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I Practice for my death August 14, 2006

Posted by Keren Fite in Impermanence, Lebanon War 2006.
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Buddhist practice guides you to mindfully observe the present moment. Mindfulness leads to an inevitable recognition of the impermanent quality of reality. Most times you realize you cannot influence the variety of circumstances that create change. Some times you are one of many causes of change. On other occasions you can only recognize pain, feel compassion for the suffering caused by impermanence and the resistance to the change impermanence introduces.

This war has scrambled my life into uncertainty. Not only were we forced to abandon our plans for the summer vacation, but also many of the beliefs that constitute what I consider to be ‘me’, are being shattered by every falling missile.

The one certainty in life is death. War has brought death into my home: the realistic possibility of death by a lethal rocket, the loss of plans and beliefs, the stories of dead soldiers and wounded civilians, the live images of the havoc and destruction sowing suffering everywhere, the death of the identity I thought was ‘me’.

The meditation bell is often called “a bell of mindfulness”. The various tones of the gong bring me back to the present moment, yanking my attention out of the constant babble of the mind.

But now there’s no meditation bell, there’s only the sound of the alarm.

Every cry of the alarm is a call for mindfulness. Without the comfort of a meditation cushion, without the protective environment of a retreat, this is a practice of naked insight: fear rising with the tangible possibility of death or injury, anger developing into wild rage against those who disrupt my life, who seek to destroy my children, an inner cry against the terrible suffering taking place right here, right there, right now.

During the first Vipassana retreat I participated in, the teacher told us she practices for her death. Never has this plain declaration with its embedded ideas been more palpable than now.

In some remote future I cannot perceive right now, this might crystallize into a clear insight.

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A panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean August 14, 2006

Posted by Keren Fite in Impermanence, Lebanon War 2006.
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This is the first war I undergo as a mother, and motherhood makes all the difference. The juncture in which the commitment to my children’s well-being encounters the rockets that endanger their lives is the place where I care only for myself and my own. When the sirens wail and the rockets fall I’m willing to kill those who endanger my children’s lives.

In “Vietnam” Vislava Shimborska suggests that a mother is indifferent to politics, knowing only her children, ignoring everything else:

“Woman, what’s your name?” “I don’t know.”
“How old are you? Where are you from?” “I don’t know.”
“Why did you dig that burrow?” “I don’t know.”
“How long have you been hiding?” “I don’t know.”
“Why did you bite my finger?” “I don’t know.”
“Don’t you know that we won’t hurt you?” “I don’t know.”
“Whose side are you on?” “I don’t know.”
“This is war, you’ve got to choose.” “I don’t know.”
“Does your village still exist?” “I don’t know.”
“Are those your children?” “Yes.”

However, indifference breads evil. Sometimes you have to choose sides in order to ensure your children’s survival in the broadest sense of the word. Taking this newly discovered murderous instinct to its end might mean that my six-year-old son will have to go to war in the not-so-far future in order to protect a new generation of Israeli children.

In “In Praise of Feeling Bad about Yourself” Shimborska writes:

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.
A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?
Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.
On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

I do not wish to be an unscrupulous panther. And yet, I do not wish to live under constant threats of rockets. Uncompromising statements such as “the solution to this conflict is the destruction of Israel” make me wonder whether peaceful ideals should be put aside while the war is raging. Dead people with clear conscience do not sign peace agreements.

I have no clear solution to offer. I write to explore the meaning and implication of this complex situation in which nobody is an entirely free agent, yet no-one is an absolute victim.

[Both poems were translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh]