Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nobel Prize

On a number of recent occasions I have found myself profoundly disappointed by the Nobel committee's selection for their prestigious peace prize.  This year's winner however is an inspiring choice.  Liu Xiabo, a dissident who languishes in a Chinese prison cell, stands alongside other giants.  He appears equal to the legacy of such winners as Andrei Sakharov and Martin Luther King.  Liu Xiabo was of course one of the leaders of the Tienanmen Square protests of June 1989 and is now jailed for continuing to speak in behalf of human rights.  He could not travel to Norway to accept the award and so in his stead last year's "I Have No Enemies" speech was read.  Last December, he delivered this final statement to the court sentencing him.  He steadfastly holds to the principle of non-violent resistance.  Remarkably he speaks of having no enemies, and no hatred.  Freedom of expression, he argues, is the foundation of human rights.  He believes, moreover, that ultimately China will bow to the universality of human rights.  He writes:
Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.
His language, even in translation, soars in particular when speaking of his love for his wife.
If I may be permitted to say so, the most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart.
Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.
His images and language conjure remembrances of Pablo Neruda's "Poet's Obligation" in my mind.  I suspect that Liu Xiabo might bristle at the comparison, the devoted communist poet side by side with the steadfast fighter of communism.  Nonetheless the prison cell is the focus and source of much poetry.
To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.
So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn's castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying, "How can I reach the sea?"
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and of quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of sea-birds on the coast.
So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.
And finally David declared when hiding in a cave:
My heart is firm, O God;
my heart is firm;
I will sing, I will chant a hymn.
Awake, O my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will wake the dawn. (Psalm 57)
May we indeed see the day when no one will need to demonstrate, yet again, that the heart and soul and mind can never be imprisoned!

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