A remarkable moment…

We’re on the brink of reinventing America. Not knowing can be uncomfortable. Or it can be breathtakingly beautiful. The moment before birth, as painful as it is, it is also filled with wonder.

This moment calls for being present and paying attention. Not rushing. Not judging. Just being. How often do we forget to breathe?

I took Buddhist vows, what they call Transmission, from my teacher Peter Matthiessen, in November 2003, after studying with him for three years. It began by going on a retreat to the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland, a trip that Peter’s Roshi, Bernie Glassman, had organized. We spent ten days in Poland, seven of which were spent meditating on the railroad tracks leading into the death camp. I went because it was the thing I feared most in life.

We were there to bear witness. To what exactly? To human suffering on a mass scale? Walking the grounds where the children houses were set up, you could see bunk beds with the imprint of small teeth running along the side. These children were so hungry, they tried eating the wooden frame. The tooth marks took my breath away.

I collapsed onto a wooden bed, crying helplessly, shuddering, the ghosts of the children, the guards, my ancestors, all surrounding me. The spectacle was hardly an embrace. I was engulfed by a screaming flock of human beings, and they were flying around me like carrion birds encircling their prey. There was nothing to do but surrender. To the moment, to the ghosts, to my own inability to comprehend the degree of evil of which we are capable.

But there you have it. We are capable of such atrocities. And the lies and delusions that lead to the creation of extermination camps. When I see young American Neo-Nazis parading down American streets, Americans who take their freedoms for granted, white supremacists who later soft pedal what they really believe, I think about those children houses at Auschwitz.

My parents and one grandmother were Holocaust survivors. We’re talking about a family with a great deal of inter-marriage, Jews and Christians, people who refused to see their spouses or their children as THE OTHER, or monsters, or those people who are taking everything away from us. They paid for their beliefs. Do we really have to go through all this again because subsequent generations refuse to learn from our ancestors mistakes?

I believe in the American people, I believe in the American dream, and I believe in hope. And I say to all Americans, PAY ATTENTION!!! DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED. Protecting our democracy is OUR responsibility. Take that responsibility seriously, because each moment of our lives depends upon our clarity and willingness to see things for what they are.

At this moment of rebirth, be in awe, enjoy the wonder, and be mindful.

Author of the novel Illusion of Memory, part of the anthology Long Island Noir, local journalist and arts writer, editor, and pllaywright..