Looking out: A human being can change


Looking out

A human being can change

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands/And ate of it.
I said, Is it good, friend?
It is bitter — bitter, he answered;
But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart." — Stephen Crane, The Black Riders (1895)
The date is May 16. I am looking at the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. The caption above the photograph reads, "Violence rages in West Bank, Gaza". In the photo, young Palestinians duck for cover as Israeli troops, from somewhere in the distance, fire bullets at them. Two of the men are carrying a wounded man out of harm's way. Fires are burning in the riot scene.

The words that head this space, by Stephen Crane, are poignant. It does not matter whether the scene is the Gaza region (Palestinians vs Israelis) or, Addis Ababa on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border, or somewhere along the turf-war borders that gangs in housing projects from New York to Los Angeles live and die for; it is all the same: humankind seems to be hell-bent upon eating ourselves alive!

That is the bad news.

The good news is that, albeit far too slowly, but surely, over the years, some of us are learning not to like the taste of our bitterness.

The learning curve of an individual is but a blinking-eye moment in the distance between our history and eternity. While on our individual and collective journeys, we can be grateful for the many poets and philosophers encountered along the way. Often, it is their perceptions, past and present, that give us hope and a clearer vision for the future.

The Worm's Waking speaks to us of our journeys. It was written by the great Persian sage and poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi. After you read and reflect on its message, I respectfully request that you read it a second time, but change the word "worm" to "man" and the words "grape leaves" to "humankind". Read it with hope.

This is how a human being can change:
There's a worm addicted to eating
grape leaves.
Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he's no longer [merely] a worm.
He's the entire vineyard,
and the orchard, too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that doesn't need
to devour.

[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He welcomes letters commenting on his columns (include your name and full return address on the envelope, or prison authorities may refuse to deliver it). He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G3-77, Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA, or email <BrandonAstorJones@hotmail.com>. You can visit the author's web site at <http://www.BrandonAstorJones.com>.]