Last night I took a stroll up to a performance by my favorite theater company. Remy Bumppo was presenting Athol Fugard’s The Island and I was looking forward to a good production and one of Remy’s interesting post-play discussions. It was all of that but so much more – and it got me thinking about what we so often miss in our politics and activism. For Fugard – and this particular production – raises important political issues but he also reminds us of simple humanity. For all that is moving about this tale of Robben Island and oppression and apartheid – and the power of art in the face of that oppression, at the core, The Island breaks through our intellectualized distance, our rhetorical sympathy and asks us to see the two men themselves, not only as symbol but as just simply real.
One of the actors, LeShawn Banks, said after the play that we in America often hold the world at arms length, at a distance, that we are able to do that, are protected by that and yet so many in this world have no such distance from suffering.
And so I walked home thinking about just that. And about the ways we distance ourselves even in the midst of our engagement with political issues and progressive movements.
We abstract, analyse, argue so well but how very hard it is, sitting in our land of privilege (even when times are “tough”) to really feel what so many of our brothers and sisters in humanity live – so often as the direct consequence of our country’s very inhuman drive for control or wealth or power.
So rather than pick apart yet another set of examples of our government’s wars, I hope we can take some time to pause and recognize the oh so human reality of those who live with the repercussions: Christian families being terrorized in Mosul, the mother of a child killed in Afghanistan or the Palestinian father whose child is arrested and tortured by Israeli troops.
If you are in Chicago, there’s still one more week to see The Island at Remy. If not, what reconnects you to the humanity behind the rhetoric?