Tag Archives: creative writing

Reclamation

This river glides by you, playing a cheerful melody beneath the Spring sun, and flows on its journey to meet its big brother, the Detroit River.

The stream’s moniker, River Rouge, speaks of this area’s French history and the river’s color when filled with silt  in Springs gone by.  I remember not long ago this river was clogged with pollutants from the suburban Detroit communities along its course and standing near it would expose you to various and sundry foul odors.  Newspaper articles skeptically asked if the river would ever recover.   Since then, however, the River Rouge has been a reclamation project for Michigan’s environmental efforts.  Now, though the project to improve water quality continues, the River Rouge is a pleasant interlude on a fine Spring day’s hike.

 

River Rouge, Michigan

Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone

A feverish look shines from the eyes of a young woman as three men in cloaks of fine linen march her into the village square. Her skin is the color of olives; her long, dark hair is not plaited. She wears a plain robe woven from wool and on her feet sandals of leather. Derisive catcalls and cries of “Adulterer!” “Harlot!” greet her from the gauntlet through which she is pushed and prodded. The white disk of the noonday sun allows no forgiving shadows.

The local Inquisitors are using the young woman as bait, setting a trap to ensnare an itinerant rabbi from far-off Nazareth, who teaches in parables and dares to question their authority. They confront him as he stands near the well, observing the trial about to begin. The laws of Moses command that adulterers be stoned, they taunt him, what say you about this one?

Jesus knows his foes well, these thin-lipped dogmatists of the letter of the law. In all their studies of the prophets, they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. He has foiled their stratagems before, and he regards them with an expressionless scorn. The crowd impatiently awaits his reply. Stones in hand, they have their work to do.

Jesus does not speak immediately, but instead waits for the words to come to him. He looks over the crowd and says in a voice that carries to the far side of the square: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”

Jesus fixes a steady gaze on the Inquisitors, as their smirk of arrogance fades. Those among the crowd who a minute ago were crying for the woman’s blood now have silent tongues. The faintest of breezes rustles the leaves on the sycamore trees. Somewhere in the distance, a child cries. The Pharisees are reduced to shuffling away in silence; not a word of response have they spoken. They are convicted by their own consciences. The crowd disperses, pondering Jesus’ words. “What does it mean?” a voice asks. No one has a ready answer.

The young woman alone remains with Jesus. She stands silently, in a daze. The cold sweat trickles down her back. I do not condemn you, Jesus says, and she feels the strength returning to her legs. She begins to weep, as relief flows through her like a river. But Jesus is not one for situational ethics. He places a hand on her shoulder and says, “Go, and sin no more.” Before leaving, the woman gets a cool cup of water from the well and offers it to Jesus. He smiles, but with sadness in his eyes, and thanks her.

For one sun bleached afternoon, the law tempered with mercy is redeemed from the ones with bloodless lips who would see it etched into stone. Jesus has spared a woman who broke one of Moses’ laws; in so doing, he has invited the wrath of the patriarchs. Jesus knows that soon they will have their day.

Their Weight, Our Charity

Michigan continues to be a “hot spot” for the coronavirus, with those afflicted now well over 20,000 and still escalating.  Detroit’s vulnerable population, many of whom are poor and elderly, has been especially hard hit.  Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was early to issue a stay-at-home order and this week she extended it with added stringent conditions.  A few thoughts.

Last week, Governor Whitmer was the toast of the twitterverse–the brave Katniss Everdeen  fighting the evil President Snow, or Trump if you will. Now after her more stringent lockdown order, in the same venue she is “callous” or “authoritarian” or worse.

As  citizens, we have the absolute (almost) right to criticize our leaders. But, in this time of crisis let us speak with a spirit of generosity for our leaders’ travails.

I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s line in the movie  A Few Good Men: “I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom.” I guarantee that when the next nursing home has 10 deaths and 20 caretakers test positive, or as the grim reaper continues to take a toll of elderly black men and women in Detroit, that Governor Whitmer will feel the weight more than you or I. Let us as citizens feel free to voice our opinions, but let’s also  have some charity and humility.

Our First and Our Last Love

In the light, the earth remains our first and our last love. Our brothers and sisters are breathing under the same sky as we; justice is a living thing. Now is born that strange joy which helps one live and die, and which we shall never again postpone to a later time.

Albert Camus, The Rebel

Kensington Park

Kensington Park, Michigan

Rouge River, Michigan

 

Reconciliation Is More Beautiful than Victory

 

This date in 1865, the signal act of reconciliation in American history took place, in the dusty hamlet of Appomattox, Virginia. The last embers of the Civil War were dying, as had 625,000 soldiers, blue and gray.  The stoic  Southerner, Robert E. Lee, came to surrender his threadbare army, and he met the most unlikely of counterparts.  Union General Ulysses S. Grant had been a clerk in a leather goods store when the war began.  He wore his usual ordinary soldier’s coat, mud-spattered and distinguished only by the three stars in each lapel.

When the papers were signed, Lee thanked Grant for his surprisingly generous terms.  Union soldiers watched respectfully as the gray-clad troops filed past; the order had come down from Grant that there was to be no celebration.  Most importantly, the terms of surrender ensured that there would be no retribution against Confederate officers.  Since General Grant,  hero to the public in the North, had signed the document, the radicals and newspaper editorialists could shout for trials and vengeance until they were hoarse, but it would avail them nothing.

The previous month, in his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln had anticipated the war’s end with the words, with malice toward none, with charity for all.  He pledged to bind up the nation’s wounds and to care for those who had borne the battle, and their widows and orphans.  Nowhere did he distinguish between blue and gray soldiers.

The common wisdom might be that the Southerners were the beneficiaries of Grant and Lincoln’s generosity.  The better  view of reconciliation is found in the words of Shakespeare.  The quality of mercy is not strained, the Bard wrote.  It is twice blessed, blessing him that receives, but also he that gives.  By choosing reconciliation, the victor eschews the darker, revengeful  side of human nature.  He is then touched, as Lincoln said, by the better angels of our nature.  Given the fertile soil of accommodation, the slow process of evolutionary growth can proceed.

Significantly, with the abandonment of post-war Reconstruction, the promise of reconciliation was denied the freedmen, even the 180,000 who had fought valiantly in the Union Army.  This retreat from equality remained a  stain on the nation’s record for a century.

In recent decades, the simple, but profound message of the meeting between the aristocrat and the former store clerk at Appomattox Court House has been lost in the noxious atmosphere of American politics.  Triumph at the polls is now the occasion for contempt, not respect, for the vanquished.  The new majority arrogantly rams through its agenda without concern for the minority’s deeply held values.  Reconciliation?  How quaint.  However, as Lincoln, Grant, and Lee knew, victory without reconciliation is a prescription for an endless cycle of rancor and revenge.

“Reconciliation is more beautiful than victory.”
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, President of Nicaragua, 1990

Resilience and Renewal on Trial

Yesterday along Hines Drive, a roadway following the Rouge River’s course through suburban Detroit,   the grass was a brilliant green beneath an amiable sun.  Walkers and bikers frequented the paths, though we were  keeping a safe distance, while various harbingers of Spring chirped or trilled or quacked from the nearby wetlands.  Sorely tried at present, the faith of renewal remains alive.

A prayer for our beleaguered health care workers in the Detroit area, as they wage the battle on behalf of us all.  This cup, too, shall pass from you; we can only hope soon.