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Authors: James Loney

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BOOK: Captivity
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My heart was on fire. I couldn’t believe it: here it was, everything I’d been searching for, a practical manifesto for living out the unknown option! I looked over at Bill. Chuck and Lauren must have sensed our excitement. “Why don’t you guys start a Catholic Worker house yourselves?” they said.

“How do you do that?” I asked shyly.

“The Catholic Worker is an anarchist movement,” they said. “There’s
no mother house, no rule book, no one in charge. No one needs to ask permission to live the Gospel. You just do it!”

I quit the social work program and went back to Windsor. A high school teacher I knew named Greg Mailloux wanted to start a house for homeless teenaged boys and was looking for somebody to work with. We raised money to buy a house, formed a board, recruited volunteers (William among them for a while) and opened our doors. We called it St. Don Bosco House after a nineteenth-century Italian educator.

The work was good, but I wasn’t happy. Greg and I were a mismatched pair. Greg was a charismatic Catholic who loved to sing praise songs and I was a social justice Catholic who wanted to do the Catholic Worker.

In September 1990, we started. Dan, William and I rented a three-bedroom house in Toronto. It was not long before we got a call from a friend who knew somebody who was just getting out of a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt. He was recovering from AIDS-related pneumonia and needed a place to stay. Peter was our first guest. We found him a bed and hung sheets in the dining room doorways to afford him a little privacy. The second was a Spanish man named Marco who taught us how to make paella. He slept on the couch until he was deported to Spain.

We found a bigger house downtown: seven bedrooms for half the rent. We scraped, painted, scrubbed, searched for abandoned furniture, scavenged giant glass jars from restaurants and filled them with lentils and beans. We welcomed whoever came across our path: Adrian from the cathedral; Barry and Mike from the Fred Victor; Slash and Margaret Anne from William’s school; Jacob who had just arrived from Ethiopia. We hosted a weekly Mass in our living room and had meetings for “clarification of thought”—free-ranging discussions for charting a path from things as they are to things as they should be. We published a newspaper called
The Mustard Seed
that we mailed everywhere and distributed free all over town. People came by for something to eat or just to shoot the breeze. We sat on the front porch in the evenings, drank
tea with visitors, trucked laundry to the laundromat, cooked and cleaned and washed mountains of dishes. To pay the bills, Dan worked as a carpenter’s helper, William as a high school teacher and I as a youth minister at an inner-city parish. It took us a year, but we finally came up with a name: Zacchaeus House, after the rich tax collector Jesus visited who subsequently gave away all his wealth. “Come down,” Jesus had said to Zacchaeus. Come down from your wealth, your status, your power, and live like a brother.

We needed more room. In the summer of 1993 we learned that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital owned a number of vacant houses in Parkdale. They rented us two semi-detached houses with a total of twelve bedrooms for the same rent we were paying downtown. The phone rang and the rooms filled. We took whomever we could sanely live with: people seeking refuge in Canada, people struggling with mental illness, people in recovery, people getting out of jail, people trying to get back on their feet, people who lived better when they were living with others. Sometimes it was for a night and sometimes it was for years.

The rules were simple. Don’t come home under the influence. Treat people with respect. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen. Attend a weekly house meeting. No smoking in the house. No television in your room. Home by 11 p.m. for the first few weeks. If things go well, you’ll get a key and you can consider yourself a member of the family.

We gathered around two tables in the dining room, sometimes as many as twenty of us. I’d look around at all the faces, people from all over the world and every walk of life, sharing stories and laughter, big bowls of homemade soup and fresh-baked bread. It seemed like a miracle to me, and it was, but sometimes it got to be too much: the noise, the relentless needs, the freeloaders who never helped with cleaning up. I couldn’t decide sometimes if I was living in the Kingdom of God or a bus station.

Friends who wanted to be part of what we were doing moved into the empty houses around us and we grew into a little village of
households comprising about thirty people. A whirlwind of activity was unleashed. Monthly open-stage cafés for the neighbourhood. An organic pay-what-you-can bakery. Annual apple cider canning bees. Christmas dinner and gifts for fifty, Easter Dawn breakfast for a hundred. A food pantry to get people through to the end of the month. Prison and hospital visits. A worker co-operative sawmill employing twelve people. Vegetable gardens. Protests, prayer vigils, street theatre actions, civil disobedience.

The more I lived with people who had been forced by poverty to seek our help, the more I began to see how violent poverty was. It stained and soured, diminished and degraded, marked with inextinguishable worry and condemned to cheerless drudgery. There were times when I bore the brunt of that violence in the guise of passive-aggressive rages, smashed windows, poisonous accusations and shouts of “Die faggot!” I learned too that violence wasn’t only something that happened outside me, it existed within me as well. I had to face the ugly fact that I was fully capable of hatred; those with shrill laughter or lack of hygiene especially evoked my contempt.

“Community is a terrible place,” Jean Vanier once wrote. “It is the place where our limitations and our egoism are revealed to us … our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy. While we were alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, we realize how incapable we are of loving.”

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, often quoted Dostoevsky, who said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Truer words about community have never been spoken. If ever I thought of myself as a “good” person, community life brutally corrected that illusion. Community was a blast furnace that burned away my every pretence of unconditional love, emotional maturity and equilibrium, of having all my shit together. Community was the place where my little sailboat of hopes and dreams crashed and broke apart on the jagged shore of unmet expectations, emotional frailty, personal limitations, the fear of being vulnerable. The closest I ever came to throwing a punch
was at a fellow Catholic Worker who refused to take his dirty shoes off when he came into the house.

In spite of all this, a sense of needing to do something more nagged at me. Soldiers trained and equipped themselves, stood ready to risk their lives in war. What about me? I believed the Gospel was calling us to non-violence. Was I prepared to take the same risks for peace?

It was through William that I first heard about CPT. It was in the years after Dudley George had been shot and killed by the Ontario Provincial Police—the only Aboriginal man to be killed by police during a land claims dispute in twentieth-century Canada. William had joined with a group of Mennonites based in Kitchener-Waterloo who were forming a CPT regional group that could respond in the event of a similar crisis and hopefully prevent such a violent outcome from happening again.

Hobo had heard about it too. He had the same twinkle in his eye as he did the day I first met him. I was sixteen years old at the time, and he was the director of the summer camp I was going to work at. I was afraid. It was my first time away from home. “You’re going to have a great summer,” he reassured me. He said his name was Bob Holmes but everybody called him Hobo. He was a Basilian priest and a high school principal.

It was the spring of 1998. “How would you like to go to Hebron?” he asked me. He had just been there on a delegation. “I raised double what I needed. I can pay for you to go.” At $1,800, it seemed like an impossible amount of money to find. I didn’t know what to say at first. “Think about it,” he said. “The money’s there.”

It took me a year to make up my mind. After the ten-day delegation, I joined the team for a month as an intern. I loved the work—monitoring the activities of soldiers and settlers, intervening on behalf of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, networking with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists, documenting human rights abuses. When I got home, Doug Pritchard, at the time CPT’s Canada coordinator, asked me to consider applying for a regional CPT training in southern Ontario. I couldn’t think of a good reason not to and sent my application in. I was trained in the summer of 2000.

I did my first CPT project work that fall in Esgenoôpetitj, a Mi’kmaq First Nations community that had come under attack for asserting its historic treaty right to fish for lobster in Miramichi Bay, first from fishers from neighbouring Baie St. Anne, and then from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). Esgenoôpetitj community leaders asked for CPT’s help after three thousand lobster traps had been destroyed by Baie St. Anne fishers. It had been a tense summer. Masked warriors gathered in Esgenoôpetitj from all over the country. The DFO pointed guns at unarmed Esgenoôpetitj fishers, rammed their boats and pepper-sprayed them after they had been thrown into the water. The RCMP beat and choked an Esgenoôpetitj man into unconsciousness while he was in their custody.

When I got there in early October, the fishing season was all but over and most Esgenoôpetitj fishers were battening down the hatches for winter. I spent the time watching for DFO boats on a grey horizon, visiting with community members and doing crossword puzzles in the team trailer. I told myself this was good; peace and quiet was what we wanted. I battled hard against disappointment. They never told us in the training that CPT work could be so dull.

It would be more than two years before I next served on a CPT project. My excuse was that I was too busy. A group of us had moved to a farm near Durham, Ontario, a Catholic Worker experiment in rural living that lasted only two years. Dan commuted to Toronto to pay the bills and the rest of us worked from dawn till dusk. We tended the garden, renovated buildings, fixed fences, cut firewood, milked a cow, welcomed visitors and washed mountains of dishes. Yes, life was very busy, but if I had wanted I could’ve made space for CPT. The truth was, I was afraid.

Men’s voices drift to us from the kitchen. Silence. The clicking of a nail clipper. Silence. Then, all together at once, a dog barking, vicious and rabid, a chain scraping across the floor above us, the begging pleading crying again, this time cresting in sheer terror.
We are in a house of horror
, I think.
Make it stop. Please, just make it stop
. It stops.

Time passes. My knees are aching. I need to stretch my legs. I can hear Tom deep-breathing through his nose. I turn my wrists and pull at my handcuffs, hoping they’ll dissolve like a bad dream. I figure by now our families must know, but I wonder if the news has been broken to the media. There is a sudden commotion of voices and movement, the sound of furniture being pulled across the floor. My heart starts beating faster.

“Hamam? Amriki, Britannia
—hamam?” There’s a snarl in the voice.

“Yes,” Norman says.



Harmeet says yes, I say no. I picture myself as an island of rock rising out of the ocean. I am hard, solitary, invulnerable. I don’t need anything from them.

I am taken by the arm, moved through space and abruptly stopped. I risk a quick peek out of the bottom of my hat. Three mats have been laid out on the floor between two beds—sad, depleted rectangles of foam, their cotton coverlets faded and ripped, grimy with human body oils, swarming with brown stains.

They make us lie down in a row, on our left sides, so close we’re touching each other. The mat has as much cushion as a piece of cardboard. Three blankets are thrown over us. I wonder whose house we are in, whose sleeping mats we are using, whose blankets are covering us. I am glad for the protection of my clothes. The light goes out. A bed creaks and blankets rustle. “No moving. I am right here,” Number One warns. His voice is very close. I lift the hat above my eyes. It’s too dark to see anything. I pull the hat down again and tuck my hands under my chin. Somebody coughs.

I consider our situation as though it were an interesting vase or a painting in a museum. We are hostages. I am now one of those I once saw on the news or read about in the newspaper, a rare exotic species I had the luxury of deciding whether or not to pay attention to, learn the names of, care about. Now others will read about us and decide whether or not to be interested.

Sleep is an impossibility. I’m lost and floating in an ocean, time without measure stretching everywhere without end. My left side aches
fiercely and my bladder is desperate for relief. The only sound is an unbroken chain of breathing. Sometime, who knows when, somewhere in the middle of that vastness, Norman’s voice pokes through the darkness. “Excuse me. Terribly sorry, but I must use the bathroom.”

I wait anxiously for the response. Norman is taking a huge risk. I hear a soft groan. Norman speaks again, his voice urgent. “I really must use the bathroom.”

“No, Doctor,” Number One says wearily. “Sleep.”

I hear Norman grunting. He’s standing up! “I have to go to the bathroom,” he says.

“No, Doctor,” Number One says.

“I am going to go in my pants,” Norman says, his voice rising in defiance. “I am an old man!”

I hear an exasperated exhalation. A lighter flicks. Number One rises from his bed. “
Hamam hamam hamam,”
he sighs.

There’s hope. Our captors are not heartless.



The call to prayer echoes across Baghdad like a promise. Slowly, imperceptibly, by degrees immeasurable, darkness gives way to light. I pull my hat down over my eyes. Birds chatter. A cat meows. We wait. Finally, the captors get up. We hear sounds of scrubbing and washing at a sink, someone getting dressed near us, the TV being turned on, Arabic conversation. I begin sending mental telegrams:
please get us up please get us up please get us up
. Rigor mortis, I am certain, is setting in.

BOOK: Captivity
8.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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