So. This morning I decided to go down to city hall. Not to go to the farmer’s market (in the parking lot next door) —
— though I did grab some local beets and apples afterwards — but to attend a three-hour workshop for Bloomington Neighborhoods put on by HAND (Department of Neighborhood Development). And you know what? Besides terrific networking, and lots of ways of not just thinking about and appreciating, but feeling into and sensing the sounds and smells of various neighborhoods as told by those who live in them, I learned something very interesting, which is: the city does not decide the boundaries of neighborhoods. We citizens do. The city then provides us with maps of the boundaries we have chosen. Implication: we can contract or expand those boundaries if there is the will to do so. Interesting, eh? Stunning, really. Somehow, we just naturally all assumed that the city dictated the boundaries of our neighborhoods.
To me, this fact just goes to show far we have we moved from sensing and acting on our own individual and neighborhood sovereignty in this still-ratcheting up, centralizing dynamic that assumes it will decide the future of everything, every single little thing, including each of us — each of us with a heart and soul — as another mere “thing”! — via top-down pyramidal control.
On my way to the workshop, I had to thread my way through a crowd of milling women waiting for this year’s 18th annual Run for the (Cancer) Cure.
This event has always made me shake my head in bewilderment, given that I prefer alternative healing, and that damn pink ribbon business is definitely an outreach of the Medical Industrial Complex.
Indeed, as I opened the door to city hall I heard, over the loudspeaker, warnings about making sure you get annual mammograms, and remember to check your own breasts one week after each period. My goddess! I thought to myself: fear-mongering! (I have yet, in my 72 years, to succumb to the grotesque allure of a mammorgram). But, as usual, I kept my mouth shut and kept walking.
BTW: there’s more and more news about the possible cancer-causing effects of mammograms, something I’ve suspected all these decades.
I was heading into the Soul and Heart of Community workshop still hungover emotionally from last night’s exhausting and, strangely enough, exhilarating opera:
Why exhilarating? Because in the course of a two-hour exquisitely and powerfully produced production, the audience was led through what the Greeks used to call “pity and terror” to “catharsis” in response to “tragedy.”
Tragedy: Tragedy dealt with the big themes of love, loss, pride, the abuse of power and the fraught relationships between men and gods. Typically the main protagonist of a tragedy commits some terrible crime without realizing how foolish and arrogant he has been. Then, as he slowly realizes his error, the world crumbles around him. The three great playwrights of tragedy were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
Aristotle argued that tragedy cleansed the heart through pity and terror, purging us of our petty concerns and worries by making us aware that there can be nobility in suffering. He called this experience ‘catharsis’.
I presume you are familiar with the plot, one iteration of the true story of a nun who befriended a convicted murderer and remained with him until the night, “August 4, 1984, midnight” when he was executed.
The plot revolves around his denial of his guilt, her insistence that he tell the truth, their growing connection and trust, and the terrible emotional consequences for not only his rape and murder victims, but their families. All the seemingly forever stuck feelings of rage and revenge match both his bombastic denial and the nun’s anguished persistence until finally, this “dead man” breaks down, comes clean, and begs for forgiveness with heart and soul. In the words of last night’s Program Notes”
It is within this context that the meaning and significance of Dead Man Walking is found; this is the reason why so many different adaptations of the same story are uniquely compelling. Violence disturbs and upsets, and almost singularly leads only to more violence, until the chain of negativity is broken by a courageous individual willing to place herself in the midst of this turmoil.
Now here’s the kicker: not “just” the plot,” but the inspired lyrics and music were so provocative and unsettling that I estimate fully one-third of the audience in front of me did not return for the second and final act! Too disturbing to be disturbed? Too difficult for this distraction and entertrainment oriented culture to actually stick around to process difficult emotions?
Walking home, I thought about how the many conflicting tribes of the Middle East could benefit from this performance. How that boil on the surface of Mother Earth threatens to blow us all up. How it mirrors the boils in our own relationships closer to home, like the drunk man who nearly throttled a headscarf-wearing woman at a Turkish Cafe downtown here last week. Speaking of which, I was heartened to see that women rallied in her defense at that same cafe yesterday.
So, Neighborhood as Heart and Soul of Community, yes. But so is everything else, all the ways we interweave our small daily lives. All the shadowy stuff in ourselves that gets projected onto others. All of it. It all counts. We all count. No matter how “evil” or “difficult” or “disgusting.” The same sun shines on us all. The same galaxy swirls Earth through the vast Mystery. The same stars wink and blink us into and out of existence, just so quick! It’s as if whatever was never existed, so fast does the NOW recede into memory. Rumi: