There is a fascinating collection of black and white seascape photos reminiscent of the work of Rothko that were done by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. He said something interesting, “we have changed the land so much over time, but it is entirely possible that ancient man saw the same images of the sea as we do today.” In this sense Sugimoto felt he was connecting with our most ancient ancestors.
I am one of those people, like Sugimoto, who constantly looks for connections in the world around me. I often wonder how old some of the huge trees in my yard are. I not only imagine what they might have “seen” but also, who might have seen them? Did anyone from the near or even ancient past pass by these same woods? If so, did they ever notice that unusual tree which from one base grew into three separate but equal towering mammoths that stretch high into the sky? Did they ever wonder who came before them or who might come after them? Did they imagine that anyone had tread this same path before?
I wonder if our most ancient ancestors, when walking about, staring at Sugimoto’s seas or sitting around the cave campfire ever wondered who came before them? Did they know they were the “first”? Were they? Things to ponder on your summer vacations as you sit by the sea or stare at an old tree.
Back in time, if one were to believe the history books lock, stock and barrel – wars were typically fought over land, love and royal succession with little to no deviation from the expected causes and effects. (Of course these underlying causes were intermittently sprinkled with a little religious idealism as a sort of unquestionable kryptonite shield when the causes themselves didn’t resonate with the public at large. If you won’t die for me, die for God. He’s on our side, I promise – he told me himself in a dream etc.)
In modern times it seems many wars have shifted from expanding power bases via land, love and money to more abstract concepts such as beliefs (not just religious) and ethnic origin – sans the exclusion clause for women and children. Such exclusion used to be a “given” enforced by the majority of the population without need of explicit pronouncement. Sadly that is no longer the case.
Instead of evolving into a complex array of peoples and beliefs – as our species is more than capable of doing – we are instead returning to our most base primitive instincts. For example, countless people still frown upon intermarriage whether it be on the grounds of ethnic, racial or religious differences. Added to the mix of separate and unequal are the countless ways we splice even the smallest communities into even more factions by expanding the standard basket of bigotry rather than abolishing it. For example, despite laws put in place to try and stem the flow there is still rampant discrimination in basic needs such as employment based on even more criteria such as age, gender and sexual orientation in addition to all the other vices so many still cling to out of irrational fear of the “other.”
There have been countless wars over political idealism. I’ve never understood how anyone would think it plausible, let alone justifiable, to kill someone else’s children because you didn’t want their ideas (i.e. communism) to spread. Yet just when you thought those wars of the recent past couldn’t get any more senseless, now it has gone so far that if you express not only dissatisfaction, but even just a minor opinion about something – rest assured you will receive profanity laced insults all the way up to death threats from people you’ve never seen and will never know.
Who or whatever eventually comes after us will surely look upon our descent into oneness and inevitable self-annihilation from such a fall as the most senseless implosion of a species that held so much promise ever witnessed.
We’ve all heard the phrase since we were children, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Yet in all honesty practically none of us ever heed the message. Here is a case in point from a slightly different perspective than you’ve seen ad nauseam on the news:
I belong to a local gym where I go do some basic exercises three times a week. The gym, while open to the public, is almost exclusively muslim due to a nearby mosque. The ladies have their heads covered while on the treadmill etc. I go because it is a convenient drive from my house. As is typical with most public places – people basically have nothing to do with each other. You smile in an acknowledgement, say an occasional hello and that’s it. They don’t know my name and I don’t know theirs.
Many, like myself, listen to music in headphones while struggling to get skinny. I have noticed one particular young man in the gym who clearly has a rather intense dislike for me despite the fact I’ve never had any interaction with him.
I’ve heard him speak Arabic before. Although I’ve forgotten most of it now, I myself have studied Arabic in the past and for a rather unusual reason. It wasn’t because I wanted to work in counter terrorism etc. it was because I really liked the Lebanese singer Magida El Roumi and I wanted to understand the lyrics to her music.
You see my father traveled to Egypt back in the 60s/70s as a tourist. As a little girl he told me a story about being stopped at a gas station and a lady next to him had a car stereo blasting the most incredible music he had ever heard. Of course he had no idea what it was, just that it was something Arabic. It had a fantastic beat and was just fantastic. So as a teenager I wanted to discover this wonder my father had witnessed so I began trying to find out about Arabic music.
Mind you these were the days before the internet. I would scour radio stations for world music programs where I would pick up names of singers. Later in university when the internet was just starting I would search the names and find these obscure little online stores that sold CDs of their music. That’s where it all began. I’m sure many of these shops were a bit confused when they got orders from someone whose last name is really long and ends in -berg. Ironically it’s a Norwegian name not of Jewish origin although I’m sure like most people no one ever assumed that. Nevertheless I have quite the collection and still enjoy listening to it today.
So as this fellow is glaring at me, little does he know that what I’m listening to on my little ipod shuffle is not just classical, Russian and Ukrainian but also a fair bit of music in his own language. No one wants to be pre-judged. We can’t let the hate that is all around us penetrate our ability and willingness to see beyond our perceptions of surface realities.