Clearing some cobwebs
I am thinking of Ferguson. I am thinking of St Paul, Los Angeles, Florida. I am thinking about how my social media worlds have shown me just how segregated my life has become, and not in the obvious ways. I am thinking of my friends scattered across the country posting faithfully and tirelessly injustice after injustice, insisting we all become witnesses; of their bravery and their hearts that often feel just out of my reach as I am tucked away in my Queens apartment, writing arts grants. I am thinking about how many well-intentioned people I know have cited #Ferguson but did not raise a hashtag for the Harlem raids just two months ago. How easy it is for all of us to point to outside, elsewhere, other places, people. I am thinking about silence. How I crave it, especially in the midst of a click-addiction, of needing more information, more bites, more evidence that somehow justifies my sadness and rage. How it comes when I need it least, when I am about to write, about to post, about to spend a precious hour in a studio, moving, processing, breathing. How it can be ice and a chokehold, or a tenderness and freedom.
I have been thinking about this piece. How can I make a piece about healing when I am questioning what it means, if it exists? What if all we have are good intentions?
It’s not just the macro that has me stopped in my tracks (why fight or flee when you can just freeze like a deer in headlights …) — Amidst a busy summer (festival) season, I asked myself repeatedly what was going on with this project. Why did it feel so alien and far away? It seemed that in the face of something personally meaningful, a project that was asking me to challenge myself and go somewhere I have never gone before, I had given it some best intentions, my old bag of tricks. Instead of asking myself what this piece was asking me to do, I tried to ask it to do something for me.
I have been thinking about the verse I chose, “(And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said,) Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters, there shall not be from thence any more death or barren (land)” – 2 Kings 2:21, and the story it comes from. Why was I drawn to this amongst so many other verses about healing?
While the ideas of feminized land (woman-as-country/homeland) and barrenness in women as an indicator of lost favor with a deity (here, G*d) interest me, surprisingly, they have not caught my heart. What grabs me about this verse is the performance or demonstration of the healing act, the concept that healing is a performance. And performance is a process.
As my understanding of the verse (and my process) became clearer, I had to acknowledge the uneasiness (to say the least) around the Elisha story that this verse comes from. Following the healing of Jericho’s water(s)/barrenness, Elisha travels to Bethel and is teased by a group of youths. He calls down a curse, two (female) bear come on to the scene, and maul/tear up the forty two boys/lads/children (there is discrepancy amongst the English translations; this passage is most likely talking about a group of young men).
I thought about Elisha’s curse as I grabbed my keffiyeh from a solidarity organization multiple days this summer. I thought about these forty two young men as video after video, status after status, came through to my Queens apartment documenting what my home press often refused to cover. I thought the size of full-grown bears, the David versus Goliath aspect of it (except this time, the giant won). I thought about how it was the deaths of three young men, and later four boys, that contributed to escalated violence in Gaza this summer. How bears are made of men.
Why does this curse directly follow the blessing and healing of the waters? Biblical scholarship seems to point out that Elisha is justified in his action because the youth were mocking G*d, not just Elisha. And because Elisha calls on the Lord for the curse, this seems to make it … okay? Right? At the very least, it is suggested that G*d is starting a new chapter in his dealings with his chosen people, and this is more or less making an example of these boys.
I am thinking about all of the excuses we apply to the misuse of power, especially our own. I am thinking of a young prophet, new to his position, who out of frustration and fear, made a call and had to witness the destruction he called for. Whereas in Jericho Elisha needed an audience to witness his act of transformation, on the road out of Bethel, he was made the witness to his own power. I am thinking of silence. I am thinking of the silence that accompanied Elisha as he continued his journey, suggested in the text by a lack of any action or prayer: “And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria”.
I am thinking about the silence we crave and the silence we let dominate, about our power to make witnesses of each other as we display our power, about making witnesses of ourselves.