Archive for the ‘On Compassion’ Category

I am the grandson of Russian immigrants. My father’s parents came to America in the very early 20th century. They were Jewish and the main reason they came was to escape and Antisemitism. 

Grandma and grandpa came from a place where, as a minority, they were hated – to a place whose founding principles were equality and liberty – well, at least for white folk. All that they, and others like them,  wanted was a chance to make a life not mired in hatred. Grandpa’s first way of earning a living was to own gumball machines.

So, I give a danm about others partly because I am just rwo generations removed from immigrants; immigrants who embraced America’s dream –  and I am proud of that. 

The American dream is eroding now; eroding at an unprecidented rate; leaving in it’s wake both sadness and disdain for anyone who’s not a gun-toting rich white Christian. Most horrific is that this is happening in a part of the world where every gun-toting rich white Christian is an immigrant! 

What has this to do with Passover? Easy. 

On Passover one of the greatest mitzvot is to welcome strangers into your home. This is because, just like the gun-toting rich white Christians were in America, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We embrace “strangers” because we WERE strangers. Not only that, if we let liberty continue to erode, we could become them once again. 

It happened in Russia. It happened in Germany. If you think it won’t happen in America the I beg you to open your eyes and polish up your critical thinking skills. Because… it is.

On Passover especially, we don’t build wall; we open doors. We don’t exclude strangers; we embrace them. We don’t detest diversity; we embrace it. 

This must happen for everyone, every day. Only then will we open the door and will Elijah stay for longer than just a swig of bad wine. Only then will Eliahu ha navi hearld the messianic age. Or, for we who do not believe in all the theology, only then will people stop treating each other like shit and embrace dignity and love.
This Passover I urge you to RESIST hate and embrace all humanity. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan “Mr. Trump, tear down (the plans for) this wall”.

Hag Pesach Someach!

Because of the insanity going on in the United States right now it seems an opportune time to step back and consider what really matters. Our country does not now seem well disposed to people who need our help. We are turning away from immigrants, away from the homeless, and away from compassion. It seems like a good time to share the next chapter of my Faces of Need Photo Essay. I’d like to do that now.

Recall that “Faces of Need – Portland” is an ongoing project that I started at the end 2015. It’s purpose it two-fold. First, it brings attention to the humanity and dignity of every Oregonian. Second, it reminds us that even in a land as blessed as Oregon the problem of hunger continues unabated.

I hope you find power in these images and that they remind you – as I’ve said before – that every human being is a unique and wonderful creation, worthy of love, respect, dignity, shelter, sustenance, and compassion.

Peace, love, and light y’all,

Steve

 

Faces of Need: A Photo Essay (Part 2)

By: Steven Craig Bilow

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Aleppo — Coming Home

Posted: December 22, 2016 in On Compassion, Poems, Reblog

I have eyes to see In technicolor, the world bleeds intimately into the streets they run red while I swallow waves of grief with my Sunday morning, coffee Imagining an era when video was absent a doomed man’s final pleas for peace posted on social media impossible A time when photos were black and white […]

via Aleppo — Coming Home

I first met Pauline Oliveros over 35 years ago in the Main Gallery at CalArts in Valencia, California. The occasion was a performance of her piece “El Relecario de los Animals”. I was in undergraduate composition students in the school of music; she was an iconic, accordion playing, deep listening, female icon of new music.

I never became a huge fan of Pauline’s music. But, with respect to Pauline as a human being, I am a great admirer. 

First of all, as to her musicianship, Pauline was a consummate musician of the highest order. She was simply a fantastic accordionist. The thing, though, is not so much about her playing but about her listening. Pauline’s deep reverence for the simple act of listening was breathtaking. Her “Deep Listening” workshops change the lives of men and women around the world. Her tiny little book on that subject is full of exercises and practices that have tremendously enhanced my ability, not only to hear music but, to hear the world around me. I am profoundly grateful to Pauline for teaching me to listen. Although my wife, some of my friends, and my boss may well not understand that because I have a tendency to speak before listening, when it comes to hearing subtly I am extremly adept and I owe it all to Pauline. To the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I want to express my gratitude and thanks.

Pauline’s will to help others did not stop with listening. Her project to use computer technology for the betterment of human beings led to the creation of the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI). AUMI uses sound generation tools and a webcam to allowing users with very limited mobility to create music both alone and in groups. This project was not about ego, not about listening, and not about Financial gain. It was purely a selfless project to make better the lives of disabled people. It was, quite simply, a beautiful deeply moving humanitarian gesture. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I also want to express my admiration for your selfless love of people.

Pauline was born in 1932. She was a performer and composer as well as an accomplished philosopher. In the ‘60s, Pauline was among many of the most innovative musicians, like my mentor Mort Subotnick, at  San Francisco Tape Music Center. In the  ‘80s, she began her “Deep Listening” practice to which I am so indebted. 

Pauline was a constant collaborator with Stuart Dempster and many other amazing musicians. We sometimes think of Brian Eno as the guy who created ambient music.  But Pauline and Stuart are really the ones to create the first landmark recordings. 

Pauline has most recently been a Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was the Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College. In my time, her work at UCSD and her visits to CalArts gave me a remarkable exposure to a remarkable woman. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I finally want to express my thanks for your willingness to share your aesthetic with all of us whose lives you touched.

It’s funny, you know, that I never really got to know Pauline well when I was actively involved in the  new music composition community. My real “friendship” with her came later in my life, believe it or not, through Facebook. Pauline took time from her busy schedule to actually interact with me about my listening practice, to discuss AUMI, and to teach me much, probably, without even knowing it. 

That’s the way Pauline was. She gave so much to other people, even me. She will always have my gratitude and she will always be in my heart. I will miss her joy, her selfless devotion to humanity, and, her generosity in teaching us all the art of listening to the subtle beauty of our world.

Rest In Peace o’deepest of listeners.

Dear Mr. Trump,

I just got off the telephone with a Latina friend. Her high school aged daughter has struggled with depression problems that have largely been under control recently. Today she had a very serious breakdown. I asked my friend what happened.

My friend is Mexican but is married to a Caucasian. She lives in a small town who’s population is primarily middle-class whites. Her daughter has never before experienced racism. This is because, as I found out today her friends have “always considered her white”. 

Two days ago you were elected President. Yesterday, on a school field trip, for the first time, her long-time friends began teasing her about being “a Mexican”. Last night, after the field trip, this lovely young lady was overwhelmed by racist text messages. She awoke this morning in dispair having lost all of the positive changes to her emotional condition.

Mr. Trump, you say you are not a racist; you say you want to bring all Americans together; you say that white supremacist support is not indicative of your values. I desperately want to believe that but, less than 2 days after your election I have a friend whose family is experiencing racism that they had never before seen.

Prove to me this isn’t what you want. Speak out to your supporters and tell them to teach their children not to hurt others. If you can’t do at least that then I see no path to decency.

My friend Tom Johnston reminded me of something critically important.

In 1938, on the night of November 9th and continuing into the 10th, Sturmtruppen acting on a government order destroyed Jewish shops, Jewish homes, and virtually  every synagogue in Germany and Austria. This was Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass”. It foreshadowed years of increasingly intense efforts to obliterate the Jewish people. On this day, each year, I pray that such a horror forever cease.

In 2016, 76 years to the day later, in the early morning hours of November 9th, Donald Trump because the president-elect of one of the greatest experiments in liberty and individual human value ever to be created, the United States of America. Trump rose to power amid promises to “Make America Great Again” but proposing to do so via strategies of mass deportation and xenophobic religious discrimination.

Perhaps the most significant change in American politics began on the same day as one of Europe’s greatest tragedies. This could be interpreted as a terrifying coincidence but I am optimistic that it is just that, a random coincidence. None the less, since Mr. Trump has been actively promoted by white supremacists, the KKK, and violent Islamophobic xenophobes, I would like to use this “coincidence” to ask you all for one thing. As we move into the uncharted waters with a new captain who has never sailed before, please, please, please, please remember this:

Ours is a nation of immigrants founded explicitly on the principles of liberty and respect for individuals. It took a while to get the kinks out and, yes, the 3/5 clause represents a horrific injustice. But, we Americans are supposed to respect each other’s individual worth regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identity, or any other variable. I hope you will stand with me on this night of broken glass with a continually strengthening devotion to liberty, justice, and the dignity of every single human being. Remember what CAN happen; know that it CAN happen here; and work to make America great for even those of us who aren’t Christian, white, and wealthy. Nip in the bud, any tendency to allow this change to to make worse the lives of others.

Love each other no matter what.

 

 

Not only do I not despair but I’m a very blessed guy. Here are a few examples of why:

  • Cindy and Tom and Laura and Adam let me be wing-man to the true chick magnet, Cooper.
  • My sister’s daughter Jessica has just moved to Oregon and I now have a next-gen family member to hang with.
  • My cousin Cheryl’s kid Rachel and her wife share their awesome sons with me.
  • My friend Traci has allowed me to be part of her son’s lives ever since I’ve known her and, in the wake of the tragic early passing of her husband has opened their lives to me daily.
  • My niece, Denise, allowed me to help her when she was young until now when she has a clan of her own. From the days when I could buy her her high school class ring through her wedding day, and into married life, she is among the brightest lights ever.
  • In fact, Denise’s brothers and parents have been among the coolest family of all time.
  • As president of my Synagogue I was given the great privilege of being allows to feel as a parent to dozens of kids.

These are just a few wonderful things I think of every day. These are people who open their lives to me and give me the joy of participating with their children. These are some of the reasons that I feel no despair. I feel shared love.

So… wanna hear my philosophy of life as a dude without kids? It’s this:

  1. You don’t always get what you want. You get dealt cards and you play the hand you are dealt with as much joy, skill, and competence as you can.
  2. You get chances every day to make decisions. You can like or dislike them in retrospect but you must take responsibility for them without looking back.
  3. People have intrinsic value. Children are people. Therefore, children have value.
  4. Being the best human you can be has the highest value. Children are in a process of emerging as fully developed humans. Therefore, raising great children has the highest value.
  5. Sometimes the universe intends for you do do something you did not expect. I don’t have kids but, had I, I might not have been their for Denise when she wanted her class ring, I might not have been able to drop everything to help Traci with the boys when she was dealing with a loss, I might not have been able to serve the kids of my synagogue. Etc. Etc. Etc. So, perhaps my path in life was to help other kids. How could that be anything but a blessing!
  6. Live in the moment. Take the kindness and generosity of others and embrace it with love.
  7. Don’t feel bad about one thing when you can feel good about the million others that surround you.
  8. Ignore any religious doctrine that makes you feel lesser for not being “fruitful and multiplying”. It’s silliness and it just screws with your mind. Remember how shallow the gene pool would be if everyone followed the ancients.
  9. If you want kid-joy then take responsibility for finding kids who need the joy you want to share. Help other’s children grow and take ever second you have to do that as a sacred gift.
  10. Live not for what isn’t; just live for what is.

What all of that means to me is this:

Some people don’t want kids. I did. Things are different than I’d planned. That’s no reason to go crazy. It’s totally cool to have periods of melancholy; I am, after all, human. But, there is no value in looking backward when, living in the moment, I can find someone whose children need exactly what I can share at every turn.

So, to sum it all up…

Yup. I sometimes feel sad when I see other people who have the kids and grandchildren I’d once envisioned. But, that is a normal thing and there are millions of moments when things are just fine. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few down moments compared to millions of up ones. Every day I look forward and, if my path in life is to help other people’s kids then fine by me, the most important thing is to use the blessings that surround you to keep repairing the sorely damaged world.

Whoever’s kids inhabit that world in the future, if I can make it better for them and make a few of them better for it then I’m a happy guy!