The Coast, the House and the Cloth

This afternoon I walked to Point Pleasant Park, one of the places I treasure most in this city. In the spring and summer I visited it frequently so that I could find comfort and contemplation along the shoreline and beneath the trees of the park but I hadn’t been to it at all during the autumn and, until today, through the winter. As I walked on the rocky shore, the waves rolling onto the beach and withdrawing with the sound of rolling pebbles, I began to think on the tremendous change that has occurred in my life in my time away from the park.
The crumbling battlements I walked beneath were a reminder of the personal conflicts I survived and was reshaped by, ones that seemed as emotionally bloody as the ones anticipated by the battlement-manning soldiers would be physically. Coming to terms with the end of a long-term romantic relationship and rebuilding a life for myself after a prolonged period of overall stagnation was quite difficult for me but helped to solidify my foundation, to affirm my beliefs and temper my spirit. As surely as those walls have weathered with resiliancy, I’ve come out of the past six months forever changed.

A couple nights ago I was pointed to a wonderful radio program, The House on Loon Lake, an archived broadcast from the public radio series This American Life. This American Life is a show that features interesting real life accounts from people across America each week, a journalism of the personal and eccentric. I haven’t listened to any other shows from the series (they’re standalone broadcasts), but this one was really engaging and moving. The House on Loon Lake told the story of a young boy who discovered a house that had been abandoned without any of the residents’ belongings removed. There were letters, furniture and many personal, one would think sentimentally valuable, objects. Over decades the mystery of the house and its former owners is unravelled and reveals a facinating, surprising and intimate look at one rural family through what it left behind.

Adam Beckman tells the first part of his story, about how, back in the 70’s, he and his friends broke into an abandoned house in the small town of Freedom, New Hampshire. The home turned out to be a perfect time capsule, containing the furniture, letters and personal effects of an entire family… abandoned for decades. It seemed like the family just vanished one day, leaving salt and pepper shakers on the table, notes on the bedroom mirror, and a wallet with money still inside. Adam and his friends read the letters, saving some as clues, and never forgot.
Adam Beckman continues his story. He returns to the town in New Hampshire where he discovered the abandoned house as a kid and tries to find out what happened there. It turns out he’s not the only one looking for an answer to that question. (TL)

I have never encountered a radio program of this quality before. The storytelling is done remarkably well, with the heartfelt account of Adam’s mother being a certain highlight. I was so impressed with the power of this recording that I have listened to it several times already and will likely return to it in the future. In no small part my love for found items and intimate glimpses into the lives of others fueled my enjoyment of this, but even disregarding that bias it’s a superb spoken word piece. I’m confident you’ll be drawn into the story if you take the time to listen to it.

I’ve mentioned my admiration for the author of Baghdad Burning before and I want to share with you something she wrote recently about the conditions in Iraq now that it has fallen from being a secular state. In the entry “And Life Goes On…” she writes about a personal experience she had with government officials that demonstrates oppression that has arisen out of the ashes of Iraq.

An example is the situation in Baghdad today. The parties that have power in colleges today are actually the Iranian inclined Shia parties like Da’awa and SCIRI. Student representatives in colleges and universities these days mainly come from the abovementioned parties. They harass Christian and Muslim girls about what they should and shouldn’t wear. They invite students to attend “latmiyas” (mainly Shia religious festivities where the participants cry and beat themselves in sorrow over the killing of the Prophet’s family) and bully the cafeteria or canteen guy into not playing music during Ramadhan and instead showing the aforementioned latmiyas and Shia religious lectures by Ayatollah So-and-So and Sayid Something-or-Another.
Last week my cousin needed to visit the current Ministry of Higher Education. After the ministry building was burned and looted, the employees had to be transferred to a much, much smaller building in another part of the city. My cousin’s wife wanted to have her college degree legalized by the ministry and my cousin wasn’t sure about how to go about doing it. So I volunteered to go along with him because I had some questions of my own.
We headed for the building containing the ministry employees (but hardly ever containing the minister). It was small and cramped. Every 8 employees were stuck in the same room. The air was tense and heavy. We were greeted in the reception area by a bearded man who scanned us disapprovingly. “Da’awachi,” my cousin whispered under his breath, indicating the man was from the Da’awa Party. What could he do for us? Who did we want? We wanted to have some documents legalized by the ministry, I said loudly, trying to cover up my nervousness. He looked at me momentarily and then turned to the cousin pointedly. My cousin repeated why we were there and asked for directions. We were told to go to one of the rooms on the same floor and begin there.
“Please dress appropriately next time you come here.” The man said to me. I looked down at what I was wearing- black pants, a beige high-necked sweater and a knee-length black coat. Huh? I blushed furiously. He meant my head should be covered and I should be wearing a skirt. I don’t like being told what to wear and what not to wear by strange men. “I don’t work here- I don’t have to follow a dress code.” I answered coldly. The cousin didn’t like where the conversation was going, he angrily interceded, “We’re only here for an hour and it really isn’t your business.”
“It is my business.” Came the answer, “She should have some respect for the people who work here.” And the conversation ended. I looked around for the people I should be respecting. There were three or four women who were apparently ministry employees. Two of them were wearing long skirts, loose sweaters and headscarves and the third had gone all out and was wearing a complete “jubba” or robe-like garb topped with a black head scarf. My cousin and I turned to enter the room the receptionist had indicated and my eyes were stinging. No one could talk that way before the war and if they did, you didn’t have to listen. You could answer back. Now, you only answer back and make it an issue if you have some sort of death wish or just really, really like trouble.
Young females have the option of either just giving in to the pressure and dressing and acting ‘safely’- which means making everything longer and looser and preferably covering some of their head or constantly being defiant to what is becoming endemic in Iraq today. The problem with defiance is that it doesn’t just involve you personally, it involves anyone with you at that moment- usually a male relative. It means that there might be an exchange of ugly words or a fight and probably, after that, a detention in Abu Ghraib. (BB)

We must be mindful of all these negative aspects of war if we are to work well to prevent them. No good can come from violence, at best only the transference of suffering and we must recognize this and help others to understand it if we are to prevent future wars. So many lives are at stake in the conflicts of the world and actions as reckless as those the Bush adminsitration has been promoting are dire symptoms of a great apathy and ignorance toward the suffering of others. We are all of one life and it’s time we started living according to that truth.

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