Saturday, March 31, 2012

Afterthought #3 - Two-Dimensional Tools

Detail of a friend's quilt

 "As a writer, I'm trying to represent a ten-dimensional world with a two-dimensional tool which is writing."

     ~ Junot Di├íz   (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of  The Brief  Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

Isn’t that what all artists do? Some use the two-dimensional tools of words on a page, notes on a staff, or paint on a canvas. Others use three-dimensional tools of fabric, clay, wood, stone, steel, or glass. That’s what art does—it portrays and makes sense of the complexities, the multiple dimensions, of life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Remembering Manzanar

Exclusion Notices (from NPS website)
Today, March 21, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Manzanar, a concentration camp in southern California. Grace Ito Coan, a member of Sacramento Friends Meeting, was among the U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry imprisoned there from 1942-1945. I wouldn’t have noted this day if not for Grace’s story, “Manzanar: Forever in the Past?” in the current issue of Western Friend. Her account put a personal face on a sad and painful time in U.S. history.

Manzanar was the first of ten camps authorized on February 19, 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This action, in response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, moved nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans into isolated relocation centers in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming as well as Manzanar.  

Grace Ito Coan writes of Manzanar’s transformation from a fruit-growing colony in Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierras to a desert when water was diverted to Los Angeles. After the government’s relocation order, that desert became home to 10,000 people in a  “…city one mile square, enclosed by barbed wire and guarded from towers by military police with search lights and guns pointed inward.”

Ansel Adams photo, 1943 - Manzanar Relocation Center from the Tower 
Often with less than a week’s lead-time, people were ordered to the temporary, tar paper-covered barracks. Grace describes, “…dust seeping through the knotholes and cracks. We were to sleep on metal cots, and we filled our mattresses with straw.”  She and thousands of others were forced from their homes, businesses, and communities simply because they were of Japanese ancestry. Nearly three-quarters of them were U.S. citizens.

I live on a thirty-square-mile island with about 2200 people. I try to imagine five times that number squeezed into an area about the size of our village center. I can’t. But Grace’s story in Western Friend and many more stories and images of Manzanar at a National Park Service website bring attention to a shameful time in history.

Although these imprisonments occurred years before I was born, I’m embarrassed by my limited knowledge of them. It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle and started attending University Friends Meeting (UFM) that I learned more of this history.

One of UFM’s founders, Floyd Schmoe, among others in the Meeting, kept these concerns before us. Schmoe’s son-in-law, Gordon Hirabayashi, had defied the government curfew and evacuation orders, calling them a gross violation of Constitutional rights. He was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned, and eventually appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court initially upheld his conviction, efforts to overturn it resumed in the 1980s, culminating in his judicial vindication in 1987 and redress for the victims of internment. Hirabayashi died earlier this year at age 94.

Each year, over 1,000 people from diverse backgrounds, including students, teachers, community members, clergy and former incarcerees, make a pilgrimage to Manzanar to commemorate the unjust imprisonment. This year’s pilgrimage also marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site. Dr. Mitchell Maki, the lead author of Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress, will give a keynote address on the topic, “Why Remember?” Grace’s story and her urgings that we remain vigilant so Manzanar never happens again give ample reasons to remember.  

The Western Friend article moved me to honor this anniversary.  The word anniversary is from the Latin anniversarius ‘returning yearly,’ from annus ‘year’ + versus ‘turning.’ Today, I’m turning my thoughts to Manzanar and Grace.

For more information about the pilgrimage, visit -

Other resources about the internment:

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Conflict. Disagreement. Opposing viewpoints. I don’t much like any of them, especially when they involve me and those I’m in relationship with. Some people tell me they like controversy, spirited opposition, debate and argument. They say it energizes them, excites them, gets their juices flowing. All that conflict does for me is make my stomach churn.

So, at Meeting last Sunday, when our Worship-Sharing time focused on queries about resolving conflict, I did a lot of deep breathing.   As we settled into silence, we were asked to consider these queries from North Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice:

When problems and conflicts arise, do we make timely endeavors to resolve them in a spirit of love and humility?

How do we use our diversity for the spiritual growth of our Meeting?

Are we prepared to let go of our individual desires and let the Holy Spirit lead us to unity?

In the silence, I sat with these questions.

Make timely endeavors to resolve conflict? I usually put it off as long as possible.

Use diversity for spiritual growth? I subscribe more to the “birds of a feather, flock together” approach.

Let go of my individual desires and be led by Spirit? Sure, once my fingers are pried away from their grip on my conviction that I’m right.

I know that many people throughout the world face the kind of conflict that threatens their lives. I’m blessed to live in a time and place that is not fraught with such violence, fortunate to rarely encounter hostility in my daily life. And yet, I don’t feel in unity with everyone, at all times. Whether it’s in my Quaker Meeting, at work, in my family, or among friends and community, sometimes tempers flare, opposing views swirl, or anger erupts. When that happens, there’s the familiar churn of my stomach. My heart races, my throat closes up, my head throbs. I’m afraid.

The conflicts most common in my life stir fears of discovering I’m wrong or have made a mistake. I succumb to old beliefs from childhood that there is a “right” way to act or believe, as if there is only one right answer. I fear disapproval and rejection. In introductory psychology, I learned that animals respond to fear in one of two ways – fight or flight. I don’t want to do either, yet engaging with the differences brings a pounding to my chest.

Quaker practice has taught me to listen, to lead with a question instead of defending my opinion. When I remember to ask, rather than answer, I open myself to the possibility that there is something for me to learn.

I wish that the path to resolving conflict wasn’t bordered with so much humility, patience, and letting go. What I know experimentally, though, is that it is in times of conflict, times when I listen deeply to the words and beyond the words, that I grow.