Sabbatical Journal February 2008 – John Calvi
I’ve begun to paint the interior of our house. In so many ways this is a 3 dimensional metaphor of the sabbatical itself. When I think of how wonderful it will be as it’s accomplished, I’m delighted. But when I think of moving, cleaning, repairing, organizing, sorting, learning how to fix, etc- it’s almost too much to begin. Organizing this sabbatical took one year. Preparing the bedroom to paint took one week, the painting itself- 4 hours. One wall falling down is another story altogether.
In my life at this time I need to stop all desk work- all work related to trauma and torture and use my body physically and fill my mind with simple everyday life. And so I’ve come to know the paint guy at the hardware store. I found a huge drop cloth at a second hand store that covers everything and then some. Marshall and I settled on the color of a deep blue with a touch of purple- think of the kind of blue that would most set off a gold frame around a wedding certificate.
In the midst of much non-verbal work, ideas and thoughts come forth like a parade. There are so many people whose health and well-being I want to know about. But I must keep a disciplined firewall and not inquire, return that inquiry and care to myself and choose the salad over the bacon cheeseburger. I wonder about my 2009 work calendar and contact 2 Quaker conference centers to confirm dates.
But in a deeper quiet, I realize that torture is particularly difficult to learn about and work with because it involves such malice more or less absent in other justice efforts. My first thought is that I will have to continue this work as so few people can be with such malice and I’ve already learned so much. And as I am thinking this, I am also thinking why should it be me that wades into such darkness and pain. Torture is the worse thing humans do to one another. The capture and willful hurting of another is the worst. Is it really my work to reveal how deeply woven this is into American policy and ask Quakers and others to oppose this practice? Is this leading continuing, concluded, changing?
When I began work in the crisis of AIDS, I remember learning numerous aspects of medical knowledge as it slowly became known and doing AIDS education. At the same time I was helping many people to die. It seemed overwhelmingly huge. In retrospect and considering the AIDS work I do these days, it is finite- dreadful and horrendous, but still there are limits and borders, less ignorance and meanness.
Can it be that all I have done in my life from Montessori pre-school teacher to songwriter/singer to work with AIDS, rape, refugees, and prisoners is all preparation for a great work the second half of my life or is ego speaking? Am I not strong enough to do more on torture? My leadings in the past have all been fierce, without question. I’ve experienced them as shining Light that informed and prepared my body, mind, and spirit clearly. I’ve been too tired now to feel fierce and so my usual barometer to discern leading is switched off. The sabbatical in some ways is the luxury of time to rest and restore, pose questions that don’t need to be answered right away, and to feel how it is I am changing in my awareness in how I am to be used, remembering that the Light is strong and we who hope to carry Light are fragile. Today I’ll begin painting the balcony with my desks and bookcases on a frigid winter day and wonder some more about what has been, what is, and what will come. Education- necessary, luxurious, and only mildly frightening today. Wonder, gratitude, hard questions, rest, paint.
Sabbatical Journal January 2008 John Calvi
So, what would be a good beginning to a sabbatical, a sabbatical for rest and to change highly productive and very unhealthy habits of over-work? Travel. So, best to marry someone from a warmer place and go home for the holidays and someone in the midst of his second masters (tuition-free) who has to bunch his vacation time together so as not to miss classes and internship teaching. Marshall has been working 70-hour weeks. He grew up riding his bike through the orange groves in the small towns east of Los Angeles. We slip out between 2 large snowstorms for 3 weeks in California.
I had pushed very hard to get my Year End letter out. My last work trip, Oregon and California, was the week before Thanksgiving. We both needed deep rest. Marshall’s folks live in a suburban ranch style home. They are both avid gardeners so as I sit in the backyard to write in my journal I am surrounded by roses, vegetables, bird of paradise, but mostly camellias entering flowering time. In that setting I can finally stop rushing- the to-do list is done, the schedule gone, and email & phone far away. I begin the let down physically, emotionally, mentally.
We have a few days at the beach. Our room allows the sight and sound of the ocean surf to pound our senses. We leave windows and doors open all day and night to be washed by sound and sea air. How wonderful to be humbled by something so much larger than the self. We walked 2 hours each morning on the beach watching seals and dolphins.
For me there is the slow awareness that all the learning I’ve done on torture the past 3 years burdened me. As I had foisted myself into leadership I had postponed much of my emotional response for later. Feelings from my early life arose brought on by the study of torture. I’d been wondering why I was feeling restless, like a 2 year old resisting a nap. In the quiet, I could now remind myself that the time of my own violence was over as it was for the numerous torture survivors I’ve come to know. This brought deeper sleep each day and night.
The large family Christmas was loud and fun and best were the nieces and nephews who have grown so and are reaching for hopes and dreams. Uncle Marshall and Aunt John had brought the right gifts from afar. We verge on coolness. Soon we travel to the desert with Marshall’s folks. We pass Palm Springs and Joshua Tree for a smaller town more removed. Crossing over badlands where nothing grows and coming into the most remote area imaginable, we have a few days viewing a vast landscape where life has a tiny rainfall.
Here there was more deep sleep and two feelings come clear for me. The first is an assumption from grade school- that things generally get worse. This idea has been washed by years of healing work. I thought it had disappeared. But learning of torture as a world-wide system had brought this up again- my own dance between hope and fear. Again I’ve the need to be open to listening to deep stirrings, to embrace whatever aspects are revealed, and to cradle all with some tenderness and the Light of a broad overview showing things do get better with work and time. Again deep sleep. A second feeling came entwined in all this- that of grief for all of humanity, grief that we wound ourselves and each other with such meanness, violence, and poverty. We are in times of great meanness and all people are part of a parade of consuming greed bringing injustice. The payment for this awareness is simply staying awake to make careful choices and not loose track of the real story. I can see why the desert features so prominently in so many religious stories of seeking.
And now we are home. Vermont has just had more snow and more is on the way. The wood box is filled and refilled and the woodstove brings us cozy heat when the greenhouse is dark and cold. I’ve some letters to write but next week I’ll start to paint the bedroom and remove myself from desk, computer, email, & phone entirely. It’s mid-January and I’ve set sail on sabbatical leaving port after a year of organizing for rest and refreshment. All made possible with good help and care from many.