with a friend and a few machinations... and I came home with two eight month old cats. Black and white and obviously devoted to each other, they can sit looking like the most serious bookends at each end of the couch... or they lay intertwined like the most exhausted and obsessed lovers caught in the wee hours of the dawn. When they first came in, both of them immediately investigated the other inhabitants of the house- Morianna was frankly a bit appalled- and then settled in. Unlike other cats that I have known, I found it challenging to come up with names for them. Their personalities are very different and didn't easily come out with a name. Also, still being quite kitteny- and I'm not really fond of kittens- I found getting close to them really challenging. It has taken a few months for all of us to really settle in.

So the male... older by a few minutes is named Bear. He is an exuberant soul and feels joy in almost everything! He is the first to reach the door when I come home at night and tends to be the first in everything; he is first to the food bowl, first to pat my face awake and first to be found stretched across my bed like a small happy pelt with a loud purr to match in the early afternoon hours. He is also the first to come and hop onto my lap... or sometimes even my homework. It has been a long time since I have any cats in my household that have had the exuberance and desire to stampede over the home and I will admit that I have missed it. A few times a week, I have taken the opportunity to sit and just watch as the whole household of cats run and leap and jump and dash through the house. Once I was accidentally hurt as Bear leaped down from the lamp onto the top of the bed and landed on my face with one paw landing directly on my left eye – it felt bruised for days. But I couldn't be angry for long, he was so happy and quickly exuberant again. Bear is very much Brock's favorite and they can be seen snuggling and tussling as often as they can. In fact, I have never seen a cat that 'needs' to be part of the action so much. I'm looking forward to more fun for many years.

His sister, a smaller and more delicately framed little one, is named Mina. I have no idea where the name came from... I just know that it popped out one day and it stuck. She answers to it and can quickly be seen running up or lounging around to watch the action. She is more reserved and her brother, but absolutely dotes on him and has also become Bella's shadow as well. I have caught Bella forcibly washing Mina as well if her 'toilette' doesn't meet with Bella's strict approval. She is also happy to curl up into my lap and then sit and stretch- purring and pliant while I read a book and I feel so full and peaceful in those moments. She reminds me of Miagray- a Miagray that I once knew except that she isn't so afraid to feel and show it. It's quite wonderful actually.

They still help me sleep and together they are quite a formidable and fun pair. With the addition of Finny- another story that I may tell one day- my household is full and complete. Even now as the night comes in, I sit surrounded by purring friends. I have a good book and a warm stove and everything may still be in slight disarray from moving but everything feels orderly and peaceful. So a hearty welcome to my new housemates and friends! :)


A Little Bit on the New Place

So, I have finished moving into my new place! I am really excited about it for so many reasons and even though I still have some unpacking and arranging to do, I feel more comfortable than I have in a long time. It doesn't look like much- it's just a small cabin, yet its so much some comfortable and I feel more free than I did in my two bedroom apartment. It's funny how having less makes some things harder, but many important things easier.

I love having land to hang out on again. I have already started imagining and planning for a small garden in the spring and I am wondering if maybe having ducks would be a possibility again- not wondering too much because I will be working so much so I wouldn't be able to enjoy them or keep them safe. I have already tried to enjoy some time sitting outside looking at the stars – feels too cold to do for long right now- but I am looking forward to it in the spring evenings. I love having wood heat again... its a more comfortable heat and while I am still getting used to the rhythm of starting and keeping the stove lit and fired up again, its wonderful. It is so much more comforting and feels more right than a thermostat does. I have to pay attention to the weather, to how I feel, to the air around me... and as such I think I get a better appreciation of it.

I love the huge amount of windows- boy the cats do as well. When I am working outside, I will see them sitting on the sills enjoying the rays of sun that come through the pains. I love that it is within the living boundaries of the church I need to attend and so I no longer have to worry about difficulties there. I love the rustic look of the place itself and even some of the problems- I find myself thinking of ways to fix or modify them. I love the size of it and how it is pretty darn cozy. How many people live in places that they really feel are great places to live for all parts of them. I suspect that not many people do as otherwise, home décor wouldn't be such a popular thing as we try to turn our homes into things that we like to look at and let others look at instead of enjoying the place for the environment it provides. (I recognize that I have over simplified that idea.) It feels like a place to be happy and to grow in.

So here is a picture. Like I said, not fancy... but perfect all the same. :)