08.29.16

self-portrait with beret and turned up collar

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:22 pm by Administrator

the months and seasons are running together. i’d slow it down if i could. i’d wake up and demand that the morning come to me; i’d have him sit upon the floor at my bedside and recite to me his litany of possibilities and intentions. i’d eat my breakfast—ordinarily a perfunctory thing but now strangely sumptuous—and frown upon morning with irritation. “it’s not what i had in mind,” i’d say, or “what makes you think this is how we ought to proceed?” morning would contend with me, not as the effete and circuitous old man that he so often is, but as an energetic companion just a few years my junior. he would prod me with some humor (”when did you become such a bore?” he’d say), to which i’d reply with typical nonchalance (”you’re here today and gone tomorrow. just watch—a pretty girl will be along to replace you one of these days”). we’ll dicker over the day that has yet to begin, and only once our bickering and bantering has finished will i submit to the prescribed order of events.

the days would all be different from the ones before. the days would always hold a special surprise. and the very last day—i would take the pen in my hand and write that day with my own hand. there would be no quips and gestures on that morning of mornings. just a few jots with my free hand as i took my coffee with the other; and then a wink of the eye and the final shaking of hands.

the days run right through me now. they take no heed of whether i have found mooring or meaning in them. i wake up to preoccupations that feel functional; more alarming though are those days when i awaken without any preoccupations at all. it happens more often now, now that i’m older. morning presses on without me, and like a man in a foreign city who has no sense of the rhythm or language, i’m trying in vain to hop on a bus or flag down a taxi. where was it that i was supposed to get to? sometimes i go through a whole day now, showing up in places where i thought i was expected but forgetting what for. it feels like a life most of the time. sometimes it feels like something else. i worry sometimes that if i break the routine, if i show up where i was not expected, i’ll end up on the wrong side of the door, where someone will ask me, “what it is that you want?” and i’m not sure i’ll have the answer.

i had a brief break from the conference i was attending and ended up in the National Gallery looking for something. i don’t know if i found it exactly. but i think i found something like it. it was in that self-portrait by Rembrandt, the one painted amidst the contemplation of age, doubt, and perhaps despair. i saw it in the texture of its surface, the hard indentations effected by the handle of the brush, the glint in the eye that one might take to signify either defiance or savagery—or neither of these at all. where did all the years go? i think he sat there at the edge of his stool, looking at himself framed by the inky blackness of poverty, loss, and vague nostalgia, and he summoned morning to him. morning came in thick robes that trailed along the floor, and rembrandt van rijn said to him, “come and go as you please, but quietly. there’s no need to mark the days any longer”

08.15.16

the era of exploration

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:48 pm by Administrator

it’s the 4 in me perhaps, but i am often struck by how boring and uninspired are even the best of our cultural offerings in 21st century america. perhaps it’s both a good and a bad thing. it’s good that a member of society can even have expectations of entertainment and inspiration; it’s a sign of relative peace and prosperity. on the other hand, it’s unfortunate for all the obvious reasons.

my boss the other week asked me if and when i’m going to “step up” my lifestyle. he was talking about the sports cars he wanted to buy and the neighborhoods he wanted to move into. he knows that i drive an old car and that i dress predictably and modestly. at what point am i going to join in with the upwardly mobile? i told him that i don’t consider myself thrifty; i just don’t see the point in spending money on most things people enjoy. a car is simply a means of transportation that succeeds if it keeps me safe and doesn’t break down; in fact, it’s a mode of technology so destructive to both human life and to the environment that it ought never have been invented. i drive a car reluctantly. i’d never ever spend more than i have to in order to enjoy an automobile as a status symbol or a recreational experience.

and the same goes for clothes, houses, and everything else. everything purports a function beyond its immediate and material function, but really i balk at the implied functions. an expensive house in an elite neighborhood should not be the entry fee to a premiere public school system, and i dispute the true value of either and both.

it’s terribly snobbish and entitled of me to suggest this, but i often feel that the society of our times is just not very interesting. and this is not simply a critique of capitalist, technology-driven america. this is an observation of what the world has to offer people who have disposable income. we have access to a variety of vicarious and virtual experiences through television programming and the internet; we have relatively safe and fast access to most areas of the globe through plane and train travel; we have restaurants, museums, and movie theaters where we can congregate with others around trendy aesthetic and visual spectacles. for those who no longer work simply to survive from day to day, there is a standard fare of experiences at our disposal. and it’s mostly derivative. for those looking for something edgier or off the beaten path, there are extreme sports, gambling, sexual diversions, and drugs. none of it is sustainable.

i wonder if the thing i miss in the present time is the era of exploration. that’s not to say that we’ve been everywhere and done everything possible in our world. but i’m going to generalize and say that there’s really no unexplored frontier anymore—not like there was even two hundred years ago. of course there were peoples living in most areas of the world, but they didn’t know about one another; their maps had uncharted edges, and there were plenty of questions for those seeking definitive knowledge about the contours of their universe. that idea is gone now. we milk the known world for pleasures now, and it’s a categorically different experience from the exploration of the unknown. every century had its explorers, its cartographers, its adventurers, its first person in space. every century except possibly this one.

the retellings of old stories, the faster and more versatile technologies, the promise of instantaneous and far-reaching connectedness—these are all gimmicks that don’t really offer the promise of new identity or transformed consciousness. i guess that in the end is where i get stuck. i’m uninspired by what our society has to offer because i’m looking for something absolutely unanticipated: a continent of unreached people, a world we have not stepped foot upon, a treasure that has yet to be unearthed. the child i was in the 80s really believed that we would be colonizing other worlds by now. now the man that i am recognizes that this is what we’ve got for the foreseeable future: sad poetry, getaways, and all the various and nostalgic revisitations of our past—which waits to be dredged up from our depths and consumed, like the dead turned to oil in the earth beneath our feet, or like cud from the guts of the cow, there to be chewed and swallowed yet again

08.08.16

prayer

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:05 pm by Administrator

it has been a long while since i’ve had a moment with God—one of those limpid and true mystical moments. this morning, it began with an outpouring of longing; and it ended with a reminder. it began with a remembrance of the failures of my life and the great failings of my heart; and it completed itself, as in a resolving chord, with a calling.

i told the Lord that when death has consumed me and had me completely, i would hope that there would be something left of me for what follows. but even if there isn’t, what difference does it make? i would not want another day as myself beyond what He gives me the grace to bear.

and She reminded me that as inconsiderable as life is, the living will ponder it nonetheless. enjoy it as simply as you can, mindful of the nothingness from which you came, so that the fruit of your life may be grace to others, forgiveness for that which harms you, and genuine gratefulness for everything yours and yet to come

08.01.16

my tribute to humayun khan

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:27 pm by Administrator

for twelve years, humayun khan has been dead and buried in arlington cemetery, poignantly remembered by his family and friends but truly unknown to the rest of us. but now, in the wake of the democratic national convention, the memory of this young man has been veritably resurrected, in the most public, painful, and illuminating of ways. in light of his father’s words—and Donald Trump’s dismissal of them—we have been introduced to humayun khan, an american soldier who died for his country at the age of 27, and i, among others, wish to pay tribute to him and to the sacrifice he made on my account.

there is much that i have in common with humayun. we were born 10 months apart, and we were both born to parents that immigrated to the United States. we both grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. he went to Kennedy High, and i went to its rival school Blair. we both followed in the career footsteps of our fathers; i became a doctor like my dad, and Humayun aspired to become a lawyer like his father. we both experienced racial prejudice against us and our families, on account of the color of our skin. i was teased and abused by both whites and blacks in montgomery county maryland, just as my parents encountered prejudice on account of public sentiments during and after the vietnam war. i believe that humayun and i had this in common when we grew up: we were never treated as real americans by others who believed us to be foreigners. we grew up with something to prove about our loyalties. humayun proved his by joining the U.S. Army during the war in Iraq. he proved his love for america when he attempted to intercept a suicide car bomber and died trying to save his fellow soldiers.

i believe that it is inevitable that people of color in america will receive the scorn and retribution of our countrymen if and when the opportunity is ripe for the violent expression of racism. if hostilities break out again in Korea, i know that americans will vandalize the stores of korean-americans, slander koreans in the media, and call for the deportation of american citizens who are of korean descent. this has been a pattern of behavior in america for centuries; the internment of the Japanese during WWII and the present-day vilification of Mexican migrant workers are recent and troubling reminders of how we define and demonize “the other” during difficult times. nowadays, the target of america’s ire could not be more obvious; muslim americans are now in america’s crosshairs, and they have been so consistently maligned by politicians and the press over the years that it is almost impossible to recognize with objectivity just how denigrating Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims, immigrants, and the mother of a fallen soldier truly are. in fact, studies of unconscious bias suggest that Muslims are the one ethnic group for which unconscious bias is actually outweighed by conscious bias. we are unafraid and unashamed to admit that we despise people of Muslim backgrounds.

it is for this reason that the memory of humayun khan is so important to remember, as a counterpoint to our natural and unapologetic tendency to draw crude racial lines between what is american and non-american. humayun khan, a young man of color who grew up outside of D.C. and knew no allegiance other than to america, represents who i am in a way that Donald Trump never could. in so many ways, humayun khan and i are the same. he had the great misfortune to experience 9/11 not only as an attack against his country but as an attack against his dignity as an american citizen. when will it be my turn to experience the same? when will the rage of america shift against people with asiatic features, on account of an international tragedy or an act of terror? when will the next cho seung-hui emerge, driving the thoughts and feelings of americans against people who look like me and my children?

khizr khan challenged Donald Trump to demonstrate what sacrifices he has made for his country, and Trump could say nothing to that. and that’s because Donald Trump doesn’t know what it means to have to prove your worth as an american citizen. while he was spoon-fed his wealth and opportunities, other americans with brown and black skin left their families, worked their way through school, and died in foreign lands to prove that their citizenship was more than a few words on a paper. while he took the american constitution as a license to express irresponsible judgments and insults, others embraced it as a moral code, an idea of freedom, tolerance, and mutual respect worth dying for. there are moments when i am nearly ashamed to call myself an american because of what Donald Trump represents about our history of cruelty and arrogance toward people of color; but then i think of you, humayun khan, and i am proud to have shared this americanness with you. you were the best of us; i stand with you and your family, and i remember you with great pride. this was and always will be your country. and i hope this nation will prove itself worthy of the ultimate sacrifice you made