I've been thinking all morning about Gary Percesepe's essay "In the Hamptons," which takes in, among other things, The Great Gatsby, social aspiration, The Hamptons, September 11th, and the plight of the Montauk nation. It appears in the current Mississippi Review. Below, an excerpt, and a link to the full piece.
from "In the Hamptons"
One semester at Wittenberg University—in September 2001, in fact--I taught an 8:00 A.M. class. I mention this because it concerns hope in a dark time, a subject which is of some interest to me. And because it concerns my students. On the morning in question, the room was dark, and the windows open. It was chilly, and I shivered as I laid my umbrella on the lectern. Outside, rain was falling straight down, as heavy as I have ever seen it. One young woman sitting in the front row was drenched completely. She had no umbrella. Her long hair was dripping onto her desk, and the bottoms of her blue jeans were dark and soaked. Her bare arms were pale and smooth, glistening with water. She had two pieces of wheat bread in her hands. Her breakfast had been interrupted. She was, just before I looked away, reaching for her notebook, ready for class to start. She was on time. She looked ready.
To teach is to hope, just as to pray is to change. I teach and I pray for change. I teach and I discover that it is me who is changing. I believe—as much as I believe in anything—in the young. My teaching is itself a kind of prayer. To teach is to believe and to invest in the future, and the future is the undiscovered country, where hope lives, if it lives at all.
The Women of Lockerbie
Listening to the radio one day, I heard about a play written by Deborah Baley Brevoort, called The Women of Lockerbie. One day in December the sky exploded and the remains of Pan Am Flight 103 fell upon Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the many horrors one stood out for its seeming insignificance: what to do about the 11,000 articles of clothing belonging to the victims? The clothing, of course, was filthy and stained with jet fuel, clothing that carried the stench of death; the authorities called the clothes "contaminated" and decided that it must be incinerated. But the women of Lockerbie prevailed upon the U.S. government to release the clothing to them. Over one year’s time, 11,000 items of clothing were washed in streams before being packed and shipped back to the families.
When asked why they had done this, one Lockerbie woman explained that every act of evil must be turned into an act of love.
Until recently I didn’t know anything about this clothing or the women of Lockerbie who washed it, but right now I am wondering what their thoughts are this week, and, more importantly, what they are doing. It seems urgent to me to find out.