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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

LambTuskegeeConcept

Today I was browsing the online archives of the Library of Congress and chanced upon this 1930s drawing by Katherine Lamb Tait. Though it is not labeled as such, I realized it was an early rendition of her design for the unique stained glass windows at Tuskegee University known as The Singing Window.

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About two years ago, I wrote an article describing the story behind the windows. You can read it online here in Deep South Magazine and learn how Tait collaborated with Robert Moton, President of Tuskegee, to produce what would be a visual expression of eleven spirituals.

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Installed in 1933, the original windows would only be in place for about twenty years before a fire destroyed the chapel where they were located. But because Tait’s final design survived …

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… when a new chapel was built in the 1960’s, architects were able to recreate and include the new Singing Window as well.

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I hope to see it in person one day. This photo of the window can be found on the Library of Congress website courtesy of photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

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I photographed this tree today. It stands in an adjacent property that has been purchased for development. Given the type of development taking place around me and across Boston, I don’t think the tree is part of the developer’s plan. Its roots may be strong but the tree will be cut down and those roots dug up. Change happens.

DSCN9552Near the tree there is a wild tangle of forsythia branches. For years I’ve watched the brown turn to green and then gold when it fully flowers. A bright sign of spring. I’ve always wanted to sneak onto the property, cut some branches and place them in a vase, like bringing the sunshine indoors. I think they will have the opportunity to bloom one more time before they too are dug up and tossed away. Part of the change.

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I think a lot about change and how change happens. I’m not happy about the changes around me. I am at times near paralyzed by the scale of idiocy and inhumanity in the world right now and especially in my own country under what should be an insignificant presidency. I’m not always sure what to do except donate money where I can, give my time when that makes more sense, and send notes of gratitude (and occasionally of protest). One of my greatest regrets during Obama’s tenure is that I never sent a note of thank you. Not because he was a perfect president but because he was (and remains) a good man, an inspirational figure for the ages. Speaking of inspirational figures … I was looking for some words and came across a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. that seemed relevant.

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In a 1965 commencement address, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, King spoke to Oberlin graduates about the strides that had been made in this country.  “We have come a long, long way since the Negro was first brought to this nation as a slave in 1619. In the last decade we have seen significant developments – the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing segregation in the public schools, a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill in 1964, and, in a few weeks, a new voting bill to guarantee the right to vote. All of these are significant developments, but I would be dishonest with you this morning if I gave you the impression that we have come to the point where the problem is almost solved.”

“Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem. That is a myth, and it is a myth because time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the people of ill will in our nation – the extreme rightists – the forces committed to negative ends – have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic works and violent actions of the bad people who bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or shoot down a civil rights worker in Selma, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Well, I do not feel I am silent, nor do I like to wait around, but I do feel a bit stalled at this moment. Stalled and appalled.  Appalled at what is taking place in this nation with regard to immigrants. Appalled, when I can stomach it, to view the websites of anti-immigration organizations and to see on their staff and boards people who look like me. And so darned appalled at the petty political games being played with “immigration deals” that leave hundreds of thousands of people in limbo. How are people expected to live with such constant anxiety in their lives? They just do. They live. And they act.

People taking action. That is the key, isn’t?

Today even as I grappled with the overwhelming amount of bad news in the headlines, I found uplift in a little video that was heartbreaking but ultimately so inspiring because it featured two people taking action, in two very different ways, and how those actions galvanized the people around them. Its worth a view when you have the time.

 

 

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Yesterday I sat by the pond in Copley Square. It was just late enough and just chilly enough that few other people sat by the water that day. The light was low and golden. It bounced off the water to beautiful effect. Leaves drifted by in different colors and when they circled the concrete stretch they’d catch the light and glow.

Fallen leaves in swirling waters. I’ve photographed those a lot but that day I did not have my camera. Just food. I was kind of glad because then I could just eat and behold the beauty without trying to “capture” it on the screen. No camera also gave me freedom to look around me and so I noticed the woman across the pond, on the sidewalk side, next to Boylston Street.

She gazed in my direction but I do not think she saw me because she was quite focused on cleaning herself. She was deliberate and calm. You would have thought she stood in her own home staring into a mirror. First brushing her teeth and then flossing. A wet brush through her dark brown hair. Then a wash cloth to her face and other exposed bits of flesh. Just a quick wipe here and there. Like I said, it was cold that day. She did not fully take off her coat or the many layers beneath. All of the items she had pulled from a plastic ziploc bag which she tossed in the trash after cleaning herself. Then, after collecting several large trash bags, with great dignity she walked away.

Then my gaze fell upon the man who sat not too far from me.  He was well-dressed. I imagined he was taking a respite from his workspace in one of the neighboring office buildings. I yearned to borrow his thick wool blazer as the wind created eddies in the pond. In his hand was a notebook. On occasion he would pull from his knapsack a pouch full of fancy pencils. I recognized them from one of my favorite stationery stores. The pencils were all sharpened and the page of his book was blank. He would take out pencils and then put them back and I wondered what vision he was hoping to realize on the page. In between reaching for the pencils he would reach into his pocket. At first I thought maybe for an eraser but instead he pulled out a little bottle and downed it in one sip. He didn’t toss it on the ground like I’ve seen some of the guys on the benches do. No, he simply gently placed it back in his pocket and reached for a pencil again.

By the time I finished my lunch the man had emptied several small bottles, and as I rose I could see the large brown bag tucked next to the brown leather of his shoes.  Something to take home I guess. His head remained low the entire time. Only his hands moving really except for the quick tossing back of his head.

As I walked away, still, there was nothing on his page.

 

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opening

Can four words make a difference?

If the words … in these hopeful times … were repeated, retweeted, sang, drawn, pantomined, as so many other words are these days, could they change the world? Words repeated do influence mindset.

In these hopeful times…  In these hopeful times… In these hopeful times…

There’s many a political figure in this country and around the world performing the opposite gesture with great precision. They repeat and hammer home the words (or the idea) in these dark times, in these dangerous days and so on. And as these words are written, spoken, tweeted and visually executed to maximize emotion and often to veil truth, I see people around me huddle in fear, sink into despair, and when you ask them “why?” they do not have an answer. Or the answers revolve around fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the possibility of danger out of the darkness even if there is no darkness around them.

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budding

I do not wear blinders. I am aware of the harsh realities of this world. Realities that have been real since the dawn of mankind because those realities stem from human nature and human behavior that can be base. It can be full of grace as well.

I know that three words can make a difference. Yes we can. Yes we can. Yes we can.

One word can make a difference. Hope.

But where does one find hope … in times of challenge?

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It is great if and when one can find hope in a single individual. But increasingly I think hope comes from within.

For me it is a bit like finding beauty. Someone told me after viewing yesterday’s post, “only you can see the beauty in a dirty coffee cup.” I think others can too.

In these hopeful times, I am inspired by the goodwill of people around me helping others as best they can with what they have. You don’t have to be a billionaire to make a difference. I am inspired by the generosity of people, especially those who do not have great monetary wealth, supporting individuals and institutions that are struggling and those that are succeeding. I am inspired by the tenacity of people refusing to back down in the face of intimidation and inspired by the people who may not be ready for the front line but find ways to bolster, nourish and sustain those who are.

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a riot of blooms

In these hopeful times, I am angry at those working with great fervor to instill and validate hate and bigotry and at those who are so divorced from their common humanity that they may not truly understand how their policies will harm so many and help only the rich. The rich who are buffered …

Alas, upon reflection, is it a stretch to say in these hopeful times? Perhaps. I will simply have to work harder to make those words a reality.

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In the words of Rebecca Solnit, “It’s very important to say that hope is not optimism. Optimism is a sense that everything’s going to be fine no matter what we do. Hope is something completely different. The kind of activist hope I believe in is that, although we don’t know what will happen, that uncertainty still means there’s grounds for intervening even without being sure of the outcome.

An excerpt from a very thought provoking piece that is well worth a read: https://blog.longreads.com/2016/12/22/we-have-to-resist-rebecca-solnit/#

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Hope by George Frederick Watts

In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr would open a sermon with these words about shattered dreams, “Our sermon today brings us face to face with one of the most agonizing problems of human experience. Very few, if any, of us are able to see all of our hopes fulfilled. So many of the hopes and promises of our mortal days are unrealized. Each of us, like Shubert, begins composing a symphony that is never finished. There is much truth in George Frederick Watts’ imaginative portrayal of Hope in his picture entitled Hope. He depicts Hope as seated atop our planet, but her head is sadly bowed and her fingers are plucking one unbroken harp string. Who has not had to face the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams’?

English painter George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) would paint the first of several versions of Hope in 1885. Its symbolism would prove very popular and over time it would be massively reproduced. I read that by the 1930s however his work fell out of fashion and major galleries like The Tate removed his work from permanent display. So I do wonder when, where and how Martin Luther King first saw Hope. I do know when a young Barack Obama learned of the painting. It was in 1990. Pastor Jeremiah Wright would deliver a sermon, The Audacity to Hope. Wright’s words would move the young student who would eventually rouse a whole nation (mostly) with a notion that he would call, The Audacity of Hope.

So where is hope these days? In part its a personal question that we each have to grapple with on any given day depending on what’s happening in our lives.

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Hope by Edward Burne-Jones, 1896

Watts and later his friend Edward Burne-Jones each painted variations of Hope during dark periods in their lives. For Watts that period included the death of his adopted daughter’s child. Burne-Jones had been commissioned by a wealthy American to paint a dancing figure but as he dealt with the death of his friend and colleague William Morris he asked if instead he might paint Hope. I think of hope as something you hold on to or reach out for. And sometimes it even settles around you like a warm blanket when you least expect it. Or, as Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Sources & Additional Reading

http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/shattered-dreams

http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol06Scans/July1962-March1963DraftofChapterX,ShatteredDreams.pdf

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/victorian-painting-g-f-watts-inspired-obama-harp-hope-article-1.358686

Watts Magazine, p.14+

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42889

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I don’t just challenge others and reap the culinary rewards, I also try to challenge myself and so in the coming weeks I am challenging myself to photograph and research two different sets of stained glass windows (at least).  The first will involve some travel as I make my way to South Carolina to visit with relatives and en route may have the opportunity to photograph stained glass windows in a historic synagogue.  The other involves researching this window (above) I noticed in a building while walking in the Back Bay of Boston. Stay tuned for future updates, and meanwhile, here’s a window located in a place I write about often, Trinity Church in the City of Boston. It is Hope by Burlison & Grylls.

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