Category Archives: peace

The Dark is Rising

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

It may seem curious to entitle a blog, “The Dark is Rising,” just a day after the Winter Solstice, when I experienced a phenomenal lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, remembrances of the children’s book, bearing the same name, and written by Susan Cooper, keeps seeping into my conscious mind. It is a book that I read to my son Stephen, one Christmas long ago, when he was confined to my mother’s living room couch, while recovering from a nasty bout with pneumonia. My mother cooked and did her art work, while I read; no matter, we were both engrossed, almost as much as Steve. Given recent events, I realize that the story line of the second book in Cooper’s five part series–appropriately entitled The Dark is Rising–is very timely; there are, in fact, a number of eerie parallels.

the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil

Writing in the tradition of J. R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Cooper employs mythical symbols and tropes to depict the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil. Time shifts and magic play important roles as well. In the story, the protagonist, young Will Stanton, discovers on the morning of his eleventh birthday, which occurs evocatively on Midwinter’s Eve, that he is the last of the Old Ones–people who, having been granted supernatural powers, have used them across the centuries, to push back the dark.

Will’s entry into this realm is full of foreboding. He is destined to be a seeker. To do his part, Will must collect six sacred, ornamental signs, which, when joined, will defy the Dark. A looming atmosphere accompanies Will throughout his journey: for the forces of the Dark make themselves ever present in the guise of a tremendous chill and snow storm that paralyzes the town; birds attacking from the sky; a wandering madman called the Walker, lurking behind every corner, and the Rider, who, appearing dressed in black and riding a large black stallion, personifies evil. Fortunately, Will is rescued from these encounters by a host of Old Ones–some from many centuries ago–who share his mission on behalf of the Light.

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

Now, let’s consider this Christmas season. As in the time of Will’s brush with the Dark, these past few weeks have yielded some unusually tempestuous weather, with torrential rains in California and Australia, causing life-threatening mudslides and floods, not to mention snowy blizzards carpeting most of the East Coast. We must take notice, too, of the birds falling from the sky, and the dead fish washed ashore? More troubling still is the political climate of hatred exacerbated by media pundits and right wing politicians, such as Sarah Palin, who seek private gain at the expense of humanity. As we have seen in Arizona, the consequences can be catastrophic. What accounts for all of this? If you look at the Homeland Security report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, you can only conclude that THE DARK IS RISING.

Today, there are no Old Ones, as in the myths bygone. But some of us are “old” in the sense that we have lived through more civic–even if stress ridden–times, times when people reached out with a hand, and not with a gun. Like the Old Ones of the past, perhaps we need to work together to hold back the Dark, reconstructing a narrative based on trust and caring. As the neurobiologist Dr. Douglas Fields has demonstrated in his research, our brains are the product of our environments. Hence, those of us who grew up in better times can play our parts by reconstructing and retelling the magic inherent in our memories.

Who Turned Out the Lights?

Who Turned Out the Lights? from Jim (jaytay)

Who Turned Out the Lights? from Jim (jaytay)

My father could not abide waste. To encourage my sisters and me to consume each and every crumb on our plates, he not only told us about “all the poor starving children”; he went much further, instituting the Clean Plate Club. Each time we finished a meal, we received a badge of honor–that is, a medal that he made by wrapping the cap of the milk bottle with tin foil. Sadly, the scales testified to the success of my father’s endeavor.

My father’s campaign to induce us to turn out the lights had far less impact, however. Exasperated by our failure to respond to his admonitions, he resorted to bribery. Leave it to a banker!

My father as a young man.

My father as a young man.

Leave it to a banker. He offered us a deal.

Here was the deal: If my two sisters and I would only turn out the lights, he would give us the difference between what the electricity bill was, and what it would have been had we simply clicked the switch. A no-brainer to be sure. My father’s efforts, however, were to no avail. Speaking for myself, it wasn’t a disregard for financial rewards, nor for that matter laziness, that fueled my resistance. No, at an age when one’s imagination runs wild, I found it reassuring to be ensconced in light.

Today, I feel the same way. Wherever I look, there are dark clouds overhead–the depressed economy, the BP oil spill, the war on terror, the rise of the Tea Party and the mid-term elections, and, oh yes, the slaughter of the bears in my beloved New Jersey. It’s time to turn on the lights!

Washington Revels (revelsdc.org)

Washington Revels (revelsdc.org)

However, having absorbed my father’s penchant for efficiency, and my husband’s concerns about the environment, I certainly don’t advocate wasting electricity. No, my recommendation is far brighter: a performance of the Washington Revels. A yearly event in Washington, the Washington Revels have used song and dance to reenact, according to one traditional narrative or another, how mankind has, over generations, endured the Winter’s darkness by celebrating one another in a spirit of good cheer and benevolence, as they await the return of the light.

So too, in our own lives today. Accompanied by a glass of good cheer, my husband Brock and I, rejoice in in the song Drive the Cold Winter Away. Verse seven is most enlightening, as well as one of my favorites. We’d be happy to have you join in.

This time of the year is spent in good cheer,
And neighbours together do meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet;
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the youth doth carol this song
To drive the cold winter away.

“Once More to the Lake”

View from my chair in the corner of the porch (D. Linda Garcia)

View from my chair in the corner of the porch (D. Linda Garcia)

One can never forget E.B White’s essay “Once More to the Lake,” written for The New Yorker” in 1929. In this essay, White describes in a most eloquent, and detailed fashion, the pleasures he experienced as a child, making an annual retreat with his father to a lake in the woods of Maine. Equally compelling is his account of bringing his own son to this special place. As he notes, the joyfulness of the place was enhanced with each new iteration, as he relives his own childhood experiences through the eyes and delights of his son.

I know the feeling well.  As I described in my earliest blogs, I have had the good fortune of inheriting a cottage at Lake Hawthorne, situated in 450 acres of woods, in Northern New Jersey.  It has been in my family now for five generations, so I have had a chance to witness a number of traditions being reenacted and reinforced over time.  With each new crop of children I, too, was able to fondly reminisce and relive some powerful experiences not only with respect to my own childhood but also that of my son.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation that I set out for the New Jersey Highlands on the Thursday before the Fourth of July. Never mind the two and a half days of preparation–cleaning, laundry, planting the few pots of daisies that had yet to be put in the ground. Never mind the relentless traffic along the way–the endless New Jersey Turnpike, with police cars stationed behind every turn, the roaring trucks racing along Route 287, and the crawling cascade of cars on Route 80, all leaving the city, seeking solace, and heading for destinations such as mine.  As I neared the turnoff on Route 517 in Sparta, I could once again smell the flowers–so to speak. So could my dog Sparky, who extended his nose as far as he could out the car window, and then sniffed and sniffed and sniffed.

Arrival (D. Linda Garcia)

Arrival (D. Linda Garcia)


 Although I was as eager as Sparky to get to the Lake, we had to slow down. The last leg of the trip is a dirt road, and the heavy rains of the previous weeks had left a number of washboards in its stead. Negotiating the hills on the winding road around the lake we finally arrived. Out jumped Sparky, and I soon followed, my books, computer, and luggage in tow.

We were hardly there more than an hour, when my grandson Ben arrived full of pressing news. “Remember,” he said, “when my Dad and Uncle Bret had a fake marriage with their cousins Jenny and Tara. Well, tomorrow we are going to keep up the tradition; I am marrying Olivia (Jenny’s daughter and his third cousin), and Sophie (my grand daughter) is going to marry Brody (her godmother’s son).” It was all settled: they had been planning the event for a week.

The next day, in between claps of thunder and streaks of lightning, the wedding took place–best men, maids of honor, flowers and all. My husband Brock and I supplied the cakes–one chocolate, one vanilla. The children were serious, but a bit tenuous–as well they should have been. When asked if he took his Cousin Olivia for his wife, Ben replied: “Well sort of.” In response, Olivia replied, “Well kinda.”

Mock Wedding--Second Time Around (D. Linda Garcia)

Mock Wedding--Second Time Around (D. Linda Garcia)

You can imagine why sometimes when I am at the lake, I am–like E.B. White–not sure whether I am coming or going. At times like these,  I like to remember that my son Stephen did not ever marry his cousin Jenny.  However, he  did marry his lake playmate Haley–the girl next door.  

The Top Layer (as in Michener’s The Source)

(courtesy of babblingdweeb)

(courtesy of babblingdweeb)

Needless to say, I love books: they are, for me, like comfort food. Perhaps that’s because they bring to mind my mother, with whom I spent many summer afternoons reading books and exchanging ideas about them, while happily ensconced in wicker chairs on the veranda at our house at Hawthorne Lake. These days my husband and I (together with our dog Sparky) continue in this tradition, sharing insights from our readings of the night before, while snuggled under our comforter in the morning, drinking our coffee in bed.

Novels function to map alternative pathways, helping us to situate ourselves in, and negotiate our ways through, difficult territories.

 

When not in an academic mode, I often turn to novels.  Over the years, I have come to appreciate not only how they provide a great source of pleasure, as well as a retreat from daily cares, but also, and as importantly, how they function to map alternative pathways, helping us to situate ourselves in, and negotiate our ways through, unknown territories. One book that has served me very well in this regard is James Michener‘s The Source.

Great historical fiction, The Source is a tale about the evolution of the various groups who occupied and interacted with each other in what the Jews of biblical times characterized as the promised land.  

Across the Promised Land (courtesy of Gaulis Caecillus)

Across the Promised Land (courtesy of Gaulis Caecillus)

The narrative, which takes place in the Galilee, is a story within a story. At the meta level, the main characters are three archeologists–a Catholic, a Jew, and an Arab–all digging at a tell called Makor.  The sub-narrative, and major story, is told through their diverse eyes, as they dig up and interpret–each from their own perspectives–artifacts from the sequential layers of history, dating back 9000 years to the beginning of monotheistic practices. Tracing the evolution and dispersal of the Family of Ur through each level of the dig, the investigators paint a continuous, and often tragic, picture.  At each level, someone, or group of people, from among the Christian, Jewish, and other Semitic communities, seek to reconcile the three populations, only to be stymied by some unanticipated consequence or event.  The three archeologists continue their investigation up the layers until they reach the top.  When they do, it is 1948, the time of the first official Arab-Israeli war.

The Source was one of the first books I packed when, in January 1998, my husband decided to accept an offer to teach The Politics of the Environment at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.  Situated on Kibbutz Ketura, in the Negev Desert, The Institute’s mission is quite in keeping with the theme of The Source: Specifically, it is devoted to bringing Arabs, Jews and Christians together around the common venue of the environment.  Reflecting in the AravaThus, with Michener in mind, I was able to give far greater meaning to my own presence and participation there.  It was a transformative experience, to say the least.

In thinking back on it, one particular incident comes to mind.  It occurred during the holiday Purim, a time when Jews typically let down their hair in celebration of their rescue by  Queen Ester from the Persian Haman. And so, on Purim 1998, the vodka–which was otherwise rarely visible–flowed freely on Kibbutz Ketura.worker bees (Purim 1998)  Joining in the celebration, my husband, some of our students, and I dressed up as worker bees, and we partied and danced late into the night. Amidst the chaos, we stopped at one point and looked at each other, asking: What in heaven’s name are we doing here–two Episcopalians, together with a mishmash of Arab, Jewish and Christian students, celebrating Purim, on a kibbutz in the Negev?  Smiling knowingly, we said to each other–of course, we are the top layer!

Smiling knowingly, we said to each other–of course, we are the top layer! 

The recent collapse of the peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis is sorrowfully reminiscent of the long history of the region that presages it.  When I first heard the news, a piece of my heart was broken.  My  hope is that, as Michener–were he alive–might agree, there will be another try for peace–that is to say, another layer.  And who knows, it may very well emerge from the on-going work of  the Arava Institute.