“Pentecost” is often interpreted as a magical event where people spoke in tongues. A deeper interpretation of Pentecost was that people coming together from every possible human condition felt a unity that transcended the limitations of their own language.
The following poem comes from a Jewish American hoping to reach across the divide on the subject of Gaza. Obviously that is not possible so long as either side has a vocabulary that can only express its own pain. Anyone who sets out on the course of peacemaking must realize we carry the seeds of discord in our very language. We must all commit ourselves to learning a larger language in which we can express and hear not only our own group’s hope and pain, but that of the entire species. Most importantly we must be willing to hear what our “enemy” is saying. To disagree is one thing, to not be able to even hear what someone is saying is another.
When the Gaza war began in November 2012, American Jews’ lack of an embracing moral language, a language that could acknowledge all viewpoints, sufferings, terrors, humanity, became painfully obvious. To speak of the civilians dying in Gaza was, to many American Jews, to attack Israel and deny its legitimate rights to exist and defend itself from missiles. We seemed to have no language in which which we could speak both of Israeli families huddling in bomb shelters as far north as Jerusalem and children crawling through Gaza rubble.
Poets can’t protect families from bombardment, negotiate cease-fires, resolve disputes, make peace or establish justice. But we can expose and stretch the limits of language, and challenge ourselves and our readers to imagine more honest, compassionate, embracing tongues in which to address this unspeakable tangle of fear, injustice, and brutality.