Life, death, birth, doulas, midwives and trains of thought
May 23, 2018
As Palestinians are once again getting into the news by being massacred by the Israeli army, my train of thought starts with being reminded of my friend Sharyn, who narrowly escaped death when she was shot in the stomach in Gaza. She has lost many friends there over the years. Sharyn is a person who lives whole-heartedly, with absolute commitment to what she believes, and has always been an inspiration. The fact that she keeps her heart and soul exposed to pain, injustice and fear makes living back in the relative safety, social restraint, cynicism and complacence of Britain emotionally challenging.
One of her responses to this has been to become a midwife, ushering new life into the world in the most grounded and empowering way possible. It allows her to connect meaningfully with people when they're at their most honest, their most exposed, providing wisdom and love. She's not just any midwife, she's an independent midwife - it's like the anarchist version. And she's also been helping the midwifery movement in Gaza.
A second link in the chain is that I've been staying in Northampton, Mass with another old friend, Tim, and his partner Vicki, who is a doula. I love the concept of doulas, people who are there to give emotional and practical support at an emotionally and physically difficult time of transition (my own definition). People who are there to help you keep and hold the connection between body, mind and soul, to feel with you, to empower you and help you maintain agency over your situation.
Vicki and Tim are working wholeheartedly on nuclearban.us, the campaign to get the US to sign the historic 2017 UN treaty to ban all nuclear weapons. Once again, they open themselves to the rawness of life and death and engage with it in a way that speaks directly to reducing violence and horror. The week I was with them, they had meetings in Boston, Newhaven, Northampton and Vermont and were also coordinating and attending the national campaign meeting in New York, with a hastily organised press conference at the UN. Indeed, congratulations are due today, as Berkeley becomes the second 'treaty compliant' city in the US.
The next link is that the words doula and midwife are now being used by people giving support at the end of life - death doulas. I've been thinking about this role a lot recently - one of the ideas I have for what to do when I get back to the UK is setting up a workers coop that provides end of life services, particularly for those who want agency over when they die and dying with dignity. So it's interesting that, starting with Oregon, several US states have now passed legislation permitting euthanasia - yet another thread of enquiry I want to follow while I'm here.
While in Philadelphia, I stayed in the (sadly empty) home of Celia Kutz, director of Training for Change, where I started reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - I've only read a few pages, but I love the sentiment (paraphrased by me) that in order to die well, you have to have lived well and prepare yourself for death without regret. This seems to be particularly pertinent in an obsessively risk-averse society where talking about death is largely taboo and the hypocritical 'sanctity of life' only applies to western humans with money.
And so i'm circling back to thinking about being killed for political reasons - the numbers of people being killed while in civilian life, while fleeing, while driving, while at home, by drones, by snipers, by occupying forces, by police officers, by extremists. And I start to think of people being killed who are resisting - whether militarily or non-violently, people knowing they are at risk, people knowing their lives are on the line. Does it change one's perspective on the value of life? Does it make a difference to how you die? Are you living and dying well?
But I don't want this post to resemble our own Western approach to life, with birth at the beginning and death at the end, so I circle back once again to birth, with love and congratulations going to the parents of all the new babies i know about this month - Tim's first grandchild due next week (well done Emily!), to two sets of coop/facilitation/trainer babies due now: Adam (Rhizome.coop) & Mariel and Hannah (Navigate workers coop) & Loz, to ex-Cornerstoner Ellie & Hannah, to ex-Cornerstoners Ellie & Ben and son Finn, to Isa & Gui on their new sailboat in Greece and to Luke & Joy, whose baby due in July will be the first to be born to current members of Cornerstone in more than 20 years. And since Luke was born the year that Cornerstone started, that makes me feel a bit like a granny :-)