Holding Together

art_TMholdingI’m currently reading a book on the Grameen banking system. This bold, humanitarian and radical approach to the poor, making micro-loans with no “collateral”, is a great story of how much people can do if allowed to get out from under.

The most astonishing thing about the story is not the 700+ million in funds now available to poor people from a start of about $20.00, but the continuing fact that the “big bankers” never understood for a moment how it all worked.

A bank for the poor seemed so ridiculous. And now look at the towers toppling and “their” banking system crumbling. Perhaps Grameen will float them a loan after the dust settles.

But this isn’t about banking —exactly. Martial artists, poets, mathematicians, sailors, mothers, revolutionaries, unpopular historians and so many other good people have to, at one time or another, “bank on themselves”. They don’t do this because they are martial artists or mothers but because they are a certain type of person. This is the guy working in the scissors shop who fascinates you for an hour with his humor and insights; the lady on the bus who breaks down the plight of children like it was her Ph.D. thesis; the person with the odd accent who explains a recipe with truffles and peppers in the middle of a rainstorm. These are not the “Joe Six Packs” and “Soccer Moms” of the world because no matter how humble either group is there exists one key difference which divides them: Soccer Moms “belong” and the members of the first group don’t. Never members of any majority, silent or otherwise, these unpopular types have been listening to Emmerson’s drums since birth, or at least since that fall on the head which made everything clear.

Are you one of this group? Of course you are. You are a little odd. You practice “that Karate stuff”. You think it’s fun to do a form, or kick a thousand times off one leg, or play with a hundred year-old weapon. And with the way the world is going you may soon be practicing even more.

Knowing how to go inside, to cultivate the core is —in the long term martial artist’s career—much more important than laying on a tight stranglehold. All those previous mentioned, partially displaced have shared, with you, the disenfranchisement of a world with only consumable magic and commercial science. People who practice “human arts” only make it in modern society if there’s tiny crack in the culture for them: a predisposition that dove tails with the cultural myth then in control. Thus we find ballet an accepted, essential cultural ingredient; sculpture a waste of time except for lawn decoration; and poetry an American black hole. What about cultural diversity? You joke. How can you have cultural diversity in a country dropping its school art and music programs? Like the Epsilons in Brave New World our children of the future will probably get an electric jolt if they get too close to something that doesn’t made them money.

But anyone willing to stand and listen to his or her own breathing rides a special bus whether they like it or not. How do you make any money breathing? Dancing? Listening?

Admit it, you are about as queer as a pretzel-shaped crow bar. A dear friend of mine used to remind me that, in his brand of Catholicism, it was the nunnies locked away and praying in the convent who kept the world together, not the suits explaining why the poor can’t be helped.

It’s like the old jewish legends of the Tsadikim. There are said to be 36 “righteous” men who live on earth, who follow truly pious lives. G-D looks down on the evil, stupidity and wars, becomes frustrated and lifts his hand to pull the curtain cord and end it all but, on the memory of the Tadikim, he stays his hand.

And the most beautiful part of the legend is that these 36 just men, being pious and therefore humble, have no idea who they are!

So you, faithful one, keep practicing. Please!


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