By Anonymous (not verified) on November 01, 2012

NAJAF, IRAQ -- For the past three days I have been trying to get news of the situation in our houses on the Lower East side of Manhattan, where the flooding from hurricane Sandy was especially heavy. I pictured the worst. As a good portion of Maryhouse is subterranean—the whole dining area and kitchen for example -- I imagined the cellar and ground floor underwater! We have folks who are elderly and infirm, even an older frail resident who speaks no English. I pictured them frightened and in darkness! On the Internet, I read, “Don’t think if you boil the water it is safe to drink it.”

Yesterday, I started getting the first news from home. The electricity is down, but there was no flooding. Moreover, they were even able to serve a meal, albeit in a somewhat darkened house, to a handful of women who came to us. I can’t tell you how grateful and relieved I am for this news!

I was in Baghdad last Sunday, the 28th of October, and hadn’t even heard of hurricane Sandy until I opened email on Monday morning to read that a couple of friends were going to stay at our home because of the impending storm. What storm? I asked myself.

The lack of news and the anxiety it caused me these last days took me back to the time we were in Baghdad during “Shock and Awe.”

What must it have been like for those back home with little to no information about our well-being? One always imagines the worst.

In many ways I think it was harder for those far away.

I know I was alarmed, thousands of miles away, by the pictures I saw in the news. I wonder what the thoughts were in people’s minds and hearts as the water levels began to rise, and they didn’t know what would happen.

As you might have heard, the explosions and bombings, in Baghdad especially, continue. Last Saturday fifty-three persons were killed, and on Sunday another twenty-four people died. I would wager to say that when they arose that morning they didn’t know it would be their last day.

It is almost ten years since the U.S.-led war against Iraq. The electricity keeps going off here and all throughout the country. Sami, whose family is hosting me in Najaf, remarked yesterday with no ill intent, “Maybe we could send them some of our electricity!” We had to laugh.

I read another email this morning from an Iraqi friend of Sami’s whom we were unable to see in Basra. He spoke about the lack of electricity and the high humidity in Basra, where temperatures reached almost 50 degrees Centigrade last summer (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit), and this was during the fasting month of Ramadan when no water, or food, is taken from dawn to dusk. “How is it,” this friend asks, “that the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into Iraq and yet there was no project for a [national] electrical power station to help cool temperatures and calm temperaments that went along with the political instability, the insecurity and the sectarian killings…?”

The oppressive heat has eased now in Basra, Baghdad and Najaf. Winter is around the corner. The waters have subsided in New Jersey and Manhattan.

Will we live differently today than we did yesterday?

Will we be more mindful of our own mortality and fragility? More mindful of our interconnectedness with the larger human family?

More mindful that even our smallest act have far-reaching consequences?

For some reason, we have been granted another day.

Cathy Breen (newsfromcathy@yahoo.com) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. (vcnv.org) She will be writing about her visits to several communities in Iraq during the next several weeks.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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