Friday, July 21, 2006

Missiles to Nazareth, Rockets to Beirut

A random search of the internet brought me to the websites of two living fine-artists. One is Lebanese, and the other is Israeli. They are approximately the same age and have the same joy in their painting. Take the next few minutes to visit each site now. Let all the news images of Middle Eastern assault and repercussion momentarily disappear. After you have visited each artist’s website, please come back to the Art And Courage Blog to continue your visit.

The Art of Judith Yellin Ginat

The Art of Joseph T. Matar

Now that you have viewed the work of these two artists, let's think about something new: runny-noses, naptimes and dirty-diapers...

This week I was at a large public American shopping mall. An indoor jungle-gym was created so parents could take a break while watching their kiddies play. It was filled to bursting.
As groups of school children and toddlers crawled and ran about, they did what most children and toddlers do: They bumped each other, pulled at each other and pushed their way through the kiddy-throngs. My own twenty-month old daughter was part of the frenzied mayhem, and I found myself along with all the parents having to intervene and remind our children that they needed to play nicely. I noticed that if a child crossed the line and began hitting another, parents reacted firmly. Boundaries were set and expectations of proper play were spelled out. (There is a satisfaction of doing this skillfully in a public venue around other parents. Everyone seems to support the group and an elevated level of parenting occurs). I was impressed with the moms and dads that day. We were all creating new little people who were hopefully going to grow up to respect their fellow human beings.

Around the perimeter of this play-land were dozens of seats, where exhausted parents lounged and oversaw the wild activity. Jewish families, Christian families, Muslim families were all represented. Asian families, African American families, Anglo and Latin American families all threw their kids in the ring to play together. They were learning to take turns, respect the space of each other, look out for their smaller peers, and say nice things.

The flair-up in the Middle East sprang to my mind as I watched this scene. When I got the paper that morning, the photo on the front page showed a Lebanese woman screaming, with her hands grasping and straining in the air. A twisted Jeep blown to bits by the Israeli army burned behind her. She represented every woman who has been the participant in the history of violence in that region. On television that morning, the BBC showed Israeli victims of terrorist bomb attacks. They represented every innocent soul taken out by fundamental hatred. I have heard both culture’s reactions and justification about the current conflict, while a few representatives of both cultures have stated that there is no element of life that they share with the other.

Of course the civillians of both cultures know that they do share common ground. The most obvious is that they both die from each other’s military and para-military actions. Hundreds of thousands of websites will satisfy your hunger for knowledge about the centuries old conflicts that have fed today’s current events. The national histories, the religious roots, the body-counts, the moral debate, the clear-eyed oaths and the weeping funerary prayers from every perspective have already been written. My own perspective is so hopelessly minute, and so far removed from the heat of the events unfolding that it simply does not matter.

What matters is what I teach my daughter. What I teach her about the playground skill of getting along with others is my primary weapon of peace. Her understanding that god is too big to fit into one single book, or one type of building, or one border-demarcation is my first domino of redemption for humanity. That was why we parents at the mall playground were so intent on guiding their children. We all feel the tingle in our stomachs. We all know that a handful of red ants can overtake whole nests of peaceful garden ants. We all are aware that the most hopeful aspect of humanity that exists today is that most of us have no problem co-existing. Even with our inherited misconceptions and prejudices, most of us see what is unfolding in the world with total amazement.

No matter whose side you are on, there can be no victory, only survivors.

Remember the life-affirming personal expression of the two artists you viewed in the links above. As their websites show, sometimes the most courageous act mature artists can make is to not allow victim-hood and rage to diminish their colors.

I gotta go. My daughter wants to play.