“Today it hurts to be human…”

Dear Moz,

Today it hurts to be human – to see my fellow men and women hating on people just because of the color of their skin or the place they were born. My heart weeps.

Today I was remembering how you stood up to the racist man in the Sears store when I was just a little girl. As a black family walked by, the bigot turned to you – expecting probably to get agreement from a fellow white person – and said, loud enough so the family could hear, “Those people should stay in their own part of town.” And I remember how your face turned red with indignation and you almost shook with the fury you felt, and you said, “That family has as much right to be here as you or me!” And I was so proud to be your daughter.

I remembered the day Dad wanted to visit his old home in a part of Los Angeles that most white people would have probably avoided then – I remembered how Dad knocked on the door of his old house, and the look on Pearl’s face as she saw him standing on her front stoop. Dad explained this was his childhood home and asked if he could come in and look around – and Pearl opened the door wide for him and shook his hand, and welcomed him in. And I remember the young black men who opened the door for my dad 42 years later, when he was 98 and living in a retirement home – I remembered how Dad made a special effort to turn and thank them, and how they said it was no problem and wished him a good day.  And I was so proud to be his daughter.

And today a young black man and I were so polite to each other in the bank – “No, you first… No, really, YOU first… No, I insist…” – that I started laughing at the pair of us – my heart just so full of his kindness and generosity that I wanted to hug him.  And later there was a black man who crossed the street in front of me when I stopped for him, and turned to thank me, and saw me smiling back at him, and smiled and waved. And later still – at the teriyaki place – there was the Asian man with the beautiful smile who had to reach in front of me to get the soy sauce – and he apologized and excused himself – and I joked with him: “No, you can’t have it.” And he started laughing with me. And the simple beauty of these encounters was just so poignant today – as on the other side of my nation racists hurl their fear and hatred out into the world – that I felt myself tearing up.

You and Dad showed me how to open my heart up and feel the pain and love of others and, though sometimes it hurts terribly, I would not have it any other way. I’m grateful for this gift of empathy. Thank you, Moz.

I love you.
Karen

Interracial Kindness 4

“I Prefer to Sing a Song”

Now I’ve been cryin’ lately,
Thinkin’ about the world as it is.
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?
– Cat Stevens, Peace Train

This morning I was looking on YouTube for that wonderful old Cat Stevens song, Peace Train, and stumbled upon a documentary of the songwriter that I found really thought-provoking. I’d known Cat Stevens had converted to the Islam religion many years ago, but I hadn’t really known much about Yusuf Islam’s (Cat Stevens’s) spiritual life beyond that. I’d heard rumors that he had supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and I remember reading about Yusuf Islam  being suspected of terrorism and detained at an American airport when trying to enter the U.S. a decade ago. But the music he’d given us as Cat Stevens in the 70’s didn’t correlate in my mind with terrorism and religious extremism – it did not compute – so I’d just pretty much ignored all the rumors and kept the old Cat Stevens and his music alive and well in my thoughts. Basically, I took what was useful to me – what touched me and inspired me in his music – and ignored the other stuff.

Then this morning, as I was looking for Peace Train, I found a 51-minute documentary on Yusuf Islam’s life. Fifty-one minutes. In internet time, where we are used to bits and pieces and snatches and soundbites, 51 minutes is a LOT of minutes to invest on one YouTube clip, right? But I was interested enough that I figured I would go ahead and start the clip for myself and when I got bored I’d just turn it off and go on to something else.

I pushed “play” and began to watch the documentary. Before I knew it I was already 35 minutes into it, then 40, and then it was done! And I found the entire 51 minutes fascinating! So interesting, in fact, that I started scribbling down quotes for myself, to remember later.

The documentary addresses Cat Stevens’s career as a musician, his conversion to the Islam religion and changing his name to “Yusuf Islam”, the Salman Rushdie fatwa, and Yusuf Islam’s detention for suspected terrorism. Through the entire documentary Yusuf Islam comes across, to me, as sincere and genuine, intelligent and well-spoken. He says he never supported the fatwa against Rushdie and I believe him – I figure he doesn’t have a whole lot to gain by denying his support for the fatwa, and he might actually be risking a fatwa on his own life by saying he doesn’t support the fatwa on Rushdie’s. He claims he’s never been a part of any extremist Muslim terrorist activities, and, again, I believe him – from my own observation, terrorists (whether Muslim or otherwise) seem to be pretty proud of their terrorist activities and don’t spend their time denying what they’ve done. And when, in the documentary, we see Yusuf Islam addressing a gathering of Muslim leaders he’s not inciting fanatical extremism, but is telling them, instead: “We need inspired leadership to guide us back to the elevated path of wisdom and away from the temple of politics and ignorance.”

As someone who identifies as a Christian Scientist, I have now and then felt the sting of prejudice that comes from ignorance and fear. Maybe that’s why I’m able to feel some empathy for Yusuf Islam. In the documentary he puts it like this: “I was being painted in the same colors as all this often kind of political stuff.”

Islam says, “There’s certainly a change in the wind… There’s a chance for a new understanding of the moderate middle path of Islam because the extremes have been exposed. A lot of people have missed the whole point – including some Muslims who have gone off on their own strategy of trying to improve the world through some kind of devious means.”

I, for one, am glad that Cat Stevens converted to Islam. He believes he was led by God to do so. I believe God, Love, leads us all down our own unique path – and I believe every path leads to Love, in the end. Maybe every religion and non-religion needs adherents with reasonable voices – voices that speak of peace. Maybe the Islam religion needs the voice of Yusuf Islam speaking and singing for it and helping lead the way towards Love.

“I don’t really want to get involved in politics,” Yusuf Islam says, “I prefer to sing a song.”

Now, I’ve been happy lately,
Thinkin’ about the good things to come
And I believe it could be;
Something good has begun.
Cat Stevens, Peace Train

Of all Cat Stevens’s songs Peace Train is the one that has most inspired me. Here’s the Youtube clip for Peace Train that I was looking for this morning:

And here’s a link to the documentary: