Forum, April 2021

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Family roots

There is much truth and beauty in Kaylee Berg’s “Becoming Sturdy” (FJ Feb.). As we excavate the historical trauma passed down from our ancestors, it is so important to also recognize the resilience. Those of us who are descendants of pale-skinned European cultures can find much resilience in our ethnicity, which was unwittingly bargained away for White privilege. Looking into my own heritage of German (Prussian) immigrants, I was dismayed to find that they settled in what was then the Northwest Territory (Ohio and Indiana) and took Indigenous land in what’s now called Toledo. Yes, we need to acknowledge that our strength and sturdiness can come from within, from our bones and the hardships and resilience of our forebears, and that it comes equally from our community, our belonging-ness to our group. Part of belonging, I now understand, is making amends for past (and present) acts that harmed others, individuals or groups, whether done knowingly or not. May we each find the beauty, the qi and the sturdiness within, from our own struggles and from our forebears, as we confront the wrongdoings and dismantle White supremacy in order to build the Beloved Community so longed for.

Amy Kietzman
Cheyney, Pa.

Thank you for this meditative and moving article about growing sturdy. I was transported to my own family roots from the Norway Fjords. I only have the mythology, the stories my grandfather told, and the dollhouses he built—replicas of his family’s homes there. These stories infused me with the heritage of strength that is enduring and of faith in something unseen. My grandfather had long since cast aside a faith in the church; he and his cousin boarded a ship, it is told, before they were full teens, to escape conscription to the Lutheran priesthood that befell bright, budding young men young in Norway at the turn of the twentieth century. They learned the carpentry trade on the ship and entered the New World as new men, to seek their way. What really resonated from this article was a quiet, enduring survivalist self found in the simplicity of daily, ordinary living. This is something I’ve continued to seek after my grandfather’s model: in a lifestyle, in a husband, and finally, in a place of worship.

Linda Wilk
Falling Waters, W.V.

I so enjoyed reading “Becoming Sturdy” and have a greater appreciation for the people in the communities where I grew up in South Dakota and Minnesota of Norwegian descent. These are talented, proud people.

Barbara Christwitz
Clearlake, Calif.

Weeds or abundance?

The dandelions are certainly dominant in the patch of land we call our lawn (“Dandelions and Domination” by Pamela Haines, FJ Feb.). When we lived in Indiana, the dandelions came up amid the thick grass and were easy to isolate and remove. We took them out by wheelbarrow loads, even though their perky yellow flowers were far more enlivening than the monotonous green blades of grass. Here in Montana removing all the dandelions would leave us with a desert once the dry, late summer kicks in.

We work hard in our garden. If we paid ourselves a quarter of minimum wage, a serving of chard would probably represent an investment of $5. We did learn this year that a meal of dandelion greens costs us no more than the effort of digging them up and washing them. They taste good, too—since they are so abundant we only need to pick the best. Isn’t it odd that we are brought up with the irrational thought that dandelions, lamb’s quarters, and other edible greens are lowly weeds, when in truth they are just the abundance of the earth, providing us sustenance without cost or penalty?

Sam Neff
Whitefish, Mont.

In our small Western Australia Regional Meeting we have been caring for the Australia Yearly Meeting Earthcare Committee for nearly six years. Our discernment led us to deep listening for long periods alongside our local river, the Swan/Avon River, which stretches hundred of kilometres inland toward desert. We have been a changing and diverse bunch, learning so much from each other and our environment and the research we’ve carried out along the way. And for all the things we had to do, we were enriched and buoyed by the experiences of being. Here dandelions are a rare culinary delight, but our training is similar to Pamela Haines’s, so we also unlearn what is a weed and then learn how we can act to change the bigger environment of shared understanding so all is within the frame of us, nature and all.

Elizabeth PO’
Fremantle, Australia

Missing the quiet

As a former Catholic, I know a lot about Lent (“Coping with COVID at Olney Friends School” by David Male, FJ Mar.). For me it has always been both a time to give up something and also a time for renewal. I am trying this year to give up my stubbornness, and to see the good in others, even when I disagree with them. Last year we had opportunities to be on campus and to be a part of worship during different events, or just if we happened to be there in the morning. I miss those times of quiet reflection.

Karen Deliman
Barnesville, Ohio

The freedom of childhood afternoons 

I started implementing “unplugged days” twice a week in autumn (“Do Not Forget to Wait” by Tricia Gates Brown, FJ Mar.). On Tuesdays and Saturdays I would turn off my Wi-Fi, power down electronic devices, and simply do things in real time and real space. It has been wonderful. I had forgotten how afternoons could spread out and how much time I used to engage in projects and stories and just existing. After the first few weeks of adjustment, unplugged days have become my favorites. They’re like mini summer vacations that I look forward to the rest of the week. This is not for everyone, and requires tolerance of your own company and thoughts, but it has been satisfying for me. I still miss my pre-pandemic social activities but no longer feel trapped by my new pandemic limitations. The pandemic offers us a rare chance to reclaim lost hobbies and the freedoms remembered from childhood afternoons.

Sascha Horowitz
Las Vegas, Nev.

More climate change

For months I have been grappling with the sense that U.S. Quakers could and should do more to support our nation in grappling seriously with climate change. It is hard to face up to the fact that the lives of our grandchildren on this planet are in jeopardy.

Let’s get brave and deal with the real issue of our time. Now, with the Biden administration taking hold, we have a new chance. In my view, Friends Committee on National Legislation should move hard into pro-green legislation.  Friends Journal should recruit many more substantive articles about climate change. Individuals should send money to and to the Union of Concerned Scientists. All of us should leave our hybrid cars in the driveway and spend our time writing to legislators, local newspapers, friends, and colleagues, urging all-out, full-fledged support for every initiative that moves us toward ending our dependence upon cars, trucks, red meat, airplanes, and plastics. We can do it!

Elizabeth Boardman
Santa Rosa, Calif.

The war on drugs and racism

As I am somewhat behind in my Friends Journal reading, it was only last night that I read Eric E. Sterling’s “Confronting the Challenge of Drugs” in the January 2020 issue. I have been reading such articles since 1966 when I worked at the New York City Criminal Court in Manhattan. I saw Black people charged with heroin-related offenses streaming from the streets of Harlem into courthouse holding cells. I concluded that the prohibition of drugs is as cruel, counterproductive, and corrupting as the prohibition of alcohol had been. The piece by Friend Sterling, who spent ten years on the side of enforcement then thirty years working for alternatives to drug prohibition, is the most complete, authoritative, and compelling article I have read on the subject.

Several months after the article appeared, a Minneapolis police officer strangled George Floyd with his knee, a horror that sparked a welcome surge in the Black Lives Matter movement aimed at keeping Black people as safe as White people from murder-by-cop. The racist administration of justice in this country is particularly gross in drug law enforcement. As Sterling pointed out, African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at more than five times the rate of White people. Michelle Alexander made a similar point ten years earlier in her landmark book, The New Jim Crow.

Friend Sterling concluded, “In helping to end the war on drugs, Friends will affirm their confidence in the healing power of the Light to restore to health those who are troubled.” Or shall we continue to affirm with silence a war that has failed in every way except its success in maintaining White supremacy?

Malcolm H. Bell
Randolph Center, Vt.

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