Saturday, August 09, 2008
Candle4Tibet vs. Gilmore Girls
I don't know much about Tibet's history and the current oppression from China. In an ever-expanding world view and news and information flow, I feel overwhelmed trying to keep informed about individual countries, uprisings, droughts, celebrations.
I'm interested how, through the Olympic games, the world focus narrows in on China's human rights record. I received an email from Candle4Tibet this week, alerting me to a light protest -- a candle vigil around the world, on the eve of the Olympics, to raise awareness to what many call the cultural genocide of Tibet.
In recent months I've felt more and more strongly that there is an activist inside me, waiting for me to be brave enough to let her out. I think she wants to march ... somewhere, on something. But the rest of me has long been concerned about what people think, how they view me. If all the world's a stage, I envision myself as sole actor. The psych term for this, the invisible audience, typically describes 14-year olds. I'm so tired of being stunted, of worrying what others will think of my actions. And a candle vigil seemed a good first step in my march.
I forwarded the email and found a friend eager to join me. Jonathan had traveled through Tibet, camped in freezing mountain cold, met monks, passed through Chinese check points. He told me stories of the people there, their strength, how the buildings have been destroyed, the culture being swallowed by the prevailing Chinese culture, the Tibetan uncommon beauty and coveted cheekbones. We agreed to pack candles with us on Thursday, so that in case we didn't make it in time to the pier, we could light our candles wherever we were.
One day later, my enthusiasm waned. After 9 hours at my desk, I felt waxy and overweight, and just wanted to get a work-out in before zoning off in front of my favorite re-run of "The Gilmore Girls." I was secretly hoping Jonathan would be caught in traffic, and who was I to go by myself to a vigil full of strangers for a cause I had never intensely researched? I'd light my candle at 9, have a moment of silence and recognition.
Jonathan left a message that he was on time and on his way to the vigil. I sat for five full minutes, feeling the flab on my hips, telling myself that one more day without exercise and I'd be a candidate for Jenny Craig, and I can't afford Jenny Craig, therefore it would be completely irresponsible for me not to exercise, immediately.
Then a small voice said "That's right. There are people who aren't allowed free press, to learn in their language, who are dying for the freedoms you have. Go ahead. Turn on that salsa tape and dance your hips off." Not really a kind voice, but I didn't need kindness towards my selfish self right then. If I wanted to be that woman who doesn't care, who's ready to march for what matters, I needed to be her right then. I packed a couple candles in my bag, grabbed my camera and joined the thousands of tourists on the pier, to find the 80 or so protesters down on the sand.
As I stood with my friend, surrounded by a mixed group of men and women, the elderly to little girls doing splits in the sand, I wondered what it means for people in Tibet for us to stand on a beach, halfway around the world, holding a candle. The organizer said what I can only assume were meaningful, inspiring words. The sound of the waves crashing mixed with dance beats from the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant and bar and the laughter from the pier drowned him out. I wasn't putting my life on the line. I barely interrupted my regular schedule. I wasn't sharing a cup of tea and hearing the stories of a vanishing culture.
But I was stepping outside myself and my concerns. I was in the presence of others, of a community, not the false community of Stars Hollow on my TV. The world is overwhelmingly big, but we act where we are, in the moment we find ourselves. It may not change China's policies. It may not be witnessed by one person in Tibet. But I am changed, and I'll view things a little differently. And that has to count for something.
"No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one's partiality." - Wendell Berry
Christiane Amanpour provides a brief overview of Tibetan history with China, interviewing the Dalai Lama in Buddha's Warriors Part1