Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 09:24:21 PM EST
Among the hundreds of nameless and faceless Muslim captives at our Guantanamo penal colony, a bit over 250 are on a hunger strike, determined to starve to death rather than accept their situation.
Thirty men have been on hunger strike five months now, since August. Our ultimate response has been to hold them down once a day, forcing feeding tubes down their noses into their stomachs, and pumping nutrient fluids into them.
This will not keep them alive; it only prolongs the inevitable. They're dying, and will pass away in the days just ahead. Dozens more are determined to follow them out of Gitmo.
Poor bastards. Their medical care is in the hands of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Republicans. Poor bastards, their fate is in the hands of Americans.
The quandary at the White House is what to do with all these skinny corpses. Muslim burials? Ship their bony bodies home? Disappear them, without any markers? Let their relatives call them just once before they expire? (It would be their first outside or familial contact in years.) And what to tell the world? What to tell voting Americans?
How to keep a lid on mass suicides in our most public concentration camp?
What will they do with thirty martyrs to liberty?
What will you do?
Gentle reader, what of your persuasion or politics or personal opinions about the great questions of our day? These thirty men are beyond that now. These men are already dead to this world, already across the river, already looking down on the quarrels of this world.
They're in a whole other space.
Putting yourself down by starvation is not suicide. Suicide is some quick and easy pop, some deed that is irrevocable. You can lay back and say, "There, I've done it."
Shotguns, pills, razors, high places, even setting off a Semtex vest -- are all quick and irreversible choices. And they are cowardly compared to starvation. Digesting yourself is an infinity of raw moments spent choosing excruciating pain and weakness again and again, while the remedy lies always at your fingertips.
What could motivate a human being to actually carry that off? These men in Gitmo are damn close to doing just that.
What is this thing they do?
Try a 30-day water fast yourself. Very quickly you see this world as through a veil. You see it for what matters, and what does not. What used to be vital daily business doesn't count in the least. There is no money, no entertainment, no pleasure that could distract you from food, and your choice not to eat it. You hold your life in your hands, and it is life that you think about.
It's a very clear state of mind. Your senses are acute; you stand in your soul, utterly and intimately aware of the fragile membrane between life and death. You see a wide world full of human beings who are really only alive between one heartbeat and the next, yet they fight and kill over table scraps and creature comforts -- and pleasures.
Will power only carries you through the early rounds. After the first week, your sole strength is your identity and mindfulness -- your desire to transform yourself by this discipline -- "I will not be as I was before."
You spend your days on the further shore; like a caterpillar you keep vigil in your own world; you hold every living moment in your two hands; you listen to the many voices of your heart; you listen for one song.
At the far end, your entire strength is, "I await grace."
That's where fasting takes a human being. Inside, and beyond.
These thirty martyrs surely started with political and personal statements in mind, but to get this far means those initial incentives have long since been rinsed away in the rising tide of a deeper reality. The dead do not and cannot hate the living.
Their death vigil is a political statement only to us, now. To each of them, it is their one and only means of living their own life, by seeking to be with their own self only.
Their death vigil is a personal statement only to us, now. To each of them, it is choosing freedom over absolutely anything else.
What is this thing they do?
From out of the deepest hole in the meanest prison on this planet, they make themselves more free than we who are walking all around.
This thing they do for liberty.