Two weeks ago I wrote to you on the eve of a 3 day trip to the east coast that I was planning, to lobby for a day on Capitol Hill (immigration reform) and to visit my son Emmet at the Yale student farm. I’m writing now with a brief report on the trip.
You may recall that I have always been a passionate advocate of comprehensive immigration reform for both practical and philosophical reasons. It just seems to me that, when 90+% of the food that we eat in this country passes at some point through the hands of Spanish speakers (fresh produce harvest through meat processing and restaurant work…), and when somewhere between 60-80% of those Spanish speakers are undocumented, that there is a real need to recognize reality and to make change. I believe that society needs to thank, rather than to punish, the people who are feeding us.
My pitch at these meetings was part “job creator needs normalized access to dependable labor” and part “fundamental injustice of criminalizing hard work done by otherwise law abiding, tax paying immigrants.” My sense is that this message was well received, although its impact on changing minds (and votes) will not be known for weeks, months or (perhaps) years. I’m not vain enough to think that my voice is more than a drop in the ocean of advocacy on this, but I am just optimistic (and committed to the principle of the thing) enough to want to make the trip.
So meeting Berry at Yale was a “coming full circle” sort of moment for me. On the one hand, there was his earthy humor and obvious delight in meeting people, perfect antidotes to my preoccupation with piousness and misanthropy. And then, to see Emmet soaking up Berry’s presence and thinking; so wonderful. I left New Haven for the first time in 25 years completely at peace with the place, and much more at peace with myself.
And as for all the abuses of soil and land, people and environment and self that Berry writes about so clearly- that I have struggled with for my entire professional life- I encountered this in his Collected Poems (on the plane home on Saturday, no less!):
Vanity is absence.
Be here. Here
is the root and stem
on whose life
your life depends.