WWJD?

November 27, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Aging, Climate Change, Environment, women, world water crisis | 2 Comments
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No, not what would Jesus do. What would Jane O’Donnell do?

Jane O’Donnell was part of the generation ahead of mine in the Grail, the international women’s movement I’ve been active in since my senior year in high school. Many of the women in that earlier  generation were utterly amazing. I would not be who I am without the example they set for me.

Jane O’Donnell was a native Philadelphian (as I am), and came to the Grail through the Catholic Worker. There was a close connection between the US Grail and the Catholic Worker from the outset; the Grail founders corresponded with Dorothy Day before they came to the US in 1940, and Day later made several  retreats at the Grail’s house near Cincinnati. And from time to time over the years, Day sent women to the Grail who seemed more suited to us than to the CW. Jane was , I believe, one of these.

Jane lived most of her adult life in Grail communities, and did amazing work with the poor. One story I heard involved her leaving a Grail Christmas celebration to take food to a family that was without any.

I knew Jane mostly from Grail meetings, but perhaps we lived together at Grailville, the Grail’s southern Ohio farm and conference center, in the 1970s. In any case, I have to confess, I mostly found Jane baffling. Eventually I read in an introduction to the Myers-Briggs test that extroverts are people who determine what they think by talking about it, and this helped me understand Jane a bit better. Suffice to say that in my family of origin, editing before you talk was a highly valued, not to say required, practice.  So I often had a hard time understanding what Jane was taking about.

I am thinking about this now because once, toward the end of her life, when we were both at the Grail Center at Cronwall on Hudson, Jane said to me that she had decided that it doesn’t really matter whether there are dirty spots on your clothes; you should just wear them that way. Striving as I was then to move from my working class background into the professional-managerial class as a professor, I thought once again: What is this woman talking about?

In recent years, however, I have been using my professorial skills to research the impending climate catastrophe. In a review of a book on the gargantuan increase in consumption since World War II, I read that after the war something like 70% of Europeans wore their socks two days in a row before washing them , but today, virtually nobody does. Since then, at the end of the day, I have been hanging my socks over the edge of my sock drawer and wearing them again– though my post-working class try-not-to-smell-like-a poor-person tendencies make it hard for me to admit this.

I am also trying to get myself to wear clothes that have spots on them. It would save water, because I would wash them less, and put fewer soap chemicals into the water system. Doing this is made easier by the fact that our fist-floor west-Flatbush apartment is a bit dark; sometimes I go out and see spots that I had missed when I got dressed (or see that I am wearing clothes a different color from what I had intended!)

In any case, there’s one thing I am fairly sure of: I know what Jane O’Donnell would do.

 

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Fast Violence and the Western Imagination

November 2, 2017 at 9:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Before I begin writing, let me state clearly: I do not dismiss the deaths of the eight people hit by a truck Tuesday in lower Manhattan, or the injuries sustained by thirteen others. I am truly sorry for all of those people.

But whenever a violent event like this one occurs, I think about the title of a 2011 book that had a significant impact on me, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. There are a lot of reasons why you would do well to read Nixon’s book, but the beginning of the title itself sticks in my head: slow violence. I mean, you would think, wouldn’t you,  that violence is violence? But by adding an adjective to that particular noun, Nixon calls such an assumption into question. If there is slow violence, then there is fast violence, too, and that, I would argue, is  precisely what happened along the bicycle path along the Hudson yesterday as school was letting out.

The real issue, however, is not that there are different kinds of violence, but that we in the West are fixated on one particular kind: the fast kind. Consider, if you will, the amount of attention focused on the fast violence that occurred in lower Manhattan two days ago. Twenty-one casualties, and hours and hours and hours of media coverage.

But now consider this: the day before the Manhattan attack, the highly respected British medical journal, The Lancet, published a report that

reveals just how bad climate change is for public health. The diagnosis reveals that hundreds of millions of people are already suffering the health impacts of climate change. Its insidious creep is being felt in multiple ways: rising temperatures are hastening the spread of infectious diseases; crop yields are becoming uneven and unpredictable, worsening the hunger and malnourishment for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet; allergy seasons are getting longer; and at times it is simply too hot for farmers to work in the fields…. local air pollution around the world – much of it coming straight out of exhaust pipes – kills about 6.5 million people annually…

You heard all about that on your radio, or over the internet, didn’t you? I mean, there is a significant–in fact–horrific difference between eight deaths and 6.5 million deaths, right?

The difference is that fast violence is a whole lot more fascinating. Who cares about insignificant millions dying slowly  from air pollution, or from water-borne diseases (a child dies of a water-borne disease every fifteen seconds)?

I think about this sort of thing, in part because my only uncle, Jimmy Dodds, died of diphtheria  in 1921 when he was six years old.  They just came and took the body away. No funeral was permitted, because of the contagious nature of the disease. My mother, who was four at the time, said her parents never recovered from the death of their only son. My grandmother wore a gold locket with Jimmy’s picture in it, and a lock of his hair, her whole life. I wear it now. I can still hear her sighing as she walked me to the library when I was in grade school.

But the eight people who got killed on Tuesday are a lot more interesting. A truck hit them, going really really fast, and driven by a terrorist. First things first, or maybe only.

 

 

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