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How to process grief — lessons from an earlier age

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — fifty years later, two kennedy deaths remembered ]

I had a couple of other posts in the works, but the one that was closest had a mean tinge to it so I set it on one side, sorry to have nothing to offer you this last Sunday, and consoling myself with music.

And so it was that I recalled one work of music, and searching it out on the web, came across another. Here Erich Leinsdorf announces the assassination of President John F Kennedy, and then, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world, turns to Beethoven, to the Eroica, and plays the Funeral March as a lens through which to process the most immediate, intimately Bostonian, grief:

As NPR testifies:

But what is most remarkable to me as as listener, hearing the Boston broadcast from Symphony Hall on that Friday afternoon, is the sense of how those people in that time and place — performer and audience member alike — process this shocking event collectively, in a way that is totally unimaginable to us 50 years later, as we learn each minute’s news within the weirdly solitary glow of our screens. First, we hear the gasps and shushes after BSO music director Erich Leinsdorf utters the words: “The president of the United States has been the victim of an assassination.” Second, a wave of groans and sighs after Leinsdorf continues, “We will play the funeral march from Beethoven’s Third Symphony” — as if the crowd’s shared response is that they couldn’t possibly have heard the first part right, but that then the orchestra’s change in repertoire confirms the awful, unimaginable truth. And then, for the next 14 minutes … utter silence, save for the incomparably somber music.

If we could filter our lives through such music..


And then as Cardinal Cushing celebrates a Pontifical Mass of Requiem for JFK, it is again Leinsdorf who conducts the music for that celebration — Mozart‘s glorious Requiem, from which extraordinary ceremonial this is the Dies Irae (turn down your volume control, this was recorded at a much louder volume range than the Beethoven IMO):

and, literally and emotionally, movingly tearful, the Lacrimosa:

Dona eis requiem..

If you wish to reach as deep as deep grief and process it, and Boston‘s response to the death of its favorite son President is anything to go by, Leinsdorf is your man, Beethoven the most immediate lens to hand, and the sacramental celebration with Cardinal Cushing as a no less impressive backup..


I would be remiss, however, were I to write only of high cultural music (no matter how popular) and high ceremonial religion here — of equal passion as I have been reminded recently was the spontaneous outpouring of love and reverence shown on the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, JFK‘s brother, as the train carrying his body passed from New York to DC for burial (a high ceremonial of the military variety) in Arlington National Cemetery. The crowds who turned out, in ones and twos, in clusters, both black and white, perhaps a million or two oin all, were captured by the extraordinary photographer and friend of the family Paul Fusco in close to a thousand images, of which these are but a few:

The train has been much in the news recently, with exhibits such as The Train: RFK’s Last Journey at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, reviewed in The train was moving mournful slow’: Exhibit shows haunting photos of Bobby Kennedy’s final journey and also described with selected images at Robert F. Kennedy’s Funeral Train, Fifty Years Later, along with the DVD One Thousand Pictures: RFK’s Last Journey drawn from Fusco’s work on that train, the publication of Chris Matthews‘ biography, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, and MSNBC’s Headliners docu tribute to RFK.

Even the most unexpected moment, infused with love and grief, can ignite a spontaneous, informal ceremony of great power

Sub umbra alarum tuarum..


[ It has taken me several days to formulate this post, and I’m on fairly strong pain meds for my foot wound, so please blame them for any excessive typos or lack of coherence — I’m sure the general message comes through… ]

Forgiveness and Mercy: more recent words..

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — adding angles to an existing series of posts on a crucial (pun fully intended) topic ]

I’m doing some catch-up on uncompleted posts here, and today I’d like to add two comments I ran across a while back to the two posts I’ve already written on forgiveness:

  • Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles
  • More recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles
  • Given time, I’d probably edit these down a bit, but (a) I got unceremoniously dumped from my abode less than a week ago, with two hours to move my library and my life, courtesy of the landlord’s violation of safety codes — or perhaps courtesy of someone’s opportunity to make a bundle in real estate by closing down two hotels, who knows? — and (b) I therefore no longer have my library to hand, and am backed up in terms of my writings, so..


    Without further ado and with little or no editing, here are the voices of:

  • Anthea Butler, The decision to forgive is rooted in faith. The desire to forget is rooted in racism:

    or many people, the forgiveness offered to Dylann Roof, the man charged with killing of nine black members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, at his arraignment by the families of his victims is impossible to understand – and worthy of veneration. “I forgive you” said Nadine Gardner, daughter of slain church member Ethel Lance. “I will never ever hold her again. But I forgive you, and may God have mercy on your soul”.

    But how could someone forgive such a heinous crime so quickly, so easily? The answer lies in part with Christian interpretation of the New Testament, a history of racialized violence and the civil rights movement.

    Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves

    Forgiveness is a spiritual practice and biblical mandate from the New Testament that many American Christians engage in as a part of their faith. Familiar scriptures (such as Jesus forgiving the Romans while hanging on a cross, or saying that forgiveness should be given 70 times seven) are staples of Christian teaching and theology. Forgiveness is enshrined in the Lord’s prayer – forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. These scriptures point to the power of forgiveness not only as a way to absolve transgressions, but to ensure that the person extending forgiveness will be forgiven of theirs. For many Christians, these teachings form the foundation of their Christian faith, even when that forgiveness can be difficult to give.

    Historically, narratives of forgiveness were part of both the anti-slavery movement and the civil rights movement in America. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance, was based loosely on the life of the Rev Josiah Henson, who forgave his master that wanted to sell him and beat him after Henson begged him not to.

    I fell down and clung to his knees in entreaties. Sometimes when too closely pressed, he would curse and strike me. May God forgive him!

    These slave narratives in the 19th century were designed to put forth messages of Christian love and mercy, even in the face of the masters’ violence and cruelty. For many slaves and subsequent free black people, forgiveness was also a way to protect themselves from continued racial violence. A well placed “I forgive you” served as protection for vulnerable African Americans in a violent racist environment by calling out to oppressor and oppressed’s shared religious faith.

    In the 20th Century, the non-violent “soul force” that Martin Luther King Jr taught was a combination of Hinduism and Christianity. Forgiveness became a big part of the civil rights movement, juxtaposed against the violence of protesters and law enforcement. King described forgiveness in one of his early sermons as a pardon, a process of life and the Christian weapon of social redemption. In MLK’s words, “forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude”

    History and scripture are just the foundations for the stunning words of forgiveness from the families of those murdered at Emmanuel AME, expressions apparently driven by sincerity and theChristian witness of the surviving family members. However, forgiveness deployed in the context of American race relations become part of the ritual of what I call racial forgiveness.

    Racial forgiveness is different than a theological premise; it is a cultural ritual in America which functions to atone for the past racism (as with the apologies from various denominations, such as Southern Baptists, in the 1990s) or in an attempt to provide African Americans a way to move forward and acknowledge historic and recent racial pain. These public acts of racial forgiveness are important, but they can also bring about ritual forgetting when co-opted by individuals or groups with little interest in atonement.

    This ritual forgiveness and forgetting is one of the reasons America’s conversation on race is stilted, disingenuous, and dangerous. In a culture of ritual forgiveness and forgetfulness, no one is called to account for historic deeds done against others, and history is viewed as a malleable story to support the forgetting. That is why the conversation about the Confederate Flag and its meaning are simply swept away as a “cultural matter” or history, when the reality is that the flag was a symbol of resistance to the Union and, later, used as a way to continue the culture of the Confederacy and terrorize Africans Americans.

    Forgiveness unfortunately, can birth forgetting: by the time the arraignment ended, the ritual forgetfulness had already begun. Politicians like Jeb Bush claimed not to understand why the shooter would want to kill black people and conservatives claimed that the shooting “was an attack against Christians”.

    How long will forgiveness and the subsequent forgetting be a means to derail sustained efforts to confront racism in America? For black people, there is no forgetting of the history of American racism, or the complicity of Christians in that history. When a white man walks into a black church, sits for an hour, and then allegedly shoots nine black people dead, no amount of forgiveness given for his murderous act by the families of the dead can absolve America of its violent history of racism, no matter how much those complicit in that racism might hope for it.


  • Buzzfeed, Here Is What Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Said To His Victims In Court:

    “I’d like to now apologize to the victims and the survivors,” Tsarnaev said.
    “If there is any lingering doubt, I did it along with my brother.”
    As he spoke in courtroom, he began to cry.
    “I am sorry for the lives that I have taken, the suffering that i have caused you, the damage that I’ve done.”
    “Immediately after the bombing, of which I am guilty of, there is little doubt about that. I learned their faces, their names.”
    Tsarnaev also thanked the jury and his attorneys.
    “Made my life the last two years easy. I cherish their companionship,” Tsarnaev said about his defense team.
    He concluded his speech by asking for mercy for himself and his brother.
    “I am Muslim. My religion is Islam,” Tsarnaev said.
    “I ask allah to have mercy on me my brother and my family. I ask Allah to have mercy on the Umah. Thank you.”


    If there’s anything in particular here to take note of — and I’m not sure we should generalize from such a tiny sample — it’s Butler’s use of forgivess terminology and Tsarnaev’s corresponding use of mercy.

    Forgivness is taught in the Christian Lord’s Prayer, while The Merciful in Islam is one of the great and beautiful Names of God.

  • Yes and no — but by analogy with innocence, yes?

    Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and those black banners again — I’m just curious ]

    Judy Clarke, an attorney specializing in death penalty cases, addresses the Tsarnaev jury in the closing statement for the defense:


    Clark is right that the flag is a religious flag, but whether or not for Dzhokar Tsarnaev it had further, specifically jihadist or even eschatological implications is open to question. As you know, black banners commonly signify apocalyptic jihad.

    By analogy with the presumption of innocence, though, this flag should be presumed to be purely religious (ie without jihadist implication) unless demonstrated otherwise, no?


    Incidentally, Aaron Zelin dealt carefully with a similar question about essentially the same flag — the calligraphy differs slightly in detail — in a tweet regarding the Sydney incident:


    And in any case, while we’re waiting for the verdict in the Boston trial, I’m just curious.

    How does the law deal with issues such as this? To what extent is non-definitive circumstantial evidence contextual and cumulative?

    Boston special issue promoted in Azan #2

    Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — for the record, there’s a Boston “special edition” of Azan, though I’ve only seen the ad! ]

    The second issue of Azan magazine is out, and not all that exciting — but just as I did last time, I’ve scanned it for bits that interest me, and come up with a couple — but first I’d like to note is the teaser on p. 49 (below) for a “special issue” on the Boston bombings, dated 15/5 on the cover and claiming to have been published “soon after the attacks”:

    I haven’t seen it, but there’s corroboration. SITE appears to have found a copy and announced it in this tweet on May 25th:

    So somewhere between Azan #1 and Azan #2, there would seem to have been an out of series issue. Since it concentrates on Boston, however, and not Khorasan, there’s probably not much in it along my line of interest, so knowing it’s out there only piques my curiosity just a tad.

    Jottings 6: How the network works, it seems

    Sunday, May 5th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — often puzzled & shocked at the way some algorithms behave in public ]

    I was on Silobreaker this evening, looking at a page called Dead Terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev Channeled Islamic Videos, and what I found curious was this little network diagram, presumably algorithmically-generated from the Silobreaker database:

    I have to tell you, I like network diagrams — but what are we supposed to infer from that?

    Do you see the same diagram when you visit the site — or is this display just for me, knowing what books I buy, what movies I see, what friends I have — and tailored to sell me something, or get my vote?

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