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Monday Photo Meditation: The Colors of Love and the Shape of the Light

I know the dominant culture dictates that today is a day of military remembrance: a time to honor all things martial, to find glory in particular kinds of death, to venerate the American flag.

Wings and I don’t observe it. We don’t even mark it in any of the more customary ways, such as cookouts.

Part of it is that what used to be Decoration Day, founded by freed Black slaves to honor those soldiers who lost their lives in the process of the slaves’ own emancipation, has been transformed into something unrecognizeable. Now it’s a day of barbecue, beer, and white sales, and the word “white” works all too well as a metaphor.

Part of it is the utter impossibility of observing such a holiday in this day and age, when undocumented peoples who are themselves indigenous to this land, to say nothing of refugees fleeing American-induced slaughter, can be swindled into signing up for military service in the worst of conditions, only to find, should they be lucky enough to survive, that the government on whose behalf they allegedly fought now takes a sadistic and fascistic joy in deporting them again.

Part of it is the memory, in no wise yet dead, of ancestors who, like their peers throughout the history of the American military, volunteered for military service at rates far higher than those of any ethnic group, including white people, who gave their bodies and blood and spirits and even their languages to defeat another group of fascist governments not so very long ago . . . and who were yet denied the vote upon their return as surely as our sovereignty is being denied daily now.

Part of it is the fact that the military is a colonizing force, one jointly responsible four our genocide, and the flag its color guards bear was, to our ancestors, a flag of terror in every sense of the term.

So, no, we do not observe “Memorial Day.”

But this day is a stark reminder of the essential ugliness of too much of the world outside the boundaries of our small sanctuary here. I don’t mean ugliness in the shallow, aesthetic sense, although there is plenty of that, too; I mean ugliness in the sense of pure evil, the monstrous pathologies that institutionalize and systematize and structuralize racism, misogyny, bigotry grounded in hatred of specific sexual orientations and/or gender identities, hatred of non-Christianist spiritual traditions, ableism, xenophobia, and every other othering device at this country’s disposal; the criminalization of color and economic poverty; the windigo-like greed and the perception that people exist as commodities and property for the use and exploitation of wealth and white supremacy.

A day that honors colonialism, imperialism, and illegal occupation is not one that our indigenous spirits can countenance, much less condone.

Which left me in a quandary for today. Wings has relatively few images in his body of work that could be considered martial — save, perhaps, Bald Eagle, Horse, and those that include weaponry of a sort. In our way, to be a warrior means something very different from the dominant culture’s fetishization of military systems and structures and complexes. But this year, given the rampant greed and joyous violence and pathological hatreds that mark the culture’s existence, even those few tangentially-related motifs seemed too much; I had no desire to write about that which I have thus far written.

And so, instead of stars and stripes, I settled on hearts and light.

Because however we tart up the policy and the politics in the robes of benevolence, the sceptre of charity and the crown of noblesse oblige, however much we cast about for new modes of expression and appropriate lexical imagery from cultures not our own, however much we as a culture try to deny the paternalism and condescension inherent in perhaps uniquely American understandings of compassion, it all becomes impossible, unworkable, unreal.

Because in the end, the only thing that moves the needle, the only thing that protects the innocent, the only thing that ensures our survival is the illuminating power of love.

Ten days ago, we stood in Wings’s studio, gathering what we would need for the evening. Hanging from the window over his workbench is a heavy, faceted glass crystal, one of my old Christmas ornaments now turned to the task of providing illumination and inspiration while he works. I glanced down and noticed that the crystal had caught the lowering sun and cast its light upon his workspace, right across the very bit of old lined wood where he had scattered four of his hand-made hearts. It formed a perfect small rainbow, the colors so brilliant as to be revelatory, one pair of silver hearts changing color beneath its light.

He captured the image on his phone, then sent it to me later, one of the many small expressions of love that are his daily gifts to me. Distilled to its essence, without the surrounding clutter of a well-used workspace, it was an image that pierced straight to my own heart, seeming, as it was, an essential, elemental truth: that illumination and love are inseparable, inextricable; that there is no one without the other.

It is a colonial tradition of another sort that likes to put the phrase “love and light” falsely upon our ways. It misses the point entirely: Light is everywhere, but it is not often paired with wisdom. Wisdom is required to turn simple light into illumination, to color our world in a palette that will paint a life well lived. So, too, do we separate too readily the connection between heart and head; love without thought is not love, but simple attraction; thought without love is sterile and cold, an amputation of living tissue that runs the risk of a gangrene of mind and spirit.

These are the binaries and bisections that have brought us to this pass today.

And so, today, there will be no stars and stripes, no bugler and no taps. Today, we recommit to the integration of heart and mind, of essential love and illuminating wisdom, that was given to our ancestors so long ago as the way to a life well lived.

To the outside world, the word  “colors” today means something very different indeed. But for us? On this day, we return to something far more elemental. Today, we focus on the colors of love and the shape of the light.

~ Aji










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