Memory’s Invaluable Inheritance
“Come and see and go and tell,” the gentle man with the soft voice bid us. We sat in one of the caves at the Tent of Nations outside of Bethlehem and listened as he chronicled 27 years of nonviolent community building.
We came from different locations throughout the U. S., came to listen as he instructed on the value of staying put, of staking a claim, of valuing what we have been given.
“Our home is the land,” he said, “where we were born and grew up. What we inherited cannot be sold.”
Think of that, something that cannot be sold.
Commodification is in the air we breathe. It can justify not condemning state-sanctioned murder if it spoils an arms deal. It tolerates support for politicians we might otherwise abhor if our support buys a swing vote. It can even determine where call home: location, location, location.
But not for everyone. Some believe in staying firmly planted where they are rooted. Money does not threaten their conviction.
I think of students who pass through the classrooms where I teach. So many are on their way to somewhere else. “Global health” lures them. Few are those who plan to return to their communities of origin to work and practice, love and learn. They are busy and distracted, as are most of us.
As he sat with us today in the cave, on the land his grandfather purchased in 1916, Daoud Nassar was not too busy to welcome us, to sit with us, not too distracted to offer lunch to the strangers who came to visit.
Tonight a friend sent a poem to me. She is an Appalachian poet and she knows something of a people’s love for their land. It is entitled “If You Calmed” and it comes from the collection Harsh World by poet Angel Gonzalez. It reads in part:
If You Calmed. . .
If you could calm
your thought, if you could
stop and think,
look around, touch the things
you pass among,
it would be simple for you to recognize
faces, I don’t know, places,
who speak your same language, and understand you.
If you were able
to find a place to throw yourself
face down, and close
and look, slowly, inside your
it would be easy to figure out
something, to know
where you want
to go, where you come from,
what you’re here for,
your name. . .
Meanwhile we learn from those who know memory’s invaluable inheritance.