November 10, 2019 § 2 Comments
Paul Mann Habitat Team: First building site/Tân Hôi Trung Commune. We’re all cleaned up and ready to get muddy.
Then: Post Build, Hoi Xuan and in the classroom.
Handing out the Peaks Island Elementary School kids’ drawings at Hoi Xuan Elementary School where we’ll then be drawing up a storm as part of the Hoi Xuan/ Peaks Island Elementary School Cross-Cultural (Grades 3-5) Drawing Exchange.
After our Habitat build was over in Dong Thap Province, five of us returned to the Mekong Delta after we said goodby to the rest of our team in Saigon. We had made arrangements to re-visit the school where we first suggested the drawing exchange between Peaks Island Elementary, where I live in Maine ,and Hoi Xuan Elementary. During the past year, the two schools have exchanged drawings. The kids in both schools (grades 3-5) drew the lives they live, sometimes sharing sentences or words. Drawing, to me, has always been an international language like music or song or quite frankly like getting dirty and working with other people whose native tongue you do not share.
The photo you see above was taken on a Sunday morning where the schoolroom was packed with kids and teachers and officials from the community gathered there to greet us and to see the drawings I brought to give to the kids in Hoi Xuan from the kids on Peaks Island. It was also a time for the school and community to thank us for the project and for the gifts of paper and pencils that we brought to them from Maine, USA.
After introductory remarks, we handed out paper and pencils and drawings began in earnest as the Hoi Xuan kids got busy drawing their responses to the drawings the kids from Peaks had drawn for them. These kids, of course, have never met and live in very different cultures and climates to name just a few outstanding differences, but I was struck by the similarities in many of the images drawn and /or responded to. For example:
Here’s a Peaks Island skateboard drawing by one of the boys on Peaks. And below, one of the Hoi Xuan kids took inspiration and did a riff of his own.
Birds were Big Subjects for both groups of kids: First, a Peaks variety.
Then, a Rooster from Hoi Xuan.
Who knew? Trees Have A Similar Shape. First, Hoi Xuan.
Then, Blessings drawing (from Peaks) of a girl swimming.
Has found its way to Vietnam.
Even local officials were drawn in.
All in all, we had a wonderful day and I left with an emotional lift from this kind of sharing. What wonderful art was produced in such a short period of time! And, how the language of art can transcend supposed cultural divides. To help build a home with a family and to make art with children is to share a universal language, one that transcends the artificial geographical and political boundaries that are so often used to divide us as human beings. Perhaps we all need more bricks and pencils in our lives.
November 9, 2019 § 2 Comments
Fifty-four years ago on the evening of November 8th, 1965, I had what turned out to be my final conversation with Roger La Porte. Early, the next morning on November 9th, Roger walked to the United Nations Plaza and at 5:20 sat down on a little cement island on First Ave in front of the UN, doused himself with gasoline and immolated himself. According to the then morning paper, The Journal American, his mumbled words to attendants and police during the ambulance ride to Bellevue Hospital were: “I am anti-war, all wars. Give me water.” When asked if he did this to protest what was going on in Vietnam, he said, “No. I did this as a religious action. Water. Give me water.” The next day, Doctor Jacob Richards pronounced Roger Allen La Porte dead at 2:50 p.m. on November 10, 1965. He was 22 years old.
This event altered the lives of those of us who worked with and knew Roger. We were all young. We had the complicated and intense relationships of youth and a commitment to non-violence and the works of mercy. We were living and working on what then was the Bowery’s skid row in NYC. Immolation was as hard for us to grasp as any of our countrymen and women Today, not many people think about or know the complex story of Roger La Porte. If November 9th, 1965 is remembered at all, it is because that evening the first great northeast blackout in the United States took place. The plug was pulled on New York City as Roger clung to life in Bellevue Hospital.
I was 23 when these events happened. I am 77 now. I know that Roger’s death was not a suicide. But, what was it? The private conversation that I had with him that last night was all about his concern for his friends: one near death and stricken with a mysterious ailment in Saint Vincent’s Hospital and other friends who were facing arrest for burning their draft cards. Our activities at the Catholic Worker were under FBI surveillance. Roger’s questions to me that night were urgent and ones I could not properly answer. Did I believe a person could take another person’s pain and did I believe in God. Not exactly light topics but typical of Roger’s personal intensity. To the first question I said, “I didn’t know; to the second I said I also didn’t know, but felt there was some energy there, something beyond our comprehension, and I remember him nodding in agreement, his face ardent and very much alive. It was not the face of a depressed and defeated human being. But to go as far as he went is hard to grasp. Certainly, it is especially baffling for the Western mind.
I’m tired of martyrdom. I wish it would go away. We have too many martyrs. They are disturbing. They make it hard for us with their inconvenient yearnings for a better world. But, maybe that is the lesson of such a terrible sacrifice. We should be uncomfortable. Some actions remain mysteries. We don’t need all the answers and even if those answers remain elusive, we should be working harder for a better world.