Akron’s Fourth of July fireworks were held on the 6th of July in 1991 because the actual 4th fell on a Thursday that year. People gathered on the All America Bridge (aka the Y-Bridge because it looks like a Y from overhead) to watch the display. Now there’s a stadium downtown and people go there instead of to the bridge. Anyway, I went to the bridge with my friends Dale and Becky. Becky and I had broken up a month or two before and were trying to be friends again.
As we walked back to Becky’s house, a couple of neighborhood kids who wanted to beat the crap out of somebody that night chose me and Dale as the people to take out their frustrations on. I escaped bruised and seeing stars, but otherwise relatively unharmed. Dale got a broken tooth. Had some people from the neighborhood not intervened, those kids might have killed us. That was surely their intention. It’s a good thing they were unarmed.
After that I decided I was getting out of America. At the time I could have recited the same litany of reasons why America sucked that I see from several of my Facebook friends whenever an event like the Fourth of July comes up. You know the list – imperialism, genocide, racism, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, etc., etc. And this was before the Second Iraq War and George W. Bush, kids. Added to that was a long-growing sense, now confirmed, that the country was tearing itself apart and the situation for America was completely hopeless.
I’d lived in Nairobi, Kenya as a child and, in fact, the first Fourth of July I have any clear memory of was a party held at the American embassy there. They had real American hot dogs, not the Vienna sausages we’d get at the Kenyan supermarkets as a substitute.
When I came back to Ohio at age 11, I found that I could not believe all the pro-American rhetoric my teachers tried to instill in me. When they said that America was a “free country” as opposed to the rest of the world, I knew it was a lie. I’d been to several African and European nations by then, including Communist Czechoslovakia, and I hadn’t seen anyone in chains. Instead, I saw people who were perfectly happy not to have a McDonald’s on every corner. I’d been one of them. I was always skeptical of claims that America was the best place on Earth.
It took till 1993 before I found a way out of the USA. That’s when I moved to Japan, a country I knew would be much better than the one I’d been born in, in every possible way. There I met a Japanese Zen teacher who believed in America.
He’d fought for the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II, but when it was over he came to see that Japan had been wrong. Sometimes he’d talk about how the USA had been right to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said the Japanese of his generation would never have given up otherwise. Before I heard him say that I had always believed otherwise. But he wasn’t the only Japanese person of his age I heard say similar things. No one really knows, but I had to question my former certainty.
I didn’t really want to return to the USA in 2004, but circumstances came together in a way I couldn’t fight and so I came back. In the intervening years, America had changed, largely for the better. It wasn’t perfect. But by then I’d seen even more of the world, this time as an adult, and I was aware that no place is ever perfect. Not even my beloved Japan.
Human beings organize themselves into nations. We make laws. We issue passports. We believe in these constructions that exist almost entirely in our minds. We think something called the United States is a real thing. But it’s mostly a fiction. It’s a fiction with real consequences, but it’s still a fiction.
Nishijima Roshi liked America because, he said, America was a model for how the whole world was going to be in the future. Unlike Japan, it was a mixed culture of people from all parts of the globe attempting to harmonize with each other. As time went on, he said, every nation on Earth would become more and more like the USA in that sense. We’d all have to learn to live with each other, he said, and it wasn’t gonna be easy.
I think he was right. The United States has made a lot of mistakes in handling this new and unprecedented situation of being a nation composed of people from wildly different cultures with vastly different languages and world-views. There had been polyglot nations before, but never with a mix as diverse as the US. We’ve done some really bad things. But in making these mistakes first, we’ve shown to the rest of the world a lot of what does and does not work. I don’t think anyone else would have handled the situation better than we have.
We need to fix what’s still wrong and make it right. It’s just as useless to claim that the USA is the greatest nation on Earth with freedom and justice for all, or claim that it’s nothing more than a bastion of hetero-normative, white-privileged, imperialist racism. It was useful for me to get to see both sides.
Anyway, I like cookouts. I like fireworks. So I’m gonna go down to Grand Park in downtown LA and enjoy the fun today.
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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Guys went from Canada and the U.S. to kill people in Vietnam and now there’s over a million Vietnamese living in the U.S. It’s a funny world.
Correction. Canada did not participate in the Vietnam War. That was long before the present Canadian government that likes to join in on these things.
Guys went from Canada to fight in Vietnam. Exactly what I said Sean. How do I know? Three guys from my neighborhood in a city of 200,000 went to Nam to fight.
After coming back, one sat up in a tree, one had part of his brain missing and shot at a motorcycle club with his rifle, and one sat next to me in my university class.
Yes, a few did. I imagine some misguided Brits and others who didn’t have to go also went. But it’s an odd thing to mention in the context of the Vietnam War. Those Canadians were just a fringe group of oddballs, probably subscribers to Soldier of Fortune magazine.
Good listening while surfing the web (Martin and Cahill):
Ok, and now, before I go any further, I must make another post…
Very nicely written, Mr. Warner!
Here is something I have just finished that you might like, on Dogen’s Genjo Koan:
and I hope all the other regulars here (and some irregulars) will enjoy it, as well.
Your teacher figures prominently. His hope for a reconciliation between the world of Zen and the world of the Theravadans, I can’t say much about, but for me I feel that reconciliation has come.
I composed a regular response to the zenmudra post, but the aether ate it. So I will have to listen to the aether, and let the way do its thing.
It ate it again – the way of the aether. Don’t fight it Fred.
When you find the place where you aren’t, you find the way where the universe is.
Nice job, Mark!
Oh, regarding the end of WW2 and the Bomb, I hope everyone has already read these two treatises on the matter:
After reading this I stopped believing the commonly held view that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the main reasons why Emperor ShÅwa ordered surrender.
I took my daughter to see the fireworks in NYC last night. It was her first time. We sat on the upper level of the FDR (the East side highway in Manhattan), just north of 23rd street. We had a view of all four barges. The fireworks were loud, bright and beautiful. We had a great time.
Well at least this old and frequently retold story is getting slightly more realistic. Now instead of a black street gang attacking you it is just a couple of young kids out looking for trouble. Maybe if you and Dale and Becky had fought back a little and tried to protect yourselves the two kids would have thought twice about trying that again on some other silly punk rockers.
I have never described them as a black street gang. They were two young black men. That’s the only way I’ve ever described it. This time I figured their race was irrelevant to what I wanted to say.
As for fighting back, you have surely never seen me or Dale. The only thing fighting back would have caused is for us to get beaten up even worse.
It’s a good thing you don’t want to be a racist, no self-respecting hate group would have you after that display.
And you said their intention was surely to kill you. Gosh!
You did go to the cops about the attempted murders right?
I wonder how many punks had already been killed by them..
New intro to this long out-of-print (orig. appeared in Elixir) piece here:
Plus old reviews of Kingsley’s REALITY (Sufi Journal), Elliott Smith (F5 mag), and more.
Fred, thanks for giving it a read. You could also register to comment on my blog and add a remark there, for which I would give to you the big hug (virtually, of course); here’s my entry regarding the new write: http://zenmudra.com/zazen-notes/blog_detail.php?post_id=169. Subsequently you could link to your reply there, here.
ok, I can see already why you might not do that…
Mumbles, nice intro- drunk on love, we like that!
“So, if there were a bird or fish that wanted to go through the sky or the water only after thoroughly investigating its limits, he would not attain his way nor find his place in the water or in the sky. If one attains this place, these daily activities manifest absolute reality. If one attains this Way, these daily activities are manifest absolute reality. This Way, this place, is neither large nor small, neither self nor other, has neither existed previously nor is just now manifesting, and thus it is just as it is.”
Thank you, Mark.
Freedom has nothing to do with the pursuit of happiness, buying fair trade products over Walmart products, gay rights, racial rights, wage equality or anything having to do with your little self-centered preferences–that is small freedom. Buddhist freedom is something else entirely.
Brad, I like this piece very much. I had a similar experience to yours in childhood, although it was more prosaic in that I spent most of my pre-teen years in England and New Zealand. So I have a similar sort of nuanced view of the US, and have learned it’s pointless to engage people who are at either end of the continuum of views, ranging from Exceptional, Ordained by GOD Shining City on a Hill to Disgusting Fascist Racist Imperialist Police State.
Once again I believe Nishijima was wrong.
“Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.”
Anyway, the bombing of Nagasaki was unnecessary even when one justifies the first bombing.
Later testings in the South Sea clearly showed that the US is willing to sacrifice the life of non US-citizens just to improve their destructive means.
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