By Michael McQuillan
Soup kitchen guests where for the past two years I’ve volunteered are deeply grateful for what we cook and serve – “You’re a free person, close to God” one claims; I recall much-unearned praise.
An old man of modest means, I act without the platforms of my career roles in politics and teaching. The conundrum that my deeds are dust in need’s whirlwind does not let me rest.
“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose,” 19th-century abolitionist essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Take which you please – you can never have both.”
Instead, he lauds the “swagger stance” that in the recent past put a Federal Consent Decree for outside supervision against the impregnable Blue Wall.
He “defended on Monday the police officers who handcuffed a woman accused of selling fruit without a license in a Brooklyn subway station, saying mango sales could pave the way for larger problems,” the May 10th New York Times declares.
Idle tears do no one good yet I weep with this news. Maria Falcon has had a mobile vendor license but cannot get a permit for her cart, the city has capped the total despite the seismic moral failure that ignores the plight of people.
“Rikers Officers Lagged in Helping 3 Men Who Died,” that page also tells me. Say their names with sorrow; Tarz Youngblood, Herman Diaz, and George Pagan should live on to have their day in court – like sixteen last year plus four so far in this one.
The well-documented catastrophe at this detention facility meant for 3,000 but holding twice that in pretrial detention has had no concrete redress. An $8.7 billion five-year borough-based jails plan to make that forsaken site a relic does nothing for the dead.
Abroad, Russia’s scorched earth invasion — a genocide — decimates the infrastructure of innocence as so-called civilized nations escalate war toward unknown outcomes.
Their nuclear missiles’ tips peek out from the Pandora’s Box that holds them — as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 whose prophetic witness warned against them end jail terms for trespass and defacing property on a nuclear sub base in Georgia.
“We’re spending more trying to blow up the world than to save the world,” Bishop William J. Barber, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign for a June 18th, 2022, Mass Mobilization in Washington, asserts as Democrats and Republicans unite without debate to add $40 billion in aid for Ukraine to the $13.6 billion previously approved.
Will the primal bloodlust that bequeaths endless wars consume us? Will the outcast poor rise up against the complacency of wealth? Are we destined to live day by day until extreme climate change arrives?
I kiss the springtime sunshine as I walk my dog today. I thrill at broadcasts of the Rangers/ Penguins hockey playoffs or recordings as The Who play rock and roll, aware my soul is restless because someone else is homeless, ill or hungry as in the world’s richest country they must struggle to survive.
I will lie down on the train bench when police harass the outcast.
I will give and serve as I am able at my late stage of life.
And though I trust that many years await me since my Dad lived till 84 and I am 69 I honor Norman Morrison, the Quaker who in 1965 torched himself by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s Pentagon window to force upon him the horrors of impersonal killing in war as the Vietnam policies he oversaw enacted.
I bow in homage for LGBT rights lawyer and environmental advocate David Buckel, whose fiery death in Prospect Park at one recent dawn one mile from where I live, he wrote, intentionally replicated the de facto suicide that scientists warn of the unmet threat of climate change ensures.
Despite the abnormal circumstances, we like the band on the Titanic feign that all is well – and wrestle with our individual concerns. We could see Buckel now and Morrison before him, like the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, thankfully alive and free, as prophets. Instead, their actions are dismissed though rooted in moral integrity that we ignore or call naïve.
How can anyone connect an urgent wake-up call to our society at large?
The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley instructs us as a boy’s compassionate intent gently rebuffs an old cynic’s rebuke.
“You’ll never make a difference with hundreds, maybe thousands more, beyond the starfish you throwback to sea, still stranded on this beach,” the latter warns the youthful hero in the story’s central scene. “Well, I made a difference for this one,” the child replies, pitching one more small five-legged friend toward healing ocean waters.
The stellar works of grassroots groups stem from institutional abuse and society’s neglect but, our nation is top-heavy with the monstrous wealth of isolated and selfish minority lists like the ill-fated Titanic.
How shall we secure abortion rights for women? Safe havens for refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine? Voting rights for Black and Brown Americans? Safety from anti- Asian hate crimes?
Our own neighbors’ human rights? Long-term efforts grow from single steps. Let’s devote ourselves with joy to the values we espouse joy when we leave home in the morning even lying down in trains.
Michael McQuillan, former US Senate aide and Peace Corps Volunteer honored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Brooklyn Council of Churches, taught history for 19 years and chaired the NYPD Training Advisory Council’s Race Subcommittee in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death.https://mcquillan-unity-forum.squarespace.com