September 1996, the Indiana environmental community lost a member who was said to have all of his ten fingers and ten toes plugging systemic cracks threatening to destroy foundation - the forest and field communities Bob Klawitter protected. At the time, I was a senior in college co-directing the Student Environmental Action Coalition on the Indiana University Bloomington campus, where Bob taught English in the 1960's.
I'd scheduled a meeting with Bob the evening of the accident. I didn't have a mobile phone or an office line, so after waiting for Bob at the office a good forty five minutes with a few others who were invited, I headed home and dialed Bob's number. Bob's wife Kathy answered. I introduced myself and said that we missed Bob and asked if he was ok. Kathy replied, "Oh, Megan, I think Bob is dead."
Kathy briefly informed me of the wreck, we exchanged our love and ended the call. While on his way to our meeting in Bloomington from their homestead in Orange County, Bob's vehicle was struck head on at full speed by a pick-up truck driving south in the passing lane of northbound Indiana Highway 37. Bob entered the lane to pass a truck and trailer.
Bob's academic career was cut short in large part due to his engagement in the 1960's war resistance movement. After attending the first Earth Day in 1970, Bob retreated from political engagement and settled into the 80 acres of Orange County with Kathy. Bob and Kathy's retreat ended in 1985 when their neighbors asked for assistance protecting the Hoosier National Forest from exploitation. Soon after, Bob would help stop an $80 million dollar recreation complex on the Tillery Hill Peninsula, Patoka Lake. (Eternal Vigilance: Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana by Steven Higgs - link)
This is among a few times that I've brought experience of Bob's death into conversation and the first in writing. I did not know Bob well. We'd only spoken briefly in person after a talk he'd given on campus earlier in the year. The September 1996 meeting was to be our first. I do not know what may bind Bob and I together, what the relationship is, if any. However, there are tears yet.
What I live is that Bob was on his way to a meeting with me. And that his death sent ripples of loss deep, far, and wide through the community, likely costing the lives of many he stood to protect. I share the story, because what was required of Bob's fellows upon his passing, is what I see required of everyone in service to community now. No single person elected is plugging the multiple cracks in the foundation, if any one of them. There is not only opportunity to step in and take responsibility for what one can hold, there is necessity. Bob is dead.
This filling of cracks is what I've witnessed here in Bozeman and in my work online since the November elections. There's a tremendous show of unified care ranging from spontaneous talking circles, kind messages written on sticky notes stuck to the glass doors of Gallatin County Courthouse, and heightened activity and renewed resolve in community service, including a full week of free yoga asana classes at a downtown studio.
Of course, it's not all been smiles and open dialogue. There is palpable tension in the air. There is the rawness of anger and hatred surfacing. As I crossed the road on my way to a free asana class, I was yelled at by a woman driving a large white truck. I thought she saw me as I exited my car and waved, hurrying across as to not slow her down. I gather she had not seen me given her reaction, "Jesus, watch where you're going." And I did no better in my reaction, "Jesus Christ, yes, I love him" and turned to those walking behind me to note that there's going to be war if we don't get it together.
This other woman and I, we'd startled one another and reacted thus. Ironically or not, just before this encounter in the street, I'd listened to Eddie Vedder singing Bob Dylan's 'Masters of War' on the radio. I appreciate the song's message and always hesitate to share the lyrics because of the line, "even Jesus would never forgive what you do". Actually Jesus did forgive those who betrayed him and would forgive killing the child. Such boundless unconditional love is Jesus' blessing and curse.
Embodying Agape made Jesus, the human being, a healer and martyr. Among those who assumed much less possible, Jesus was someone willing to suffer and die before punishing another to death. This willingness brought in recognition that He was not His body. That I and You and We are not the body. Yet, the body is a holy vessel for the Child. So, to cut and exterminate the vessel is to extinguish the Child - the Light of God within every person.
There is world war now - war that's been going long before Bob stood to resist battle in Vietnam, the triage my father navigated as surgeon in a MASH unit. And war is expensive, not solely in lives lost on the battlefield, whether soldiers die or 'survive', but in lives lost to the manufacturing of war materials and machines, the lives of factory workers and their families, the lives of whole communities in forest, field, and water sacrificed in the extraction raw materials above ground and minerals below ground.
What war protects now is a level of consumption necessitated by war, because workers in a war economy are too busy to repair their own fences and roofs. They are too busy to prepare meals from whole foods, let alone cultivate and harvest from gardens. And, sheltered from the ravages of the war overseas, they do not know viscerally the cost of their own exhaustion except perhaps in the mirror's reflection and in the faces of their estranged children.
Friday 10.28.2016, during my walk around a nearby pond, I was drawn to small pieces of paper with writing strung around the trunk of a tree. On each piece of paper is a Psalm. I read each and then turned back to the house to be stopped by a woman who informed me that a young man hanged himself over the water on a branch of this tree a week before.
As we embraced, I said, "There is so much pain. So many wasted." As we parted, she said "Reach out a hand when you can, you know...to help anyone."
Loss of this young man brings to mind the vacant eyes of another young man on Haight Street in San Francisco who offered up a colorful sign requesting food money juxtaposed the gleaming eyes of an older man who played his accordion and sang as I danced in the Civic Center transit station. I gave both men what I could in the moment, some cash and my appreciation for the color and music. In our passing on the path, the woman gave me what I most long to offer others, witness to their pain and beauty, and a warm embrace.
The young man who hanged himself over the pond, where I go to watch wind dance with sunlight, is one of three recent young adult suicides that have come to my attention first-hand, as in communicated to me other than through mass media channels. To separate this reality - that young adults are choosing death - from dialogue on conflict resolution, climate action, intersectional justice, and interspecies coexistence misses the root affliction driving these symptoms: the spiritual disease called materialism.
This affliction, devastating for other organisms and the human child, is ending because the ecological community, of which humans are now a dominant fragment, will no longer support industrialized human combat. There is no choice in the matter of this end to materialism born of the war economy. The choice is what the ending of this cycle looks like. And we have been here before.
Will it be a battle to the end?
Or will there be surrender at the feet of the children who are to inherit whatever is left?
If a mass battle to the death, survivors will subsist miserably until they figure something extravagant through fear-driven fierce competition and then meet desire's edge again because of the unhealed battle wound.
If a mass healing and peaceful resolution of conflict, intimacy and the peace of unconditional love will be woven in the blood and bone of those surviving.
Survivors of a peaceful ending to a violent culture will face the challenges of material impoverishment with the soul's integrity, thus with the generosity of gratitude. They will not hunger for extravagance at another's expense. They will rather die than kill a child to save their own because through healing the wound they will know the senseless pain.
When the cost of WWI is actually grieved, war will end and conflict will once again be resolved peacefully if only for a time.
Prayer: Let the pain be remembered so that the wound may be buried and long forgotten.
Go back to never...
A reading of 'Be Like This Baby', which is included in 'Letting Go of the Wheel: transition poems' 7.18.2016 at extinctionwitness.org.
'Be Like This Baby' was published October 2001 by email@example.com in a three by two inch flip book bound with black cloth tape. I picked up the book, offered among flyers and business cards, free of charge in Burlington, Vermont.
The original inspiration for production of this film is a friend's suicide earlier this year. While weaning her child from her breast, Christi had been prescribed anti-depressants for associated depression and anxiety. She took her life in anguish.
Christi's sister requested that I produce something in celebration of Christi's life. The work evolved into a peace offering, which I believe Christi and her sister, fellow Quakers, co-orchestrated.
Footage of the leaf, dangling by a thread and blowing in the wind, was captured by me outside the post office in Bozeman, MT.
Standing Rock Photographs are by Ryan Redhawk / Standing Rock Rising
Please support Ryan's photo documentation of Standing Rock through his Go Fund Me campaign:
Music - Sacred Water by Clare Hedin - clarehedin.com/shop/music/sacred-water/
Royalty free war memorial footage from VideoBlocks.com