Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Subway Poem 14

The D train stopped aloft the Manhattan Bridge
Just up the Brooklyn side of the hanger
A young woman slumped to the floor
A police officer on board would stand before her
As one woman traversed the carriage,
Looking for an emergency alarm
While another yelled, "Forget about it! Just forget about it!"
And there you had it
The entire human condition
Encapsulated in a steel tube
Hovering, hesitant over the East River


Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Subway Story

I just saw the most astonishing thing I've seen in over 4 years riding the New York City subway.

As I boarded the train, one guy was yelling obscenities at and threatening another seated guy for 5 minutes; the rest of us staring on in amazement, me hoping security would arrive to interrupt him. The guy next to me sat with his head in his hands, seemingly to block out the noise. Finally, the first guy comes and sits down across from us with one of his friends, both of them drunk, still talking loudly and swearing.

Finally, the guy next to me looks up and speaks up. "Your day could be worse, you know. I just found out I have cancer." It's clear he isn't joking.

The two guys across from are silenced, literally dumbstruck. "I'm sorry, man," one of them eventually mutters.

"It's OK," says the guy next to me. "I'm just saying, your day could be worse. I went to the doctor today and he told me I probably have cancer." His eyes are red: he's been sitting there, hiding the fact that he's been crying. As he speaks, his voice starts shuddering, then his whole body is shaking and he's weeping. This was not remotely an act. It was pure, visceral emotion.

Both men across from me were completely silenced now. The train stops at 34th Street and the two get off, but not before each lays a hand on the guy's shoulder and says, "I'm sorry, man."

"It's OK," he says. "Just remember, your day could be worse."

He got off at Union Square. I followed him off. We went our separate ways.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why Should a Muslim Community Center Be Built in Lower Manhattan?

After I linked to the twitter feed for the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, where the center responds to its critics, a friend on Facebook asked me to explain "why the mosque SHOULD be built in this location as opposed to somewhere else, when clearly whatever side you are on it is a divisive thing?" My response follows.

I think it should be built there for a number of reasons:
  • Because it's not a mosque and it's not at Ground Zero, it's 4 blocks away
  • Because some folks have drummed up fear around this being a Mosque (false) at Ground Zero (also false) where it needn't exist, so why cave into them? The community center location wasn't a controversy until some very radical anti-Muslim individuals began to paint this fictitious version of what it is to be (more on the real origins of this debate here on Salon)
  • Because although saying it's insensitive and divisive for it to be there may be the most civilized argument being offered against it, that argument still sort of tacitly conflates Islam as practiced by this really pretty liberal Imam with the radical ultra-violent Islamicists, who attacked us on 9/11, as much for political reasons, as religious
  • It's not really insensitive for Rauf to place his community center there (even if it were a mosque) because he's been working in the Tribeca area of Lower Manhattan for about 20 years, a long time before 9/11 - this fact is never mentioned by the folks trying to describe it as a "victory mosque" or whatnot because it would undermine their theory about why it's being built in the first place
  • Rauf is precisely the sort if Imam Bin Laden *wouldn't* want building a mosque near Ground Zero because he stands against the violence of Bin Laden and actually encourage communication among the world's religions in ways Bin Laden would despise and denounce (read more about him here)
  • The Constitution - specifically freedom of religion and freedom of speech. It's precisely because we don't want to become like Saudi Arabia that we allow a religious center to be built near Ground Zero (along with all the other religious centers, shopping centers, bars, sex shops and strip clubs), even tho we may not agree with every single thing that's going to be said there. In this way, we say, Bin Laden, no, you don't win.
  • Many Muslims died in 9/11. They have as much right to grieve and memorialize the 9/11 event, as the rest of us Americans - a listing of Muslim victims on About.com
It's a sensitive subject, I know, so I appreciate that my friends on Facebook were able to engage in a civil conversation about it. But I think it's also a great opportunity for us all to engage in a great dialogue on the subject. It's the folks comparing Imam Rauf's building a community center to Nazis placing a sign at the Holocaust Museum - those folks aren't helping. (Looking at you New Gingrich!)

I think all the arguments above, by the way, can be made irrespective of political party or religious background.

So, in short: I don't think the center has to be built there either. But "there" isn't Ground Zero. And it ain't a mosque, but if it were, no big deal. We believe in freedom of religion. We don't throw in the towel or chuck out the Constitution because a bunch of nutjobs attacked us on 9/11. What an opportunity to prove that to the world.

I decided to post my thoughts on this subject here because I think this event has become a touchstone for so much of what's going on in the United States right now - especially in regards to 9/11, terrorism, and hostility towards Muslims and people of other religions and ethnicities - and I'd like to track my own thoughts on the subject.

Feel free to share your own in the comments.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Subway Poem 13

Standing at one end,
looking down the morning train,
as it emerges from its tunnel
onto the sunsplashed Manhattan Bridge.

The faces of these travelers,
largely calm, impassive,
as they align this carriage,
their bodies gently wavering,
like so many grassy stems in a subaquatic passage.


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

California's Historic Prop 8 Ruling

Congratulations to all those who have fought so hard for human rights in California and around the United States. This is truly an exciting and historic milestone.

Prop 8 Ruling FINAL