Teaser 210: Making My Marks With Kendall and Bokeem
I had to make my own marks. Everyone over time has simply grown to expect it. Ignoring the truth is consistent despite any small cultural facet in which you find yourself immersed. No matter what the greeting offered, if it wasn't a hug, no one was getting anything else from me. I got a hug from everyone I met, even the “brothers” who were most contemptuous of the act. “What you're offering as a greeting is safe because a hug is too dangerous?” I delivered it with my typical “bring it” expression, which brought a hug, reluctant as it may have transpired. Throughout the course of the day and evening many wanted to address me as “brother.” It was touching I should be considered such, but I corrected this mistake, too. “Call me 'cousin.' Other than my given name, this is a true mode for addressing me, because we are cousins, only an indeterminate number of generations removed. I can't be your 'brother.' We don't share even one parent, but I shall always be your cousin.” Somehow, it got through. Before long I was approached with an offer of a hug before I could react and no one addressed me as “brother.” If it was anything other than “Gregory” it was “cousin.” Human beings almost anywhere are not as stubborn as portrayed once you take the time and provide the right attitude to explain it properly. They actually come around.
About mid-afternoon, when Kendall deemed my introductions were complete or nearly so, he wanted to move to his study and library, which was quite impressive with its many books of a wide mixture, and I would bring my computer and go over notes I made to unfold the story underlying the movie we were considering. As I expected from the first few moments after we arrived, we were not going to have this meeting alone and many others joined us, following us into Kendall's study from the beginning. I had no objection. I was starting to form a lot of this movie already and I knew there were many at Kendall's house that day who would probably end up involved in it, and not all as mere actors, either. Religion, philosophy, love and particularly, influence, would provide the largest backdrop as the story unfolded, we both agreed, and with the influence portion specifically derived after the main character's untimely death from sinister means. I touched on Islam and Kendall perked up, having portrayed a converted Muslim in a movie once. “Islam, what does it mean, Kendall?” When his answer was not immediately addressing my point, I interrupted. “Surrender. The word means surrender. What is a Muslim, Kendall?” He waited for the answer to my own question. “One who submits to the will, the will of Allah, the One, the only One, the All Compassionate, the All Merciful, the All Knowing.”
“You have been studying, I see,” Kendall observed, smiling broadly.
“What is the Quran but the Recitation, the Recital? Muhammad was illiterate. He wrote nothing. He spoke the Quran to those gathered around him. He recited it, and those gathered around wrote it down after. That he could recite it consistently, unfailingly, time after time, is truly impressive, Kendall, but not to me. Once it is woven into your heart, your soul, your very spirit, it will always come from that same place every time. If it is not deeply entrenched in those very secret and sacred places, it will come out from you different every time, because it is not a part of you, it has not absorbed you and you have not absorbed it.”
“So how do we present this, Gregory? How do we reach an audience with a message most of them don't want to hear anyway?”
“First, we can't beat them over the head with it, and our main character, the role you portray, Kendall, will have to come from nowhere, so we're going to twist some things using the internet as a launching point, leading to a Senate hearing, during which our main character becomes the star, reluctant though he is to appear and speak and answer questions posed by this “esteemed” panel of politicians. I look at your library here, Kendall, and I am impressed. Any Tolstoy? Gandhi? Aquinas? Rumi? Averroes? Avicenna? El-Ghazali?” I rattled them off quickly reading from my notes and Kendall couldn't answer because I didn't give him the time. “Imagine the reaction of an audience, and the characters at this Senate hearing, when our main character projects with genuine sincerity, compassion and authority that he sits before politicians, all engaged in politics, which is nothing more than the study of divisions within any civilization and how to make the division in which one finds one's self the wielder of power and authority, and our main character declares his political allegiance to anarchy, no government. And goes on to explain exactly why our main character's position is superior to any other and, in fact, is the only position representing any hope of future human survival. And you, Kendall, with your absolutely brilliant delivery, are going to shape the argument so no counter-argument exists. Thus, from this appearance alone, thrusting your character upon the world stage, the sinister forces begin to conspire against, yet it's already too late. That is where this story is going.”
Kendall smiled broadly. “Leave me your list, Gregory. I'm going to read from them. I think I will have to, there's no way of getting around it, is there?”
I twisted my computer to face him. “Get your pad and pen. They're all here, but call me when you find others, because this is not, by any means, an exhaustive list.”
While Kendall pulled out a pad and pen and started writing down the many names I listed, others came around and started doing the same, except for Bokeem—not his real name, but the one he suggested. “Let your readers get confused with Bokeem,” he said to me much later, years later. “In fact, I think Bokeem would be flattered.” He was referring to another actor who also was involved with the movie and was at the party at Kendall's house this day, too. “Why don't you want to use your real name?” “You don't use your real name.” “Good point.”
“Not that I want to denigrate you or your ideals and aspirations, Gregory,” Bokeem objected, “but people are really tired of religion, and philosophy, and the idea influence never dies, it's the only thread of immortality to which a human being can reach, that is a stretch for most people, too. And, in my opinion, if you make a movie like this, it's going to be a huge flop.”
I looked to Bokeem with a faint smile on my lips. A detractor, in this house, in this congregation? “The movies in which I have seen you perform roles, Bokeem, make me consider I would die of shock right here in this chair if you didn't object.” There was a bit of laughter, even from Bokeem, who was smiling faintly with me. “Would you argue with me if I stated many of those movies in which you've acted have, at least implicitly, projected a message of 'might makes right?' Isn't it fair?” Bokeem nodded with good nature. “And if this is the right message to convey, doesn't it say only the mightiest deserve the throne of humanity and all others should serve the mighty or be punished in whatever manner is deserved including death? Isn't that fair to state, if it's the message, 'might makes right?'” Bokeem agreed with me. I paused a moment to lean forward closer to Bokeem. “You and I, I am certain, will agree our experiences, our influences, have been wildly divergent from the moment we came into this world, that I, certainly, have not experienced what it's like to be a black boy, then man, in this society, especially a wild-eyed, black man who will never display deference to anyone, agreed?”
“How could you, since you grew up in a lily white world, agreed?”
“Lily white it was...[and] I...saw some shit, lily white, yes, but shit nevertheless!” While the room was filled with laughing and shouts of “What shit was that?” I continued. “I think deep down, Bokeem, you want a world of peace, but because you have been so continually under assault from the ignorance which pervades our society, you cannot let go of the idea one must be prepared to fight, which is a sentiment most of us hold. I ask you to consider: what kind of world do you really want? A world where you and I can only co-exist with an underlying suspicion and distrust? A world of divisions, multiple tribes, each pitted against all others for ultimate power and authority? Because if that's the world you want, Bokeem, you already have it. You won. Congratulations! Should that be the case, I have but one final question for you. Why are you even here? The world you want is all pervasive now and you should be as far away from me as possible because I am your enemy, for it is my truest aim to destroy that world completely. So completely, should you show up at my door, unannounced, uninvited, I will drop my plans and include you, though wait until I leave Africa to spring it on me, since many will share your identification attributes in Africa. No, do it when I'm immersed in a lily white world so it's a challenge, one where I am compelled to dismiss the ignorance which will roar to life when your presence is welcomed, and do it such as, 'This is my friend, Bokeem, and if any of you object to his inclusion, you can leave now.' That is the world I am fashioning. No, I cannot have long discussions with seven billion of you to convince you. I will not live that long. No one will. If I'm going to succeed, at any time in the future, I will need help. Perhaps, at some time in the future, you'll be one who helps, one who helps the blind to see, the ignorant to know, those who are asleep to wake up. Blindness, ignorance, those who are asleep, these have no bounds of color, of gender, of language, of origin. The blind, the ignorant, the asleep are everywhere, perhaps even in this room now. In this manner, let me extend to you my open and ceaseless invitation, Bokeem. Welcome to my world! You have no hope of overpowering me, overtaking me, not even in death, for I will conquer you and you will submit, you will surrender, or you will die trying. So be it.”
It did not take long for the conversation to focus on the ills of society: injustice, poverty, hatred, violence, on and on. We had reached an end for discussing the story, so I beckoned Kendall and others, while the rest were jotting down the list from my computer, which I would leave there for anyone—I had removed all my revealing pictures as part of my preparation for the trip to Mali as a precaution—with the full intent of commenting on the course of current discussion with the rest of Kendall's guests. I was silent until someone asked me to comment directly when we were out in the big room of Kendall's shack.
“You want to focus on what ails us and it's noble and right of you to do so, but you propose the same treatments which have permeated all of society for centuries, even millennia. You treat the symptoms but you never address the disease. Human civilization has been diseased since its inception, but you leave the disease completely untouched, and throw band-aids around the symptoms, and inevitably accomplish nothing, except to feel good temporarily. Once you address the disease, every last one of the symptoms disappear.
“The moment I mentioned the Quran, Kendall, I saw your face light up with genuine interest. You were definitely going to pay attention. Now, I'm not saying the Quran is the definitive book, and you must understand that all three, the Torah, the Bible, the Quran are literally full of allegory. That is what everyone, from the most humble of minds, can digest: allegory, symbolism. The truth is far more complex and far more abstract. Most cannot follow it without a great deal of preparation preceding. However, between the three, the Quran is the most precise and the most simple in its presentation. Read the Quran with regard to the pronouns used. In what method are they meant to convey? 'We' and 'I' are always used to convey the way, the right, just, and true way. 'You' and 'they' almost always are used to convey those who are lost, those who have wandered off the path. 'We' is used far more frequently than 'I.' Do you not recognize the significance? Read the Torah. Read the Bible. 'I' is in far more abundance than 'we.' Which came first? The Torah came first, the Bible proceeded from that, the Quran is the last. This is the significance of the Quran. 'We.' Join 'us.' There are no numbers representative of 'us,' nor of 'you' or 'they.' The numbers in 'you' or 'they' are of no significance. 'We' are the numbers which will always grow, of eternal growth. Nothing shall exceed 'us.'”
I took a standing, commanding position in the big room. Here I was again, in my most familiar mode. “The Recital includes instructions, procedures one should perform as acts of submission, of surrender. If human life was meant to be based on rigid instruction, then we were better suited to have been robots from the beginning. Human beings are not robots, but some need instruction, need ritual, to remain on the path. So be it. The path is what matters, the way is what matters. Who knows of the Sufis? The Sufi way is as innumerable as there are beings on this Earth. There are only two aspects to which every Sufi adheres: honor and love. Other than these two rigid adhesives, the Sufi way diverges with each subject. Every thing, every act, thought, process a Sufi performs is propelled first by honor and love. There is more to it, much more, because the truth is far more complex than most can digest, and most of what we take for granted as the real world is but an illusion. It is not truth in any sense. If you want to know, though, in a simple manner, something which will propel you on the right, correct and truthful path, consider anything you are about to act upon, think about or process to make real as to its adherence to honor and love. When you perform this examination honestly and openly you are well on your way. When you know honor and love come from inside, come from the very depths of your heart, soul and spirit and exist outside of you only when you manifest them, draw them up from inside you, you are on the path. Stay on the path, not for the reward, but because wandering off the path leads to nowhere. You won't reach any destination, because they are all dead ends! Thus the allegory. Fall off the path. Die. Stay on the path. Live. You all know this. Know it! It is in your very minds at all moments, but you don't listen to your own warnings, the thoughts which seem to nag you endlessly, because you already know it but would rather ignore it, and you always ignore it for a temporary gain. That's why you do it, so you can say to yourself, 'I won.' And I can say to you as the voice of authority from on high, 'Death becomes you.'”
I searched the room for Serena. When I saw her off to the side, in a group mostly of women of Spanish-speaking persuasion, I walked toward her, raising my hand at times when I could hear questions for me. I had something else to say which held more import. “The Quran contains the most progressive advice for women than the other two. The intent of the Recital is to revere women, to hold them truly sacred as full representatives of the way who do not even question it, who walk the path instinctively as a matter of course, of being alive. Read the other two and you are left with the perception women should be considered slaves, but you will never reach this perception from the Recital. The Prophet himself revered women. His own wife once rode into the middle of battle on her horse. Do you even question my reverence for you? Do you question my reverence for Lena? For Esperanza? When each of you has proven to me my reverence is not only necessary, it's required? Should I hold my life in an openness, an embracing invitation because it is the way, but results in many attracted by this very openness, I should then close the door and exclude for what? So only one may be the recipient of light which shines only on this one and all others remain in darkness? That is the way, to condemn the innocent? Where is the honor in these steps of life? Where is the love in these steps of life? There is no honor, no love...I will not choose. I am not the One. I am not privy to all which is known, what is and will always be. This is not something attainable by any human being. I shall never attain an ability to choose in this manner. It shall be your choice to continue or go elsewhere. Should you continue you shall always receive my acts, my thoughts, my processes with you propelled by honor and love, each and every one of you,” I quickly glanced about the big room, “each and every one of you. I am only beginning to see, shedding my blindness, beginning to know, shedding my ignorance, beginning to awaken, shedding my perpetual slumber, but if you could feel inside what I feel every moment of every day, you would be foolish to pursue some other avenue. This is the path I choose to walk, the way I will proceed. Should you wish to walk it with me, I welcome you.”
Kendall's booming voice was heard above all others. “Now I see what Tom and his wife saw and why they tried to convince you to get up on a stage and do your shows, Gregory. It simply flows out of you like water from a spigot and you can't turn it off if you try...Not once have you and I discussed religion, the books from them, and I suspect, especially concerning Islam, this is a new immersion of yours, something on which you have embarked only recently, correct?” I merely nodded my head in Kendall's direction, smiling in response to his wide and playful smile. “So, in this short time passed, you open these doors, these books, and extract their complete essence, absorb it, allow yourself to be absorbed so the essence lives in your heart, your soul, your spirit, thus making it possible to share it with everyone and in a way where no counterpoint can exist. You must, Gregory, put this in words for me. Let me be the tool for delivery. Between the two of us, my friend, we can make a statement that, whether anyone wants to hear it or not, no one will ever ignore.”
- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-Six “An African Experiment Begins” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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