[NOTE: This story is fiction. But it echoes & rhymes with many true events from the soldier resistance during the Iraq invasion that began in March 2003. It also unofficially reflects my experience as Director at Quaker House in wartime conditions. Since Quaker House is now seeking a new Director, I hope it will get the attention of persons who might be interested in the best Quaker job of all, or know someone who should be.]
Money for College
Fayetteville/Fort Bragg North Carolina, late December 2003 – Wartime
I was running behind that morning, as usual.
Didn’t wake up until after ten – but then, working til all hours and then sleeping in is one of the few perks you get as the head of a peace project with a one-person staff.
Anyway the night before, I was trying to finish the latest Quaker House newsletter. It was supposed to be printed and in the mail within a week. I might make that deadline, might not. More late nights would probably be needed for that one.
Stumbling back from the bathroom, still rubbing my eyes, I remembered this was Wednesday, and our peace vigil downtown was scheduled for noon. Usually it’s at five, but a Canadian TV crew was going to be in town just this morning, and they asked if we could switch the time. Continue reading Money for College: A Quaker War Resistance Story→
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) is now mostly thought of as a very old-fashioned conventional poet, who can be dispensed with in light of modern notions of verse and literary values.
But I think such a dismissal misses a big point which should give us pause today:
Whittier was also a very public Quaker who lived through the years when American democracy fell apart in the cultural conflict over slavery, and was only salvaged after four long and extremely bloody years of civil war, with an aftermath not yet concluded.
And while Whittier did not take up arms in the war, he was still active and vocal throughout, as he had been for years before the fighting began.
The weapon he took up was his poet’s pen. That’s what he was: a poet. And poets can go to war in their own way, like others.
He wrote poems, many of which were widely circulated, in service of the cause of abolition, for which the war ultimately was fought. So whatever the lasting literary value of his work, it remains an example of turning one’s gift and calling to work in one’s times.
So for his birthday, when deep cultural strife haunts the land again, here are three of his poems, which might, if we can see past our pedantic prejudices, be useful for reflection and encouragement in facing our own time of trials.
One: A Fiery Prelude
Written for and read at the dedication of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, May 15, 1838. The building was financed by donations, and erected after most churches and halls in Philadelphia refused to host abolition meetings. Whittier said it was built so “that the citizens of Philadelphia should possess a room wherein the principles of Liberty, and Equality of Civil Rights, could be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed.”
While the poem imagines a distant future time when slavery was banished, Pennsylvania Hall’s future was extremely short: On May 17th, two nights after the poem was read there, it was burned by a mob, Whittier said, “destroying the office of the Pennsylvania Freeman, of which I was editor, and with it my books and papers.” Lucretia Mott, another supporter, had also spoken there and was pursued by (but escaped from) a proslavery mob.
Pennsylvania Hall (excerpts)
And fitting is it that this Hall should stand
Where Pennsylvania’s Founder led his band,.
From thy blue waters, Delaware!— to press
The virgin verdure of the wilderness.
Here, where all Europe with amazement saw
The soul’s high freedom trammelled by no law;
Here, where the fierce and warlike forest-men
Gathered, in peace, around the home of Penn,
Awed by the weapons Love alone had given
Drawn from the holy armory of Heaven;
Where Nature’s voice against the bondman’s wrong
First found an earnest and indignant tongue;
Where Lay’s bold message to the proud was borne;
And Keith’s rebuke, and Franklin’s manly scorn!
Fitting it is that here, where Freedom first
From her fair feet shook off the Old World’s dust,
Spread her white pinions to our Western blast,
And her free tresses to our sunshine cast,
One Hall should rise redeemed from Slavery’s ban,
One Temple sacred to the Rights of Man!
Oh! if the spirits of the parted come,
Visiting angels, to their olden home;
If the dead fathers of the land look forth
From their fair dwellings, to the things of earth,
Is it a dream, that with their eyes of love,
They gaze now on us from the bowers above?
Lay’s ardent soul, and Benezet the mild,
Steadfast in faith, yet gentle as a child,
Meek-hearted Woolman, and that brother-band,
The sorrowing exiles from their “Father land,”
Leaving their homes in Krieshiem’s bowers of vine,
And the blue beauty of their glorious Rhine,
To seek amidst our solemn depths of wood
Freedom from man, and holy peace with God;
Who first of all their testimonial gave
Against the oppressor, for the outcast slave,
Is it a dream that such as these look down,
And with their blessing our rejoicings crown?
Let us rejoice, that while the pulpit’s door
Is barred against the pleaders for the poor;
While the Church, wrangling upon points of faith,
Forgets her bondsmen suffering unto death;
While crafty Traffic and the lust of Gain
Unite to forge Oppression’s triple chain,
One door is open, and one Temple free,
As a resting-place for hunted Liberty!
Where men may speak, unshackled and unawed,
High words of Truth, for Freedom and for God.
And when that truth its perfect work hath done,
And rich with blessings o’er our land hath gone;
When not a slave beneath his yoke shall pine,
From broad Potomac to the far Sabine . . .
Then, though this Hall be crumbling in decay,
Its strong walls blending with the common clay,
Yet, round the ruins of its strength shall stand
The best and noblest of a ransomed land —
Pilgrims, like these who throng around the shrine
Of Mecca, or of holy Palestine!
A prouder glory shall that ruin own
Than that which lingers round the Parthenon.
Here shall the child of after years be taught
The works of Freedom which his fathers wrought;
Told of the trials of the present hour,
Our weary strife with prejudice and power;
How the high errand quickened woman’s soul,
And touched her lip as with a living coal;
How Freedom’s martyrs kept their lofty faith
True and unwavering, unto bonds and death;
The pencil’s art shall sketch the ruined Hall,
The Muses’ garland crown its aged wall,
And History’s pen for after times record
Its consecration unto Freedom’s God!
Two: A Campaign song from 1860
Whittier was a political abolitionist and a supporter of the new, antislavery Republican party. In fact, as the presidential campaigns peaked in the 1860 election, he penned a shamelessly partisan campaign lyric, celebrating favorable political news from Pennsylvania.
The song was written for a Republican mass meeting held in Newburyport, Mass., October 11, 1860.
The Quakers Are Out
NOT vainly we waited and counted the hours, The buds of our hope have all burst into flowers. No room for misgiving—no loop-hole of doubt,— We’ve heard from the Keystone! The Quakers are out.
The plot has exploded—we’ve found out the trick, The bribe goes a-begging; the fusion won’t stick When the Wide-awake lanterns are shining about, The rogues stay at home, and the true men are out!
The good State has broken the cords for her spun;
Her oil-springs and water won’t fuse into one; The Dutchman has seasoned with Freedom his kraut, And slow, late, but certain, the Quakers are out!
Give the flags to the winds! set the hills all aflame!
Make way for the man with the Patriarch’s name!
Away with misgiving—away with all doubt, For Lincoln goes in, when the Quakers are out!
Three: A Ballad of war
With Lincoln’s election, war soon followed. Then, in 1863, Whittier heard a tale about an alleged confrontation in Frederick, Maryland, when a large Confederate rebel force passed through a Maryland town enroute to a major battle nearby. He spun it into stanzas that “went viral” on the new telegraphic internet, and were long repeated after the war had ended:
Jim Corbett was a fascinating guy, but like all of us he had his faults. In his amazing first book, he way overdid the self-deprecation:
”Goatwalking is a book for saddlebag or backpack —to live with a while, casually. It is compact and multifaceted, but for unhurried reflection rather than study. It is woven from star-gazing and campfire talk, to open conversations rather than to lead the reader on a one-way track of entailment to necessary conclusions. I prove no points. This is no teaching.“
Like heck he didn’t prove points. And baloney his pages are “teaching-free”; they’re teaching-packed. (He was probably right about the saddlebag; tho I’m guessing on that.)
But don’t take my word for it. Read Goatwalkingyourself and decide. And now you can, because on August 10, after a 30-year hiatus, the book is back in print, in modestly priced paperback and E-book versions, right here.
For that matter, Corbett writes tellingly about being and acting as a Quaker in our turbulent times, in ways that go far beyond our usual, Prius-with-the-correct-(but not too many)-bumperstickers mode. But here he also overdoes the mock-humility thing: Continue reading Let’s Go Goatwalking, Friends→
As I begin this post, Portland and Seattle are roasting, a Florida beachfront condo has collapsed, the lake keeping Las Vegas afloat is disappearing, and many more out West are dreading the start of fire season. Here in the East we’re keeping a wary eye on Xs and Os on the Atlantic hurricane map; and everybody should be concerned about those virulent variants.
Amid all these budding disasters, pieces of a paragraph from the early 1990s keep popping into my head:
I have a confession to make. I want my grandchildren to learn how to goatwalk . . . . I’m a survivalist where they’re concerned. Industrial civilization has destabilized the earth’s climate beyond the point of no-return. The fair-weather agriculture on which our civilization depends is doomed. In the course of the next century, much of North America will probably become desert. Even if it doesn’t, annual rainfalls and temperatures will fluctuate too wildly to sustain the agricultural systems on which we now depend. If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, my grandchildren will have to get along without industrial agriculture as it now exists. Maybe a more sustainable industrial adaptation will emerge, but I want them to know enough to survive the old-fashioned, nomad way, in case that’s a viable choice.
Learn how to Goatwalk? I have great grandchildren now, and why should they be learning to walk with goats?
To explain why, let me say something first about a bucket. Or more precisely, a Bucket List. We can start with mine.
In the May 30, 2021 New York Times, there’s an Op-Ed on military conscientious objectors, or COs. I’m gratified to see it on the brink of Memorial Day. It shows no disrespect for those who agreed to fight in war and died to recognize that a persistent minority has declined to take the sword.
The piece mentions two military COs, but mostly concentrates on the recent case of Michael Rasmussen. He was training to be a Marine combat pilot, but found his conscience turned against taking part in war. The Times:
One morning as he prepared for a supply flight to Hawaii, Mr. Rasmussen kept returning to the story he’d read in bed the night before in “Path of Compassion,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the Buddha was out begging when he was nearly mugged by a notorious criminal. Instead of robbing the Buddha, the mugger confessed to a life of murder and mayhem and asked him for advice: “What good act could I possibly do?”
“Stop traveling the road of hatred and violence,” the Buddha said. “That would be the greatest act of all.”
Mr. Rasmussen got in his car to drive to the hangar, overwhelmed with what he called an “immense feeling of dread.” The story haunted him: “Am I on the road of hatred and violence?” he wondered. He decided then and there to leave the Marines.
Author and novelist Jessamyn West (1902-1984), best remembered for her classic The Friendly Persuasion (book and movie) was raised and shaped by a long line of Quakers. Rooted in Indiana, they wound up evangelical and Holiness-centered, as well as cousins to Richard Nixon, in southern California.
Her family left their southern Indiana Quaker homeland when Jessamyn was six. West left its Quakerism as a young woman; as her church moved in ever-more conservative directions, she wound up, not an activist, more a loyal ACLU liberal. But her Quakerism never really left her.
A year ago, on October 10, 2019, I had a stroke. And I saw a vision of my future.
It started in the living room, about 7AM. I was in my battered recliner, reading newspapers on an Ipad. Across from me, on our long couch, grandson Calvin was stirring. His mom worked nights at Waffle House, so he often stayed over. It would soon be time for him to head out for the school bus.
I glanced up at him, and then something else stirred to my left: A bright metallic blue curtain had appeared, and seemed as if it was being drawn to the right, across my field of vision.
There was no pain, in fact no unusual sensation at all. But clearly something was wrong. I called out to Wendy, asleep in our bedroom. “I think I’m having a stroke!”
Calvin had to get himself up and out that morning. Shortly I was walking into the Duke ER, which is barely a mile away. And immediately I discovered one of the upsides of my condition. Having spent many bleak and painful hours in that ER waiting room, when I calmly answered the reception nurse’s “May I help you?” with, “I think I’m having a stroke,” it was like waving Harry Potter’s most potent magic wand. Continue reading A Whole Year In One Stroke→
The time I spent in the civil rights struggle for Black voting rights in 1965 was a very important part of my life.
And the time I spent working for the Postal Service (USPS), beginning twenty years later in 1985, was important too.
But the two experiences were very different, so different I couldn’t imagine they would ever intersect.
Why should they? One was a social movement, shaking things up, demanding change for justice and facing violent, even murderous opposition. The other was the nation’s oldest public utility, which when working well was a nearly invisible pillar of American normality, stability and placid routine.
But now, in late summer 2020, they’ve abruptly come together; collided, really. Saving our voting rights today, this year, means saving the USPS. Who would have thought?
This is a confluence that’s not easy to sort out. I invite you to come along as I try to process it. I hope doing so can be a small diversion in these Dog Days, but will also encourage you to join the rising movement to defend the postal service, and our voting rights, by whatever sort of ”good trouble” you are able to make.
THEE finds me in the garden, Hannah,—come in! ’T is kind of thee To wait until the Friends were gone, who came to comfort me. The still and quiet company a peace may give, indeed, But blessed is the single heart that comes to us at need.
Come, sit thee down! Here is the bench where Benjamin would sit On First-day afternoons in spring, and watch the swallows flit: He loved to smell the sprouting box, and hear the pleasant bees Go humming round the lilacs and through the apple-trees.
I think he loved the spring: not that he cared for flowers: most men Think such things foolishness,—but we were first acquainted then, One spring: the next he spoke his mind; the third I was his wife, And in the spring (it happened so) our children entered life.
He was but seventy-five; I did not think to lay him yet In Kennett graveyard, where at Monthly Meeting first we met. The Father’s mercy shows in this: ’t is better I should be Picked out to bear the heavy cross—alone in age—than he.
We ’ve lived together fifty years: it seems but one long day, One quiet Sabbath of the heart, till he was called away; And as we bring from Meeting-time a sweet contentment home, So, Hannah, I have store of peace for all the days to come.
I mind (for I can tell thee now) how hard it was to know If I had heard the spirit right, that told me I should go; For father had a deep concern upon his mind that day, But mother spoke for Benjamin,—she knew what best to say.
Then she was still: they sat awhile: at last she spoke again, “The Lord incline thee to the right!” and “Thou shalt have him, Jane!” My father said. I cried. Indeed, ’t was not the least of shocks, For Benjamin was Hicksite, and father Orthodox.
I thought of this ten years ago, when daughter Ruth we lost: Her husband’s of the world, and yet I could not see her crossed. She wears, thee knows, the gayest gowns, she hears a hireling priest— Ah, dear! the cross was ours: her life’s a happy one, at least.
Perhaps she ’ll wear a plainer dress when she ’s as old as I,— Would thee believe it, Hannah? once I felt temptation nigh! My wedding-gown was ashen silk, too simple for my taste; I wanted lace around the neck, and a ribbon at the waist.
How strange it seemed to sit with him upon the women’s side! I did not dare to lift my eyes: I felt more fear than pride, Till, “in the presence of the Lord,” he said, and then there came A holy strength upon my heart, and I could say the same.
I used to blush when he came near, but then I showed no sign; With all the meeting looking on, I held his hand in mine. It seemed my bashfulness was gone, now I was his for life: Thee knows the feeling, Hannah,—thee too, hast been a wife.
As home we rode, I saw no fields look half so green as ours; The woods were coming into leaf, the meadows full of flowers; The neighbors met us in the lane, and every face was kind,— ’T is strange how lively everything comes back upon my mind.
I see, as plain as thee sits there, the wedding dinner spread: At our own table we were guests, with father at the head; And Dinah Passmore helped us both,—’t was she stood up with me, And Abner Jones with Benjamin,—and now they ’re gone, all three!
It is not right to wish for death; the Lord disposes best. His Spirit comes to quiet hearts, and fits them for His rest; And that He halved our little flock was merciful, I see: For Benjamin has two in heaven, and two are left with me.
Eusebius never cared to farm,—’t was not his call, in truth, And I must rent the dear old place, and go to daughter Ruth. Thee ’ll say her ways are not like mine,—young people now-a-days Have fallen sadly off, I think, from all the good old ways.
But Ruth is still a Friend at heart; she keeps the simple tongue, The cheerful, kindly nature we loved when she was young; And it was brought upon my mind, remembering her, of late, That we on dress and outward things perhaps lay too much weight.
I once heard Jesse Kersey say, a spirit clothed with grace, And pure almost as angels are, may have a homely face. And dress may be of less account: the Lord will look within: The soul it is that testifies of righteousness or sin.
Thee must n’t be too hard on Ruth: she ’s anxious I should go, And she will do her duty as a daughter should, I know. ’T is hard to change so late in life, but we must be resigned: The Lord looks down contentedly upon a willing mind.
– Bayard Taylor
Hat-tip to Friend Mitchell Gould
Biographical sketch, Adapted from Wikipedia
BayardTaylor. (January 11, 1825 – December 19, 1878) was an American poet, literary critic, translator, travel author, and diplomat.
Taylor was born in Kennett Square, southwest of Philadelphia, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth son, the first to survive to maturity, of the Quaker couple, Joseph and Rebecca (née Way) Taylor. His father was a wealthy farmer.
Bayard received his early instruction in an academy at West Chester, Pennsylvania, and later at nearby Unionville. At the age of seventeen, he was apprenticed to a printer in West Chester. The influential critic and editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold encouraged him to write poetry.
In 1849 Taylor married Mary Agnew, who died of tuberculosis the next year. That same year, Taylor won a popular competition sponsored by P. T. Barnum to write an ode for the “Swedish Nightingale”, singer Jenny Lind.
In October 1857, he married Maria Hansen, the daughter of the Danish/German astronomer Peter Hansen.
Taylor traveled widely and published many articles and books about his journeys. In 1862, he was appointed to the U.S. diplomatic service as secretary of legation at St. Petersburg, and acting minister to Russia for a time during 1862-3 . . . .
He published his first novel Hannah Thurston in 1863. The New York Times first praised him for “break[ing] new ground with such assured success”. A second much longer appreciation in the same newspaper was thoroughly negative, describing “one pointless, aimless situation leading to another of the same stamp, and so on in maddening succession”. It concluded: “The platitudes and puerilities which might otherwise only raise a smile, when confronted with such pompous pretensions, excite the contempt of every man who has in him the feeblest instincts of common honesty in literature.” Nevertheless, the novel proved successful enough for his publisher to announce another novel from him the next year.
His late novel, Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania (1870), first serialized in the magazine The Atlantic, was described as a story of a young man in rural Pennsylvania and “the troubles which arise from the want of a broader education and higher culture”. It is believed to be based on the poets Fitz-Greene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, and since the late 20th-century has been called America’s first gay novel. [The novel is online, full text & free, here: https://tinyurl.com/s4tsylf] During March 1878, the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as United States Minister to Prussia. Mark Twain, who traveled to Europe on the same ship, was envious of Taylor’s command of German. . . .
A few months after arriving in Berlin, Taylor died there on December 19, 1878. His body was returned to the U.S. and buried in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, hard by the Meeting house of the Longwood Progressive Friends, both of which are near the renowned Longwood Gardens.
The New York Times published his obituary on its front page, referring to him as “a great traveler, both on land and paper”. Shortly after his death, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a memorial poem in Taylor’s memory . . . . Taylor’s reputation as a poet has faded, but “The Quaker Widow” is one of a series of “Home ballads” generally regarded as among his most memorable verse.