#IAmSorry

OK guys. Time to “man up,” as they say.

You may have been drunk.  She may been drunk.
You might have gotten her drunk, or stoned, or whatever. Maybe deliberately, for one exact purpose.
You may have thought it was harmless fun, some kind of game.
You may have been trying to prove something to your buddies.
Or to yourself.
You might have had a plan, or it might have happened in a moment when you let your gonads overrule your brain.

You might not even be aware that what you did was hurtful.

Doesn’t matter.

You’re still on the hook.

Look back, and think carefully.

And look at how many of the women in your timelines are saying “#metoo.”

Own it, guys.

My name is Skip Mendler, and I owe some women an apology.

#IAmSorry

(And if you’re man enough to do it, take this text, replace my name with your own, and put it where everyone can see it.)

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THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: WAITING FOR THE NEXT SHOE

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler fled the United States on January 19, and has spent the last couple of months volunteering with a small refugee assistance group in Serbia.)

My time in Serbia is just about up – by the time you read these words I will be in Tuzla, Bosnia, getting ready to go back to Germany and resume some creative projects I was working on there. My experience here has been wonderful, traumatic, eye-opening, and heartbreaking. I hope I get a chance to return, or maybe even proceed further “upriver,” tracing the refugees’ path farther back, into Greece, Romania or maybe even Turkey.

But in the meantime… can I get something off my chest?

Remember Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR? You may recall how the omnipresent “telescreens” would periodically blare out news of some victory or other, followed by a breathless pronouncement along the lines of, “This brings the war within measurable distance of its end!”

(If you haven’t read NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR yet, please stop what you are doing now and go read it. You will understand what is happening now much better. Trust me on this.)

Well, all these little leaks and suggestions and rumors and possibilities that keep showing up in my newsfeeds these days are starting to sound very much like Orwell’s tantalizing telescreen, except now the message is more like “The end of the Trump Nightmare is in sight!” Indictments and impeachment resolutions are just around the corner! Mueller is about to make an earth-shattering announcement!

It’s driving me nuts, I tell you.

It’s not surprising, of course. There is probably nothing, not even the final season of GAME OF THRONES, that engenders greater feelings of anticipation than the idea of Trump and his crew being cast out of power. And so of course anything that suggests the coming breaking of dawn will garner retweets and sharings.

But this anticipation is itself dangerous. It can distract us from continuing to apply the necessary daily pressure on our elected officials. It can give us a sense of false hope that, when let down often enough, exhausts us and leads to frustration and despair.  And it can be used as bait.

At the same time, we are held in thrall by similarly phrased intimations of Apocalypse from a dozen different directions. When will the other shoe drop, and where? North Korea? Iran? Venezuela? All three at once?

So I am trying my best to ignore the “Sources say…” and “According to some…” stories. I am trying to focus on the immediate tragedies and successes in whose reality I can have some confidence.

Until I see the full-page photo of Donald Trump being led out of the White House in handcuffs.

Then I might start thinking more seriously about return tickets.

 

THE TORCH

(This poem, and its accompanying mime piece, were commissioned sometime in the 1980s, I believe for a discussion about what was happening in Central America at the time… I remember exactly where I was when the metaphor came to me, at the corner of Glenwood and Blue Ridge near Crabtree Mall.)

It came to us suddenly from above
Bright and powerful
And it only burned us
Until we learned how not to touch it directly

And the wise ones considered this thing
And decided that its use should be no secret
But that it should be given to all
That its uses should be taught
That it should be kept alive
For if it should ever be lost
Who knew when it would come again

Through winds of malice
And rains of doom
There have been those who kept it alive
And moving through the world
Whatever the costs

For there were always those who could not understand
This thing that was not darkness
And they would lay in waiting…
They would try to extinguish it
To erase it from the world
But somehow it would always be discovered again
Still smouldering…

Sometime it could be abused
What was intended to illuminate
Could be used to make others blind
What was intended to warm and empower
Could be used to destroy instead

But still the torch lives on
Its light is wisdom
Its warmth is love
Its fuel is your very heart and soul
Today the winds gather,and the rains grow strong
But the torch still burns in each of you
And with such keepers…
It will never fade away

A hosteler’s prayer

A hosteler’s prayer

I would speak to the One Who Listens
I would speak the Ones Who Bring Things About
I would speak to those who have brought me here

In the quiet moments of this morning
I have awakened in this room full of strangers
Whose tongues I do not know
Whose stories I have not heard
Whose hearts I have not seen

I ask that we may become friends
I ask that we may help each other
I ask that we may learn from each other
I ask that we may delight in our differences
And hold fast to our common bondsYy–YYYy

Like me, they are all on a journey
Some of them are fleeing great pain and unspeakable loss
I ask that they find comfort
I ask that their wounds be healed

Some of them are seeking adventure and discovery
I ask that they be safe
I ask that they find joy and awe and wonder
In the world you have set before us

Some of them are in search of knowledge and wisdom
I ask that they find what feeds their minds
I ask that their souls be nourished

Some of them are here… just to be here
I ask that this place will enrich their spirits
And that their spirits will enrich this place

Some of them are here because they are tired and worn
From the weight of their work in the world
I ask that they be refreshed, that they should find new strength
I ask that their burdens be lightened

Some are looking for work
To find their calling, their way in the world
To support their families, to make their contributions
That only they can make
I ask that they find the doors of opportunity open
I ask that they find their paths clear
I ask that they find satisfaction and fulfillment in their labors

Some are searching for love or companionship
To fill that gap in their lives, the hole in their hearts
I ask that their loneliness should end
Whether by the touch of another caring heart
Or the discovery of the strength of solitude

Whatever our journeys may be
I ask we may have the health and the strength
The wisdom, the vision, and the courage
To take each next step

I thank you for this place where I have slept
Bless those who have made it possible
Bless those who keep it running
Bless those who keep it clean

Bless the next head that rests upon this pillow
Bless the next heart that finds its rest here
Bless the next body that walks through these do

Here for You

Here for You
By Blind Peanut Nicholson

I can lend you an ear
I can give you a hand
I can offer a shoulder
That understands

We can share our minds
We can share our hearts
We can share our arms
Perhaps other parts

I can dry your tears
I can cover your back
Take whatever you need
If there’s something you lack

From my head to my toe
Whatever I can do
I want you to know
That I’m here for you

The Peace and Justice Files: KIDS THESE DAYS

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler fled the US on January 19, and is now working with a refugee assistance group near Belgrade, Serbia.)

How many times recently have you heard someone say, or seen a post on social media, something like this?

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, sit indecently, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Sound familiar?

It should – it’s attributed to Socrates.

Seems that dissing the younger generation as being lazy good-for-nothings has been a hobby for grumpy old folks for a long, long time. “In my day…we respected our elders, we did what we were told…”

No, you didn’t.

You were just as much a mixture of delightful angel and pain-in-the-butt snotnose as I or anyone else was. You’ve just forgotten.

And the world back then was not as trouble-free as you seem to remember it being. We were just ignorant.

In fact, let me suggest that the very first time you hear a phrase like “what is wrong with kids these days” pass your lips, you should immediately make a note to have yourself checked for the onset of senile dementia. It’s a sure sign that your brain is starting to calcify.

For the last several months, it has been my privilege and pleasure to meet, hang out with, and get to know some truly phenomenal young people. They are knowledgeable about the world and connected to it in ways that are unimaginable to those of us who maybe perhaps had a foreign “pen pal“ or two or grew up watching the occasional travel documentary on PBS.

Emilia (not her real name) and her partner Helga (ditto) and I were talking recently here in Belgrade – I was interested in knowing where their activism and engagement had come from. Was it a product of education, of familial values, of religious belief, of watching the news? Emilia spoke instead of how travel had given her the opportunity to meet and interact with people from other countries. “After a while,” she said, in a phrase that struck me deeply, “every country has a face.” An earthquake in Peru, say, is no longer just some remote geological event – it happens 20 kilometers from the home of your friend Maria, whom you met on a hiking trip in Vermont, and with whom you stay in touch on Instagram.

Other volunteers here have told me similar stories. Sometimes thhad the money, sometimes they worked for it, sometimes they found their way one step at a time, but the ability to personally witness other parts of the world, and see our fellow humans as just that – humans – has done something to their hearts and souls, something that I think needs to happen to as many people as possible.

So next time you see one of these newspaper opinion pieces about all the problems with Millennials, take it with a good-sized portion of salt – and if you are a Millennial, don’t let anyone else try to tell you who you really are.
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THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: BEOGRAD BLUES

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the USA on January 19, and is now in Belgrade, Serbia, helping with refugee assistance.)

First off, I’d like to thank the folks who responded to last month’s survey request, regarding how well we as a nation are fulfilling the goals set forth by the Founders in the Preamble to the Constitution. I could use a few more responses, though. Please stop by https://www.surveymonkey.de/r/MCKVFVM and let me know what you think. (So far, the results are not exactly encouraging…)

Now then:

Through a very useful website called www.greecevol.info, I found out about a fairly new NGO called BelgrAID, based in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade (also called Beograd, depending on your language). These folks cook nutritious daily meals for a group of refugees from various countries, about 800-1000 young men who are housed in a former Yugoslav army base in the nearby city of Obrenovac. They also provide help to other vulnerable communities here in Belgrade, and transport personal care supplies to various camps across Serbia.

They. Are. Amazing.

I find myself among an ever-changing gaggle of a couple of dozen competent, energetic, idealistic, practical, and motivated young people, from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, America, and other countries. (A group of awesome Portuguese Girl Scouts came through recently from Lisbon.) German, Spanish, English, Italian, and other tongues fill the air. There are also a handful of neighborhood dogs that we have adopted – or rather who have adopted us – and who provide amusement and comfort that more than makes up for the times they eat our socks.

Some of these folks are long-term, dedicated volunteers. Others are students or workers taking some time during their summer holidays to be of service. Others are travelers and adventurers, combining their wanderlusts with a desire to make a difference.

Why are they here?

I spent an afternoon talking to a young woman named Carolina, from the Bay Area of California.  She had been on vacation in Greece, and fell into a conversation with an older woman who had been spending time in the Greek Islands dealing with the huge influx of refugees last fall.

“Oh,” she remembered thinking: “I have to do that.”

Clear. Obvious. No-brainer.

They are here because there is work to be done, and human needs to be filled. Pure and simple.

So I have met some of these men, these Farsi and Benghalis and Pashtuns, and shared some meals and conversations with them. They are tanners and aircraft mechanics, would-be accountants and experienced managers. They tear up when they hear emotional pop songs from their homelands. They meet, talk, and play soccer and basketball these young, free, strong Western women, but they always act as impeccable gentlemen towards them, even though you can see the longing and loneliness in their eyes.

In a few days, I’ll get to go meet some refugee kids in one of the other camps, perform for them, and maybe introduce some of them to the old-fashioned tin can stilts I’ve been making in my spare time. If you’d like to know more about supporting BelgrAID, or my work here in particular, drop me a note at skip.mendler@gmail.com.  Thanks.