This is the first time I’ve taken a photograph and thought; I hope my grandchildren have this image in their lives, as I have had the images of those who came before me.
It was taken in Texas. The land where I spent my adolescence, the land where my mothers family has lived for some seven generations, and the land I was brought back to this year.
Four days ago, marked seven years since my fathers passing. He was a good man. A man who loved life, who cherished each day, and who gave the best he had to his family. A man who loved his children, and who fought to create a better life for all of us.
He was also violent as a young man. Perhaps not in all the ways we think of when we think of a violent father, but in ways that were decisive and real. As a young child, home, in many ways, felt like a warzone. A place where we longed for peace, or ran away in pursuit of it.
Much of the last few years, has been spent on a journey of deep listening and learning. After the death of Michael Brown, and the movements that ensued, it became clear that a generation was rising of those who had long been silenced and erased. A movement led by those who had been colonized, toward a dream of freedom beyond what many of us who have benefited from the colonizing, were ready to work for. That no matter what path I personally took, no matter how brave or cowardly, how true or how untrue, how aligned or disaligned, i would always be a settler on this land. As would my children, and theirs after that. Beneficiaries of land claimed in genocide, where religious laws rationalized a vast and enduring theft. What we decide to do about it, will be up to our generation, and every generation to come.
Many of the teachers I’ve found over the years, have said they believe European Americans to be the lost tribe. A people who left their home lands, and have never been honest about where they arrived.
My mother’s family were among the early colonizers of New York, who then traveled south through Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and eventually arrived in Texas. Just in time for the Battle of San Jacinto. My grandfather was the first to leave the family farms, go to war, and come home a changed man. Shortly after he moved to California, and his family back in Texas still tell stories of how he’d launch into tirades, detesting bigotry in any form, and demanding our family forge a new path. Three generations later, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
My fathers family had a very different journey. His family were Sephardic Jews, who have been running from one place to another, for a very long time. Fleeing oppression from the Romans and the Turks and the Moors and the Spanish and eventually the Germans. This fear of expulsion, of being torn from place and home, has driven itself deep into the psyche of my family. I feel it still.
The pain of his passing dominated much of the following year, but it was eventually replaced by the crushing scope of what had to be done to resolve his affairs. To complete, all that remained unfinished in his journey.
So many hours of life since then, have been dedicated to the basic mechanics of learning a set of skills that were never mine. Learning from a spectrum of interests, that were never mine. And taking care of relationships and entanglements, that were never mine.
The passing of a loved one can be a confusing affair. For a son, the passing of a father can often become a moment of great shifts in the trajectory of one’s path.
For me it marked the end of a time when the fullness of my days would be spent in pursuit of my conscience and conviction; and the beginning of days when it would be spent largely in pursuit of providing for family.
This divorce of conscience and labor, has had profound and often destructive consequences in many aspects of my life. And yet I recognize that to have ever experienced a time before such a separation, marks me greatly privileged in the scope of humankind.
Each year since, I have worked with all my might to return to a time when my mind and hands could focus fully once again, on the fight for freedom worldwide, and the work of supporting those who wage it. If you are among those rare and precious souls who spend their lives protecting life, demanding justice, and pursuing peace, you are my friend and ally. We may not always understand one another, but my respect and honor is always first for those who fight at the frontlines, wherever your line may be.
I have learned through many seasons, that while every dollar created contributes toward a system of war, that same dollar within this system can purchase freedom of time and mind and energy and strength for those who most need it. The paradoxes are vast, as are the ways in which we are each called to pursue a free future.
As the year turns, and each of our collective identities lurch forward round an imaginary clock, I am thinking a great deal about time. About all that can be lost when one releases the need to be controlled by it, and all that can be gained. It is a unique form of madness, to create a society where our days are spent in pursuit of an abstract form of value, to gain the only commodity there is no way to get more of; time.
The urgency of now, drove me body and soul for many years. Wars where friends lives are on the line abroad, and wars where friends lives are on the line at home, have pushed many of us to demand peace with a righteous fury, from every continent on earth. That larger community has stumbled over the years, but I am grateful to have stood with so many of you, over so many years. It is my deep and abiding hope, that those of us who are alive in this time, will continue to stand.
When I was leaving standing rock, I looked toward a friend who I had come to respect a great deal, and said that perhaps it was time for a new chapter. He looked me in the eyes and said - you are not a book Sean David. There are no chapters. You are a tree.
With neverending spirals, cascading away from one another, the life of a tree continues endlessly, until it doesn’t. And then slowly, it becomes the source from which all other life feasts. In so many ways, this feels like what has happened with my father. There was no big ceremony, and no big fanfare. Just old friends drinking old booze telling old stories, and dancing the night away in his honor. But like the falling of a great tree, his passing began to fundamentally shift the soil where his roots had grown for so long. Where my roots had grown. It nourished the land around me, and exposed all the areas that desperately needed nourishment. Needed life and light and water and love.
The work of going back, and asking what had led to the violence and separation within our family, has caused me to also pursue a deeper understanding of what has led to the violence and separation at the heart of our society. At the heart of our lives.
Each of the Treaties signed with the people indigenous to this land we call home, have been broken. While the Constitution we commit ourselves to, calls treaties the Supreme Law of the Land. To not acknowledge this is to simply deny what is right in front of us. And yet so many of us do. This cognitive dissonance pervades our consciousness. We drive past reservations, or see the ancient names of streets and bridges and cities and states, and assume all is well, and everyone is fine. But we know. Somewhere deep inside of us, we know. This is their land. And though the scale of what would be necessary to make it right is nearly impossible to conceive, conceive we must. The work of imagining a future of restitution and reconciliation and restoration, is a work worth doing. For how will we arrive, if we do not know where we might go.
Violence can be a potent and powerful eraser. Of dreams and ideas and hopes and dignity. Even if it doesn’t shift you physically, it always shifts you. Kills some part of you.
The work of peace begins within. The wounds we play out in the physical form, each began as wounds of the heart. The trauma of war is generational, and echoes through each of our lives. So must be the pursuit of peace.
For my family with roots in Northern Europe, and my family with roots in the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, I commit myself and my family, to the work of truth and reconciliation on this land we now call home. In this time, and in all times.
I hope some day my grandchildren will see this photograph, and gain as much strength from me, as I have from all those who came before. We are the fruit of our ancestors dreams y’all. Let us give the fullness of our lives, to ensuring all those who come after us, are free.
Love y’all. Sending strength for 2019. We are gonna need it. Here’s to a future, free and at peace.