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When you pass through the fire, you pass through humble
You  pass through a maze of self doubt
When you pass through humble, the lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out

You pass through arrogance, you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever present past

And it’s best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light
Pass through the fire to the light
Pass through the fire to the light

It’s best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light

As you pass through the fire, your right hand waving
There are things you have to throw out
That caustic dread inside your head
Will never help you out

You have to be very strong, ’cause you’ll start from zero
Over and over again
And as the smoke clears there’s an all consuming fire
Lyin’ straight ahead
Lyin’ straight ahead
Lyin’ straight ahead

As the smoke clears there’s an all consuming fire
Lyin’ straight ahead

They say no one person can do it all
But you want to in your head
But you can’t be Shakespeare and you can’t be Joyce
So what is left instead

You’re stuck with yourself and a rage that can hurt you
You have to start at the beginning again
And just this moment this wonderful fire
Started up again

When you pass through humble, when you pass through sickly
When you pass through I’m better than you all
When you pass through anger and self deprecation
And have the strength to acknowledge it all

When the past makes you laugh and you can savor the magic
That let you survive your own war
You find that that fire is passion
And there’s a door up ahead not a wall

As you pass through fire as you pass through fire
Tryin’ to remember it’s name
When you pass through fire lickin’ at your lips
You cannot remain the same

And if the building’s burning move towards that door
But don’t put the flames out
There’s a bit of magic in everything
And then some loss to even things out

Some loss to even things out
Some loss to even things out
There’s a bit of magic in everything
And then some loss to even things out



Can you fix this? It’s a broken heart.
It was fine, but it just fell apart.
It was mine, but now I give it to you,
Cause you can fix it, you know what to do.


Let your love cover me,
Like a pair of angel wings,
You are my family,
You are my family.

Caroline-Sparks-killed by brother

We stood outside in the summer rain,
Different people with a common pain.
A simple box in that hard red clay,
Where we left him to always remain.


Let your love cover me,
Like a pair of angel wings,
You are my family,
You are my family.

ten afghan-children-killed april 2013

The child who played with the moon and stars,
Waves a snatch of hay in a common barn,
In the lonely house of Adam’s fall
Lies a child, it’s just a child that’s all, crying

benjamin wheeler

Let your love cover me,
Like a pair of angel wings,
You are my family,
You are my family.

Francine Wheeler and Peter Yarrow on Music’s Power in Social Movements

May 2, 2013

Francine Wheeler, whose youngest son was killed in the December 14th attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, joins folk singer Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame to discuss the power of music to create change, and their mission to protect children and adults from gun violence in communities across America. We also see excerpts from a February 2013 concert of harmony, resilience and solidarity that Yarrow helped conceive, during which Yarrow and Wheeler sang. The concert will soon be broadcast on many public television stations.

“An act of positive movement forward is singing together. This is not a benign thing,” Yarrow tells Bill. “Woody Guthrie had his guitar and said, ‘this machine kills fascists’…This is so powerful a tool that when you galvanize people’s hearts together, and they create that movement by singing together, you’re not saying, ‘Oh, look how prettily I can sing.’”

Wheeler says they’re focusing on core values that most people have in common, not issues that drive them apart. “There are a lot of responsible gun owners out there, some of whom are NRA members. And they want safety for their children and for their grandchildren,” she tells Bill. ” So, what we’re talking about is, hey, why don’t we find a way to not debate and fight about what you believe guns are and what I believe guns are. Let’s come together and figure out a way to make them safer.”

Producer: Gina Kim. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Associate Producer: Lena Shemel.
Photographer: Dale Robbins.

The Orwellian Warfare State of Carnage and Doublethink

After the bombings that killed and maimed so horribly at the Boston Marathon, our country’s politics and mass media are awash in heartfelt compassion — and reflexive “doublethink,” which George Orwell described as willingness “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”

In sync with media outlets across the country, the New York Times put a chilling headline on Wednesday’s front page: “Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim, Officials Say.” The story reported that nails and ball bearings were stuffed into pressure cookers, “rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast.”….

In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote about the conditioned reflex of “stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought . . . and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

The doublethink — continually reinforced by mass media — remains within an irony-free zone that would amount to mere self-satire if not so damaging to intellectual and moral coherence.

Every news report about the people killed and injured at the finish line in Boston, every account of the horrific loss of limbs, makes me think of a little girl named Guljumma. She was seven years old when I met her at an Afghan refugee camp one day in the summer of 2009.

At the time, I  wrote: “Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.”

In the refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, where several hundred families were living in squalid conditions, the U.S. government was providing no help. The last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the U.S. government was when it bombed them.

War thrives on abstractions, but Guljumma was no abstraction. She was no more or less of an abstraction than the children whose lives have been forever wrecked by the bombing at the Boston finish line.

But the same U.S. news media that are conveying the preciousness of children so terribly harmed in Boston are scarcely interested in children like Guljumma.

norman solomonI thought of her again when seeing news reports and a chilling  photo (see above) on April 7, soon after 11 children in eastern Afghanistan were even more unlucky than she was. Those children died from a U.S./NATO air strike. For mainline American journalists, it wasn’t much of a story; for American officials, it was no big deal.

“Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip,” Orwell observed, “but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.”

Norman Solomon

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both.

Lying cannot save us from another lie.

One doesn’t lose hope when one serves as a critic. One loses hope when one no longer cares about anything.

Judging from my own experience, the more a politician becomes a vessel of hope, the more angry people become toward that political leader when not everything succeeds.

I told Barack Obama when we met here in Prague that the person presumed to be people’s savior will become a subject of hatred, if for whatever reason he doesn’t manage to fulfill the aspirations projected onto him.

As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.

Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.  

Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

When a truth is not given complete freedom, freedom is not complete.

Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity…

Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not.

Hope is a feeling that life and work have meaning. You either have it or you don’t, regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you.

The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.

I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

Ballad of St. Vaclav, patron of that elusive political virtue: Telling the truth

peter c. newman
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 4:00 PM EST

I met him only once, but I’ve never forgotten my private moments with Vaclav Havel, the secular saint who was never canonized for the simple reason he was too damn human to be a saint.

Our brief meeting took place in Ottawa in 1990, when he was on his way to Washington to address a joint session of Congress and didn’t have much time. But he was glad to meet someone who could speak Czech, so he wouldn’t have to rely on his interpreter. (She was a tiny east Asianwoman he kept tucked under his left shoulder; she was so quick that, as vocal well-wishers talked to him, she would whisper to Havel in Czech, lip-read his answer and reply almost instantaneously in perfect Oxford English.)

Václav Havel dies at age 75

From our brief exchange, I recall only two fragments. “I’ve learned never to be surprised by anything,” he shrugged when I asked how it felt for a beleaguered playwright to suddenly find himself a famous president. To my question about the secret of politics, he shot back: “Write your own speeches and express hard truths in a polite way.” Then he paused, and added: “Of course, everyone is replaceable.”

I’m not so sure.

Mr. Havel was one of those rare conscience-driven politicians we can’t afford to lose. He kept himself removed from the darker tricks of his craft and wasn’t impressed by the fumes of fame. He believed that character is destiny and that it was therefore essential to live a principled life, even at the risk of being imprisoned for his beliefs – which he was.

A scruffy man with originally ginger-coloured hair and an orange mustache (one friend joked, “Vaclav looks as if carrot juice is flowing through his veins”), he enjoyed a highly developed sense of the absurd. Mr. Havel’s plays were absurdist creations in mundane settings with universal characters. He started writing when he was 13, but his plays were banned after the Soviet invasion that extinguished Alexander Dubcek’s counter-revolution in 1968. Czech theatres remained closed to him until his Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Mr. Havel led the peaceful overthrow of the occupying Russians and in the winter of that year assumed Czechoslovakia’s presidency. That meant moving into Hradcany Castle, a huge pile of palaces and cathedrals overlooking the Vltava River in Prague. Just eight months earlier, he had been serving a four-year sentence in a Communist prison a few kilometres away.

He had been the spiritual catalyst of the bloodless revolt that swept the Communists out of power, and now he was the country’s first democratic president since 1938. Being a playwright, one of the first things he did was make sure everyone wore appropriate costumes. He asked his friend Theodor Pistek (who won an Academy Award for his costumes in the movie Amadeus) to design properly pretentious royal blue parade uniforms – complete with toy sabres – for the castle guards. When they were delivered, Mr. Havel tried one on, and ran into the castle kitchens waving his pretend weapon, yelling, “Let’s go scare the cooks!”

He later got fed up with soldiers marching around the castle to regal marching music and had one of his friends compose a jarring melody in seven-eight time that no one could possibly march to, then insisted that it be played for the changing of the guard ceremonies.

Hradcany Castle is so huge that Mr. Havel sometimes resorted to getting around the place on a scooter, and after the first few weeks in office he agreed not to go to work in jeans but continued to receive visitors wearing a polka-dot tie. (His first press secretary was Michael Zantovsky, whose only claim to fame was as the author of the only study in Czech of the films of Woody Allen.)

As president (he was re-elected in 1990 and 1993), Mr. Havel granted amnesty to 30,000 prisoners, presided over the peaceful withdrawal of Soviet troops, defied public opinion by supporting the reunification of Germany and masterminded the Czech Republic’s application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organizatiom.

But his main contributions were his evocative speeches, written by himself on a manual typewriter. Probably the best was his 1990 New Year’s message: “For 40 years, on this day, you heard the same thing in different variations from my predecessors: how our country flourishes, how many tons of steel we produced, how happy we all are, how we trusted our government and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us. I assume you did not nominate me to this office so that I, too, would lie to you. Our country is not flourishing. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone. A country that once could be proud of the educational level of its citizens spends so little on education that it ranks today as 72nd in the world.”

He went on like that for about 10 minutes, then came his seminal point: “Let us teach both ourselves and others that politics does not have to be the art of the possible, especially if this means the art of intrigues, secret agreements and pragmatic manoeuvrings. But that it can also be the art of the impossible, that is the art of making both ourselves and the world better.”

“Man,” Mr. Havel once wrote from jail, “is nailed down – like Christ on the cross – to a grid of paradoxes. He balances between the torment of not knowing his mission and the joy of carrying it out.”

Vaclav Havel did both and we were all the better for it.

Peter C. Newman is a journalist and author who fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and came to Canada in 1940.


written by Vince Gill, in memory of his brother and Keith Wheatley

I know your life on earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You weren’t afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain

Go rest high on that mountain
Son your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a-shoutin’
Look for the Father and the Son

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve
Wish I could see the angels’ faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a-shoutin’
Look for the Father and the Son.

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a-shoutin’
Look for the Father and the Son.

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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October 2021



On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory