An Open Letter to a Dear Young Friend
In my years of becoming an young adult Friend of Fifty, I wore out the soles of a number of shoes and boots on Freedoms road. Right off my head, it is hard to remember how many issues I marched for, worked for, traveled and slept on concrete floors for, rode buses for, walked in the rain and the sun and the cold for. Even one as thick as your humble Friend, learns something.
I've met and reached out to the bigoted, the small minded and hateful, and I've met and been reached out to, and talked and listened with some of the great hearts of this civil rights movement whom I had the great privilege to see, once upon a time, on the move.
And, wether it was American days of apartheid, or the anti-Catholic venom of the orange order, or the Quaker who could not listen to the heart of the Gay Friend or the Black Friend... the side which stood for the walls of prejudice, cowered behind those walls in fear while the heart and mind which bent towards liberty had the courage to meet their fears straight on.
I had a friend, now gone, who was in the room with Dr. King the day he got the poison pen letter from the FBI, which tried to scare him off freedom's road with allegation and venom and just plain dirt. But, King had a mind on liberty, on truth, and when thy heart bends towards justice, that light is so much more valuable than any of the pettiness which cowards throw your way.
I treasure evenings I have spent in deep talk with the Martin King of Ireland, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey . It does not weaken her, that she went to tea with Ian Paisley, much the opposite, she addressed the evil of the fear which causes him to call for violence straight on, even after being shot and nearly killed... she spoke truth to power and listened to the craven and cowardly as well as the inspired and brave. She has the courage to teach and the courage to learn. Though she has the courage to offer to come here, to the US, the cowards who hide behind tyranny in the US, today, tell her, "We don't want you here" words that are ever in the hearts of those who fear that they might just not be right, and they sure as hell don't want to have to defend the weakness of their prejudices.
There are little names, not well known names, attached to big people. Dan Charging Hawk comes to mind. He was at Wounded Knee and Oka. He was a Lacota, who never ran from a discussion, or turned away from the road to justice. He was, like all, a very human hero. I met him, drunk and fallen out on the streets of New York. I would sit on the corner with him, and listen as he told me about different treaties, explained Lacota beliefs, and then one day, he got up and said he heard there was trouble in Oka, and that there were not enough Indians around to waste one. I smiled, not really in hope of him turning his life around. He did. I have seldom seen such a super human act of bravery, as Dan getting himself well.
It takes a brave person to face one's illness and weakness. I saw Dan at war with the State of Connecticut, in the longest armed standoff between an Indian Nation and a US government in the 20th century. All that time, he had the courage to stand for the sovereignty of a small nation, while reaching out in small acts of kindness to cowards who faced him with guns. He would engage them in conversation, teach and listen.
My friend Tarlach, a hero of mine, and a fearless young man of my age, who came out in Belfast and helped forge the way for Gay men and women there and here... those Hibernians who damn him to hell, fear to be around him, fear to listen to him, fear even to talk with him, choosing to talk to him in hate filled, cowardly letters or on TV, never in debate or conversation.
Well the fellow who wrote me this cowardly email, I think knows who he is. I still offer to go to thee to talk. I advise thee that thee might consider it. Just as there are not many Indians to waste these days, there are not a lot of Quakers and other progressive activists. Ours is a generation called upon by God to bravery. We are the first generation that will either have the courage to face old tired institutions and static systems, to look beyond the painted iconic eyes to the truths which will save us, and recognize what divides us. To do this takes the courage to teach and to learn, to speak and to listen.
We can dig ditches and build walls around our hearts, divided as one by one the creatures of earth die... and we with them... or we can be the young light which rises to the job of saving creation from the folly of cowards. It is up to thee. I made my mind up a long time ago.
In closing, reread thy email to me, and try to imagine William Penn's name attached... doesn't seem to fit, does it Friend? Show a little spunk, life for the coward isn't really very rewarding, at the end of the day (world?)