Last month I had the unusual privilege of traveling abroad for work—Turkey, then a bit of a the Greek Islands, then Zurich on the return. Unlike the students in the program I work for, I'm based mostly in the office, so this treat will have to keep my international traveling hankerings satiated for the next year or two.

Ending the Turkish portion of my roamings, I stayed with an acquaintance from elementary school, Sarah, and another brilliant house guest-artist-adventurer, Zoe. Yep, that's a novel Facebook reconnect after more than two decades. (Can't believe we're that old, to have not seen each other in 25 years. 25 years!). Sarah's been in Istanbul for several years, and was there when the police force gassed its citizens, beat its protesters, and hid most of it from the news. In a quiet window after the city had erased all evidence of the incidents, she toured us through Gezi Park and Taksim Square. She laid out the scene for us, and I shot photos while exhaustedly weaving past the police force that swells and regresses in the blocks surrounding the park and square at night.

We shot photos of a small sit-in, and Sarah attempted to convey her sense of disappointment in the whitewashing of the events and the public spaces by quick-working government forces. She describes it, as a true poet underneath her daily pragmatist's clothing:

 "Surely the Germans have some word that neatly sums up the concept of “I have seen this place filled with gas and fire and violence, overturned cars and burnt out buses, I have felt the weight of great injustice in this place, and I have tried to be brave in this place, and I have seen the brief triumph of peaceful protest against violent government, and then I have seen it snatched away, people have died for this place, this place appears normal now but it will never feel the same to be in this place again.” If such a word does not exist anywhere in the world we should invent it. I felt overwhelmed for a moment, but trying to explain what it felt like to my friends I could only really stutter, “It’s just, it’s just, it’s just… oh God. This is so surreal.” 

And no Mom, we weren't in any danger.

I learned something extremely simple from Sarah, something I find myself repeating time and again when I'm on planes, when the weather is bad on my commute, when I'm overwhelmed by the uncertainty inherent in traveling along in a strange place, and it's these words "probably not."  Is this turbulence going to take down my plane?  Probably not.  Is this neighborhood walk going to turn dangerous for us?  Probably not.  Works for me.

Since I've left, the magical corner of Istanbul that is Kadıköy has become less magical.  It's become cloudy, full of gas, full of fires at night, and police vans and armored cars, and sadly, of brutality on both sides.  Last week Sarah was pulled out of an apartment building one evening by police, beaten, tossed in solitary confinement for a couple of days, and then promptly (relatively speaking) deported.  Yep, just like that.  [Read her surreal accounts of the arrest and court case here: and]

So get to the point, Sara, ok?  Point is -- stand up.  Stand up for something.  For many of us, we can do that in our communities without fear of deportation.  Stand up for something big, or something small.  Stand up for a kid, or for yourself, or for strangers.  Stand up for personal freedoms, or stand up against bullying in schools.  Stand up for vegetables in school lunches, or stand up for rights for women.  Stand up to feed your neighbors, or stand up to preserve a community garden.  Stand up even by sharing your passion for goodness with your friends.  Don't step on anyone else, but stand up straight.  Why?  Because YOU, most of my readers, CAN.  

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Alan at: September 23, 2013 said...

. . very well said - and it needs to be said , again and again and again . .

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