Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Am Troy Davis

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world. We may be powerless to open all the jails and free all the prisoners, but by declaring our solidarity with one prisoner, we indict all jailers.--Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture, 1986

I must admit that, initially, I failed to understand the reasoning behind the Amnesty International T-Shirt that bears the words that head this post until I read this quote from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by Elie Wiesel the other day. I had previously thought it presumptuous to express an identity between myself and a man who has spent decades in prison, under the shadow of death, most probably for a crime he did not commit.I am not Troy Davis, I thought. I have never had to live through what he has and it is naive to think I could simply 'empathize' my way into his situation.

All true, of course. But what the shirt is really saying, at least if I understand Wiesel correctly, is that in expressing solidarity with another human being, we are showing ourselves willing to share an identity with them, and even to stand in for that human being in situations where he or she can not themselves stand.

I have posted here about Troy Davis's case before. It is not my general intent to make this blog a soapbox for issues of the day. But the plight of this one particular human being moves me deeply, and his fate hangs heavily on me. As Wiesel says, there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time we fail to protest. In Troy Davis's case, there are a great many people in the world who have protested a great many times, and after such a long drawn out issue, where one is handed defeat time and again, the spirit languishes and there is a temptation to step back and not raise your own tiresome voice yet one more time. But by Wiesel's lights, this is exactly the time when you must lift it, and shout loudly.

Martha Silano has a thoughtful meditation on her blog about a poem by Emily Dickinson and Abu Ghraib here. It seems appropriate in this context as well.

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.

The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.

Troy Davis may be innocent. He deserves a new trial in the aftermath of witness recantations. All channels of justice may now have been closed to him. But that fact in itself doesn't make him any less deserving of it.

If you would like to check out the Amnesty International position on Troy Davis, and see what you can do, please go here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is Anyone There?

No, I don't care all that much if there is anyone there or not--that's the title of a movie I saw this weekend. It's set in a home for the elderly, and initially portrays the strained circumstances of the family that is trying to run this place, including a very malcontented little boy named Eddie. The old people die around him from time to time and his response to this is the scientific approach--he'd like to find out what happens to them next, and he uses their death in his esoteric experiments.

Into this slightly depressing scenario careens the Amazing Clarence, a.k.a Michael Caine, almost mowing down Eddie before they ever meet. Clarence has come to the end of his days and is a very reluctant new addition to the old age home, for which, as he well knows,there is really only one exit.

Although there are some aspects of the movie which seem pretty standard and predictable, there is a lot that breaks out of the mold. But the main thing about this movie is Michael Caine as our aging, remorseful, caged magician. The portrayal he gives of the end of life is so profound that there is really no possibility of a happy ending. Yet, because we feel we have been told the truth about something, we walk out of the movie feeling readied in our spirits for the reality that lies at the end of all lives.

I won't give too much more away about the story, though I would say that even the more predictable elements contribute to the subject in a meaningful way. And I will add that if you go to this movie only for the moment where the Amazing Alexander stands in front of a mirror hopefully, skeptically, mournfully addressing the spirit of his dead wife, you will feel it was worth the price of the ticket.

Here's the story my friend told me about waiting for me after the movie ended. She was sitting outside on a bench surrounded by other viewers of the film. Everyone was silent, stunned mainly. One couple was addressed by a cheery new couple, their friends, apparently, with a chipper "Oh, what movie did you see--Adventureland?"

"No," the man of the couple said, "I just saw Michael Caine," he said, and started crying.

I could say more, but really, just go see this little movie with a big part for a great actor. It's likely to be lost in the wake of larger things, but it's well worth the price of the ticket.