The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

For the first time in the now two years that I have been posting, I received an email questioning the worth of it.

45 is still in office. Congress remains cowardly. Yes, there are some inroads of integrity as a result of the midterm elections, but…

Perhaps this questioner is unaware that I could never be brash enough to imagine I can change the oligarchical agenda or minds polluted with hate.

As I’ve said from the very beginning, all I but desperately hoped to do was offer an affirmation for those who — while keeping Jefferson’s dictum to maintain a vigilant watch over those in power — never abandon attention to people and things that matter.

After all, sarcasm, shallow irony, and cynicism are easy. What is difficult is to refrain from saying, “Honey, can’t you see that I’m watching the news?!” Or refrain from turning every conversation into a rant instead of asking, “So, tell me what’s been happening with you?” To instead feed the birds or visit the one grieving down the street.

When the synagogue in my home city of Pittsburgh suffered the hate-initiated mass killings, 45 of course drew attention to himself.

Noah Farkas, the nephew of poet Joy Friedler, is a rabbi in Los Angeles who answered the killings with an invocation to his city. He kindly allowed me to excerpt his:

A Prayer for Pittsburgh: Invocation at the Los Angeles County Board Of Supervisors
Published October 30, 2018

Thank you Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for asking me to come this morning. Indeed it is a difficult morning. The last few days have tested our resolve. On this past Shabbat, the sabbath, a man filled with hate murdered eleven worshipers simply because they were Jews. They came for respite and found only violence. But I would be remiss if I did not mention that this attack-the bloodiest massacre of Jews in this country’s history-an attack meant to divide us, was a singular event. Just hours earlier two elderly African American patrons were gunned down in a grocery store because of the color of their skin. At the same moment, an assassination attempt against our nation’s leaders and former leaders was still unfolding. Such violence, such hatred, such cruelty.

As a nation we must understand that an assault during the sabbath is an assault on the sabbath itself. It’s an assault on all of us, not just Jews. On the poetry that is America.

If we are to overcome the hatred, racism and anti-semitism that has reared its ugly head we must set for ourselves the task of reaching across our divides and be fully present for each other. We cannot live only with an either/or paradigm that says that when I win you lose. Or that when you win I must lose. Your redemption cannot come to fruition on the back of my neck, nor can my freedom be at the expense of your blood and treasure. Yours and mine are the same.

It was at night when they came for us. It was at night when the Nazis marched against us. It is at night when they broke the glass and burned the crosses. Came into our houses of worship, our schools, our businesses, our homes. It was at night when the tophets glowed the brightest.

In the morning, joy will come. In the morning, for only in the morning, after a long night, in partnership with other people, together, do we dare say it will be good

.–Rabbi Noah Farkas

I can’t help noticing the ways this invocation lays itself within every place in our lives, our towns and cities, our schools and churches, our neighborhoods, our divisive hearts. We have received permission from 45 to break the fragile bonds that hold us together. Farkas seeks to mend them.

And I think that is one of the great gifts of the arts. The bonds formed by noticing the sameness and the differences. There is Bohemian Rhapsody and there is Debussy. I began each of my poetry writing classes by reminding the students that it is good to find out what we have in common and where to find common ground. “But in our poetry class we are going to seek out our differences. You are safe here to be who you are. It MUST be safe here for each of you to be you. And that is going to reveal through your art that you are not the same. However we will refrain from being cruel. There will not be room for even one eye to roll. We are going to delight in our differences.”

A repeat–

The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

He thought changing the nouns
might help. No one could say
“gun” in the same old way. You
would have to pause, say,
“What’s the name again? Oh,
yes, sassafras.” You would hear,
“Give me the wisteria to the car,”
or find yourself asking, “Why
don’t we add some whispers
to the bottom line?” He realized
this one long, hazy afternoon
while staring up into the trees,
into the wild acceptance
of their branches’ tangle. He
watched the light settle on
the leaves. He believed
the robins, vireos, and
nuthatches could see it.
Later that evening drying
his dinner plate, he felt everything
around him leaving, felt himself
alone amid the sparkles of remaining
dust. Before bed, he addressed, sealed,
and stamped a stack of empty
envelopes, one for everyone
he loved. The next morning
he made his first list: bread dough,
lightning, salt, candle, mourning dove,
while he thought of last laugh,
coffin, profit margin, highway, lie.

–Jack Ridl

From Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

My thanks to Rabbi Farkas for permission to share his invocation, and to his beloved Aunt Joy Friedler, a poet whose valuable work I encourage you to explore. Her latest collection is Capture Theory. Her previous collections include Dutiful Heart and Like Vapor.

Rabbi Farkas’s commentaries can be found at https://noahfarkas.com/

A video of his complete invocation can be found at https://vimeo.com/298000094

My friend Karen Marie Schuen Rowe, on the Big read of Station 11 in Holland, Michigan, wrote this wonderful letter, which goes straight to the heart of what the arts can do for us in troubling times. And I think how lucky her students are to have her.

 

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!
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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

20 thoughts on “The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

  1. You NEED to continue. It helps me see a light at the end of the l-o-n-g dark tunnel. “Surviving is insufficient,” wrote St. Mandel. This weekly bit of kindness proves that.

  2. wort it… it’s very hard for me to try to understand this question. every single word is important and it’s „worth“ to think about and first of all act as a human.
    be a light for all of us in this days that feels like a never ending…

  3. This post is so very powerful! Why? When one opens oneself to the world of the internet, great things happen. But so do crummy ones. It’s like getting one’s first crummy review, isn’t it? You take a deep breath. Reflect on the message. Learn if there is anything to learn. And then move on. Thank you for moving on. You know one of my favorite sayings is that “apathy, cynicism, and despair” are the Achilles Heel of our democracy. And for addressing the health of our great lakes. It’s a message worth repeating. And repeating. Especially during these difficult times. And Noah . . . so eloquent in his heartfelt remarks. So well worth repeating . . . and repeating . . . “it will be good.” We have the power to make it so. And lastly, your poem. We change the world one moment at a time–using our gifts, our passion. As you do every Thursday.

    Thank you, dear friend. And please keep posting! Mary

    >

    • You carry a passionate light into every day and bring awareness in the way that honors all that is good.
      Friend of all creatures great and small and where each lives–YOU!

    • More a match, but my gratitude for you are in abundance. Your light shines when
      you even stand still.
      And I had such a great good time with David at lunch!

    • Hey! How’d you know that? : )

      Ya know what it also takes? YOU! Sitting down knowing
      that I am writing to YOU! It means soooooo much.
      Hugs

  4. I think the answer to the one who questioned your post on changing the world, is that it is what we as artists, poets, writers, speakers, protesters, and questioners do. We do what we need to do to stay sane. We were each given a gift and we are each using that gift to the best of our abilities. It is this collective action that will change the world. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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