57 Comments
May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Coming from a childhood home of abuse, instability and unpredictability, I functioned for decades from a position of fear. When finally I realized I had the power to lovingly remove myself from those dynamics everything changed, yet nothing changed, but everything changed...my perspective, assumptions, reactions and sense of self.

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You've reminded me of that sense of pushing at the barred prison door for years I'd believed we're immovable, only to find they swung effortlessly at the gentlest of touch.

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Yes... yes.

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Brava, Kim! I come from some dysfunction myself. It's probably fair to say a lot of us did. I, too, realized my own power during my childhood. Looking back on it now, I've realized more of my own true, authentic self has been there all along. I just needed to reacquaint with her. Thanks for your vulnerable share!! XO

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

As I’ve stated in past posts, I’m a philosophy educator in higher education. my focus is on philosophy of art, freedom of speech, ethics, and the intersection of values and technology. So I’m squarely inside the domains of the so-called culture wars, and the cringe worthy term cancel culture. Personally, I believe the threats attributed to this domain to be hollow, but the threats from the mob are real. I walk a fine line between engaging honestly and openly with challenging topics and holding back, playing it safe. what’s more, as an adjunct, my position is tenuous at best. While I’m fairly certain I have the backing of my department, if push came to shove, I don’t know if I would have the same confidence in the upper administration.

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Very well said: "the threats attributed to this domain to be hollow, but the threats from the mob are real." I am also an adjunct and face similar circumstances. And, for the most part, have had the backing of my faculty for a long while. Though, in 2018, i was on Faculty Council during a strike (I was on strike with 3000 of my fellow union members) and, while we won, more or less, I had spoken our strongly against the actions of our acting Dean. After the strike, all my work was taken away, one contract for which I had been the lead candidate given to someone else, one contract that was union-exempt (meaning i had no formal claim on it) given to a tenured faculty member (who felt super-bad about being forced to take it), and one contract removed from the annual offerings (all of which left me with nothing formally to grieve - a de facto case of constructive dismissal, i suppose, by a 'mob' of one). My revenge was to begin a PhD for which I am nearing the end. Woohoo.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Your position sounds so value-laden and positive. It makes me frustrated to think “push” and “shove” could ever take that away.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Hi Pad, in our community we have to overcome the hollow fear of letting our kids walk to school, run errands, adventure the neighborhood, play independently, make bad decisions, take risks, have difficult feelings or be bored.

My wife and I do our best to encourage all of the above, however we are saturated in such a fear base culture around parenting, it’s hard to escape a looping narrative of danger or damage around every corner.

So what have we done to turn into this fear? We have no News Feed or

Social media. We

would like to do our best to determine our fate through our lived experience (and

Poetry), not the daily stories of ‘barbarians at our gates’. We might be cocooned to certain events,

but we also have accesses to a glorious simple freedom.

Question , is Substack social media? If so, I guess I am a small ‘h’ hypocrite. Hehe

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May 15·edited May 15

I feel that Substack is a social media in the best sense of the word. So very, very small "h" haha.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I was reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote I’ve saved: “ Sometimes a person can focus on the snarling dog and miss the bear farther back.”

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Imagined threats, for me, are usually within friendships. I have had many horrible experiences with friends, and I have many times projected those experiences onto people who would never repeat those behaviors. Friendship becomes very difficult when you are looking for where you'll be hurt.

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Michael, I hear you. Believe me, I SO do!!! It is always a struggle not to project our past relationship woes onto our current or potential ones. There is so much more to it than that, too. Softly, though, I say I would guess you are much stronger now than you might have been in the past, having gone through some bad friendships before, so you have the ability to walk away if it isn't a good fit for you now. I trust. Carefully. And I've learned to walk away when I need to. I don't need to be someone else's doormat. I value and love myself too much to allow that any more. And that, the worthiness and self-love, has attracted some pretty beautiful people into my life. Saying my prayers for you! XO

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Stronger, maybe. More walled off, definitely. But I have a few friends who have been persistent enough to scale the wall. Like you said, some pretty beautiful people have come into my life. Thanks for your kind message!

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Just a suggestion: consider how much strength comes from vulnerability, past or present. And then, just a gentle quote to ponder and wonder about: “You don’t need to hold it all together. You will be more supported, as you soften. We must soften back into our true nature and call all the lost pieces back.” I can't under or overstate how I hear (and feel) what you are saying, from a very real place. And how life has changed dramatically (for the better) since and, specifically, recently from softening. I say this all, just as a suggestion, food for thought. I couldn't and don't want to change you, just sharing from my perspective. I am grateful you have friends who have penetrated those walls!! XO

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Fear seems to be one of the great barbarians. Fear of being true to self. Fear of failure. Fear of being hurt. Fear of death.

Inciting fear has become a dominant tactic in today’s politics. Fear of the other. Fear of losing security.

Fear is often misplaced in religion as well. Fear of our humanity. Fear of a vengeful God.

Make no mistake, fear is a vital emotion. It can alert us to real danger. And that is good. Like all emotions, it is about trying to understand them and to live with and express them in creative, compassionate, and courageous ways.

I am reminded of the famous words spoken by FDR during his inaugural address, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” So we cannot let fear paralyze us. And I find it interesting and enlightening that the Bible says “do not be afraid” well over 100 times. The wisdom of the ages.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Courage is needed

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My sweet friend. I agree fear is used against us. No doubt about that.

I would also remind you of 1 John 4:18 though. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear..." It builds courage and compassion and abundance to learn to let go of the fear and to focus, instead, on love. And the more you love others completely, the more love you bring unto yourself. Love changes the way we see everything and everyone, including yourself. Especially yourself. When you learn to love yourself deeply, it sets you completely free. Love is the anchoring domino of life. When you push it, everything else falls under it. I promise you!! XO

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Good afternoon, Danielle. Thanks for your added thoughts; you bring an astute perspective to the understanding of fear. I particularly liked your closing four lines — important insights expressed with clarity and a poetic flair. Good stuff.

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You have all said it all, and much better than I could hope to. Somehow, love must be our response no matter how troubling our fears.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I always thought of Cavafy's barbarians as the projection of our inner weakness and our reluctance to see what's really wrong with ourselves. I wrote a little something a while back about it:

https://tomasikaki.substack.com/p/poetry-month-day-twenty-nine

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Sounds like a big part of the problem!

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May 14·edited May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I see the barbarians as fabricated threats that soothe or distract rather than address authentic encounter which includes conflict in all its non-violent forms. These fabricated threats result in creating real barriers instead of opportunities. I would make a pun here and call this Waiting for the Barbarriers. In this poem I am struck by the word "waiting" in the title and the first line. Both the people and the rulers are waiting. The rulers create the lie and the people perpetuate it or help create it. A vicious cycle. To me it appears the answers to the questions are not coming from those in power but one of the people in the agora, observing, also waiting, but also explaining away as though the answer makes sense when it makes no sense. Waiting is inaction, decidedly non-proactive. What are we waiting for?

All these centuries we have erected kingdoms or elite walls often surrounded by jeweled walls of pomp and circumstance that dictate or legislate according to separating and grouping people as though we are threats to each other instead of opportunities for diverse contribution. The people in power represent years, decades, centuries of accumulated barbarriers to what it means to be humane. Isn't the word barbarian an opposite to the word humane after all?

Just look at how people take care of their pets at least here in the USA. People take care of their pets with TLC till death but most of our very own family who are old and infirm are discarded within the walls of nursing homes.

As for me, when I tend toward feeling bitter or critical of others because of perceived personal hurts, I erect useless walls that not just against someone else, but to prop myself up which then directs energy away from the work I need to do to face the real challenges in my own life to move forward. And it closes in on the space for love. Living with Barbarriers is easier. And in these fragile times, there is no end to the tools which we can use to dehumanize further. But if the Barbarriers were to go away? Or at least we take a step in that direction?It certainly would be another kind of solution. I just love those last 2 lines. What beautiful questions!

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

This sentence of yours: “All these centuries we have erected kingdoms or elite walls often surrounded by jeweled walls of pomp and circumstance that dictate or legislate according to separating and grouping people as though we are threats to each other instead of opportunities for diverse contribution.” So true.

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Yep. I couldn't help but think, when I was reading the poem, how some people worship famous and rich people, with all their glitz and glamour, like the fine robes and jeweled walls. When, at the end of the day, they are simply humans, as well, and nothing to worship. XO

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Excellent rumination on today’s theme — your thoughts are chock filled with insight. Thank you, Amy.

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thank you so much MIchael for your appreciative words. Digging deep into poems is a passion of mine for most of my life so when I discovered Poetry Unbound and how Padraig approaches poems and poetry, a whole world opened for me. Poems have long been ways of praying and learning and processing for me. The never-ending search for language which distills for Essence is to me is a source of a hope that comforts me, both grounded and ungraspable.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Cavafy, the bard of ancient times but with messages that resonate still. Too important a poet to be heard as little as he is. I prefer this poem in its visual rather than audio form. A pleasure to be reminded of the beauty of his words.

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I've not thought about "threat" for some time. But am forced to wonder now why that is. It certainly seems like a daily reality for most, if not all, of us frail humans. Cavafy's poem makes me think of two things: the use of the threat of the other; and the discovery that the threat of the other is us. I'm sure i read Cavafy's poem long ago but can't recall when. But for as long as i can remember, the phrase "Waiting for the Barbarians," has always been code for imagined or, rather, manufactured threat. I read Orwell's 1984 when i was 15, long before I learned of Cavafy's poem, and understanding the "manufactured" nature of the fictional Oceania's "threats" of "Eurasia" and "Eastasia," was something that immediately taught me to see the world that way. It's part of what made me a journalist, i suppose. I think my childhood of having lived under constant threat predisposed me to Orwell's message, as well as having inured me to fear of threat. It was many years after I left home - and perhaps, in part, due to my journalistic training - that I realized that I had a habit of responding to imagined threat by running (sometimes literally) towards it. Thinking about this now, I think that having lived under threat for the first two decades of my life and having escaped, after a fashion, i found (and still do) the feeling of threat unbearable. And when friends, family, or mass media suggest that there's a threat I need to take seriously, it is especially unbearable. And threat almost always starts out as "imagined." So, I learned that the quickest way to discern what was going on was to run at it, seize the moment, as it were. My first reaction to threat is not fear but rather anger. And, it is my experience, that I learn quickly that most imagined threats are baseless. A few, of course, are very real and, i suppose, i've been lucky in confronting these threats and surviving, for the most part, without serious injury - though not without having suffered loss. The imagined threat of "barbarians" is one that has strong resonance in this moment where, in so many countries, we see Orwell's "manufactured" enemy (Cavafy's "barbarians", of course) deployed so cynically and cavalierly in the US by MAGA/GOP/Trump, in Canada by our version of MAGA politicians, (and Orban in Hungary, Putin in Russia, and in the genocidal over-reaction against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank not to mention the long history of oppression against Palestinians. Netanyahu's cynical support of Hamas - in order to weaken the Palestinian authority is now well-documented - if under-reported - is almost a text-book example of what Orwell named so well). It seems to me that the genius of Cavafy's poem was to name at the end of the 19th Century, something that would become a defining characteristic of the 20th and now 21st. I can't help but infer that Cavafy's "barbarians" are shown to "no longer exist" because they had already arrived, had been present all along, and had (perhaps indistinguishably) become part of that society. Thus the "barbarians" are us, if you will. This may be a stretch. But, apropos of your questions, Pádraig, i take Cavafy's poem as a good opportunity to be inspired to turn our gaze on ourselves and ponder our own investment and implication in imagined threats. Finally, also apropos of what you ask, Pádraig, it occurs to me that my work in popular education community organizing has always been about responding to threats (both imagined and real) with learning.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Cavafy’s poem says so much about how we ought to build civic life. A people need to have something worth defending. Being a civic entity of worth requires so much like embracing and building culture through the arts, promoting education, and facilitating physical health. If a governing body only promotes power of the status quo, when and if the day of the barbarians ever comes, there will be nothing worth saving.

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May 14Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

You have written in a wide ranging message about this poem; so much to consider and agree with. I am thinking of the streets emptied of people, of being one of those absent unseen people. Even as I discount their parchments and proclamations, even as they display their status in ways I could never hope to acquire or earn, I may fear these functionaries as much as the barbarians.

Like the unseen in the poem, I struggle not to expose myself to online trolls, not to ‘bumper sticker’ myself into a confrontation. To draw attention from either side seems dangerous.

In real life I clash with family members on the issue of gun control. I have found one point of discussion to be an entry point, is that most firearm deaths are suicides, not criminal acts. That fact has been obscured for years by a line in the 1996 budget which barred CDC's support and study of gun violence.

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The barbarians in my work world are executives that create artificial urgency on completing work. There is a lot of performative work in management to assuage their demands while the team on the front line sweats meeting those deadlines.

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Will forever be in awe and admire Cavafy’s work; been reading it since I was in school in both Greek & English!

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First let me Pádraig, please forgive me for being so obnoxiously fan-girlie this morning at Calvary Episcopal. I was the totally inappropriate jerk who knelt down right before you were ready to speak and babbled on in your ear-- you were SO gracious. Thank you for your kindness. Your lecture and the interview with Karoline Lewis were inspiring and so beautiful!

For me, this is a tricky one...I am just recently slowing coming out of a closet I have locked myself in for my whole life. This is one more step, posting this, I guess! I have been lucky- I've never doubted that God made me who I am and loves me as I am, yet- I am terrified of the way God's children might react. I have "barbarized" those who see something wrong with me and my LGBTQ siblings...I have a very difficult time seeing the holy in them. As Jonathan Auyer posted above..."the threats from the mob are real" - still I know "those" people are wholly made of and by the Divine...I guess it is just living in the tension-- living with the real or imagined threats from the barbaric holy ones?

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It is brave and necessary to raise one's hand, to name one's identity/identities, and become visible (and vulnerable) so that others may see and rally around, extend our love, and honor the particulars of who you are. Bravo! (as a 72 year old gay male who knows the pressures to assimilate and values all my queer siblings who challenge the assumptions and keep me aware of how complex this crazy world is).

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