At one level inspiration is the ability to see beauty and mystery in everything men and women do. That may be a gift not everyone has.”
Ellen Gilchrist, The Writing Life
To spend time? I know what to do with money, how to sow and reap on the markets, but time? How do you spend time? And how might you learn to do so?”
Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know
It is to our credit if these are the Americans to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy. But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospections is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own–that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it–and someone always needs it–we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.”
Kathryn Schulz, “Derailed” The New Yorker, 8/22/16
Knowing you are capable of more and seeing other people easily obtain it are what make unequal societies so hard to take. Conservatives deride this as envy, but seeing someone flourish where you struggle to survive is its own harm.
Anat Shenker-Osorio, Don’t Buy It
You live through time, that little piece of time that is yours, but that piece of time is not only your own life, it is the summing-up of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours. It is, in other words, History, and what you are is an expression of History, and you do not live your life, but somehow your life lives you, and you are, therefore, only what History does to you.
~Robert Penn Warren, Band of Angels
Who the Khans are and where they came from and what they’re doing here is a long story, and a quintessentially American one. The history of immigrants is, to a huge extent, the history of this nation, though so is the pernicious practice of determining that some among us do not deserve full humanity, and full citizenship. Zarif Khan was deemed insufficiently American on the basis of skin color; ninety years later, when the presence of Muslims among us had come to seem like a crisis, his descendants were deemed insufficiently American on the basis of faith.
Over and over again, we forget what being an American means. The radical premise of our nation is that one people can be made from many, yet in each new generation we find reasons to limit who those “many” can be–to wall off access to America, literally or figuratively. That impulse usually finds its roots in claims about who we used to be, but our nativist nostalgia is a fantasy. We have always been a pluralist nation, with a past far richer and stranger than we choose to recall. Back when the streets of Sheridan were still dirt and Zarif Khan was still young, the Muslim who made his living selling Mexican food in the Wild West would put up a tamale for stakes and race local cowboys barefoot down Main Street. History does not record who won.
Kathryn Schulz, New Yorker June 6-13, 2016
To decide to do nothing is to make a decision.
James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries
“My dear friends, science can do many wonderful things, but it cannot comfort the afflicted, or ease a heavy heart, or give expression to the topmost joy of which life is capable. That is what poetry can do. Remember this…”