Where I come from. Part Three: My friend Newell or Stepping Out of  Your Comfort Zone (2) - blog by BluePoppy


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Where I come from. Part Three: My friend Newell or Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone (2)
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Posted 08-Apr-2015 at 02:07 AM (02:07) by BluePoppy
Updated 14-Apr-2015 at 11:48 PM (23:48) by BluePoppy

In memoriam W. Newell Hendricks (1943-2015)

The group from Nicaragua arrived in Boston in early September of 2001 and was with us during the September 11 terror attacks. For most, if not all of them it had been the first trip on an airplane. While everybody tried to keep calm, you could tell how scared they were the first couple of days post 9/11. No planes were flying and many wondered, if they would be able to return home as planned. Others were scared of the destructive potential of airplanes. Telling their loved ones in the village that they were alright posed another problem. However, a couple of days later we were able to get a message to them.

Newell at the first gathering of the delegation post 9/11 on the evening of the 12th.

While you could tell that Newell felt with all of our sisters and brothers, he kept his usual calm and tried to stay positive, which I think had a tremendous impact on the group as a whole and on them being able to still have a good visit with us.

A few weeks after the delegation to Boston, Newell suggested I should go on an “Encounter” between North American congregations and their Nicaraguan sister communities. I felt very lucky to be able to go and got to know very interesting perspectives on the relationships from members on both sides. Unfortunately the trip was cut short by a flare-up of my chronic condition. I was in pain and felt so miserable that I had to fly back after only four or five days in the country. The few days I had been there were a good experience nonetheless.

It took me a while to process many of the things I had learned during my field ed year and my time as a member of the congregation. After that year I actually dropped out of divinity school and went back to my career in journalism. I started to reread my journals from those days when I moved back to Finland a couple of years later. Things had fallen into place. I began to understand better where I had been, what I had learned and who had been my teachers. One of them had actually been Newell who had left a lasting impact by seemingly casually dropping quite important questions.

One conversation that had stuck with me was on learning. Newell must have been in his late fifties and he talked about how eager he was to learn more about economics. I looked at him in doubt. He was creative, a somewhat bohemian musician. Yes, he was highly educated politically and what I considered an activist (in the most positive of terms) but economy? Where was he heading with that? He talked about how his learning from the Nicaraguans had to do with better understanding economic differences [it didn’t sound that novel to me at the time]. “You know”, he said. “It has all to do with the fact that we are rich because they are poor.” I wasn’t in disagreement, however, while he continued to talk about the impact NAFTA had on the farmers in Central America, this rather simple formula sounded familiar.

It was a quote I had heard before by German playwright Bert Brecht: "Wär ich nicht arm, wärst du nicht reich." While it comprises the whole misery of post-colonialism in just a few words, I wasn’t so sure, it was really that simple. Or rather, the academic and journalist in me felt that it could not be that simple. To cut a long story short, today I am more than ever convinced that it is indeed that simple.

Newell and I kept in loose touch over the years. I was impressed by the education he got. There was no better role model for lifelong learning. He had not just talked about wanting to learn, he seriously delved into the matter. You can read more on Newell’s thoughts on the rich and the poor for example here.

Another matter Newell cared deeply about was better understanding young people. I believe that one of the many gifts he received by interacting with teenagers and later on young adults, students and friends of his daughters, was getting an introduction to social media. He took to Facebook, Twitter, started a blog and even began guest blogging. Newell was always about stories. He could tell a good story and people would love to listen in. So it was a natural next step to start writing a book, his very own memoires: “Normal: Stories from My Life”, published by Outskirts Press in September 2014.

This is what Newell wrote about his book:
"I always told stories to my kids when we were camping, or in the car, or any chance I could get. Many of those stories were about my life in the 60's. For me, that decade was not about "drugs, sex, and rock and roll" but was about the Vietnam War, which forced the issue of morality on a generation of us. The word "normal" contains the word "moral." I think it's normal to be moral, and in a way that's what the book is about: my attempt to live a moral life. I pursued my individual idealism through composing music and found ways to survive without having to give my autonomy over to either the government or the private sector. By the end of the 60's, I had lived in two "communes" which were heavy into the drug culture (although I wasn't), had received nine draft induction orders, had been in jail three times for minor infractions, had hitch-hiked at least fifty times on trips over a thousand miles, had lived one year in an industrial park area, lived one year outside under a tree, and one year in a fixed-up chicken coop. Whether living in the counterculture world of the 60's, raising a family, dealing with the professional world of opera companies, building houses, or looking at the world through the eyes of Nicaraguan campesinos, I have tried to continue that basic life choice - to live a moral life. And it's been a wonderful life. I was not a rebel; I was an idealist who found resources within myself, in the natural world, and in the dumpsters of society to not only exist, but flourish."

Newell's book: "Normal: Stories from My Life"

Outskirts Press writes about the author:
"Newell Hendricks, as an opera composer, received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a grant from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts to write an oratorio: El Salvador: Requiem and Invocation, with poet Denise Levertov. In honor of his 50th birthday, Richard Dyer, reviewer for the Boston Globe, wrote a feature article on him with the headline "An interesting and productive career outside the mainstream." This headline would equally apply to his later work leading popular education style workshops, his homesteading activities, or his political activism. Newell lives in Cambridge, MA, with his violinist wife, Barbara Englesberg. They have two adult daughters, and two granddaughters."
I highly recommend this very inspirational book to anyone interested in better understanding the counterculture of the 1960ies as well as the wisdom behind a conviction that stood the test of time. Newell also writes about his house building, his family and his love of music, travels and his personal connection to Central America. Most of all he constantly reexamines how to lead a purposeful and moral life in a time where society seems to have lost its moral compass.

Note: In part three of this blog post (soon to be published) I will shed light on a special aspect of Newell’s service to others.

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