I have spent a week deep in thought. At first, I was just deep. I was in a cistern brimming with suffocating nameless unrest. At the end of each day I raised my face above the surface long enough to recognize the four directions, still there, constant. To the south, faces registering deeply felt despair, angry, but hopeful. To the north, voices disbelieving, desperate, and fearful. To the east, deep-seated respect for the office of the presidency; a respect that rises reliably to bring light. To the west, my own hopes sinking quietly, streaking the horizon with more crimson than gold.
I’ll not diminish the confusion and concern. It’s been a tough week and I have more than once felt tears slide down my face. But, as I watched the news unfold around me things became clearer. I experienced feelings that have rested, dormant, since my early years. I am remembering what it was like to come of age in turbulent times. I am remembering what really matters to me.
In my adult life, my career and the raising of my family, I have committed myself to civil rights and peaceful coexistence. I have supported all efforts to be a thoughtful custodian of our environment; I believe our children deserve to inherit a habitable planet and a civilization that is evolving away from tribalism and toward global peace. As I watch the new order now emerging, those long dormant feelings have become more the present and no longer a memory; the outrage that drove my youthful will to put values into action is creeping into my veins. But now, at 64, I am not an angry person. I’m not mad at anyone. The feeling is more of shame. I am ashamed that I am part of a community and a country wherein many have allowed themselves to be driven only by their own feelings of hopelessness and anger. Our world is dramatically shifting to a globalized economy. The world that has been will not be our future and it has left so many people unprepared. But this is not a reason to be heedless of our collective responsibility. The blaming and shortsightedness around me is shameful. This is our country. We don’t need to take it back. We need to be strong enough keep it what it really is. This country is an experiment in peace and inclusion. This country is reaching for the dream of being for and by her people. This country does not strive to be an oligarchy or monarchy. It does not strive walk tall over the detritus of the less fortunate.
I spent the afternoon making cookies for our upcoming holiday. I put music into the air – music that I have not heard recently. Dylan, The Beatles, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary. So many songs struck a meaningful chord. Mine was a young generation fighting and dying for a better world. A place where Black kids and White kids could go to school together and our boyfriends, drafted at the tender age of 18 into foolish wars – coming home in a coffin, would one day have the right to vote for the people in Washington who make the decisions for those who give their lives.
I ended my afternoon with The Magical Mystery Tour.
The Fool on the Hill.
Strawberry Fields Forever.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game
It’s easy. All you need is love.
Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time
It’s easy. All you need is love.
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be It’s easy. All you need is love. Love is all you need.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
I feel more committed than ever in my life to do the right things and to think with my heart. I have been living a life, watching the evolution of a conscience born in the 1960’s. It lies idle many many times, in so many moments. I have not always found the strength to keep it as my creed, really. But I have never felt all that I believe in to be at risk of disappearing – so that I would know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.
Leonard Cohen said it simply…
“I always had a sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.”
Now I understand, as perhaps I never have before, that this is for keeps. I will not bow down in despair or lean into bitterness. I will not retire from the things that I know to be true for me and mine. I am happy today because now I know what to do. I know what I believe and I remember where I stand. And this is for keeps.
Thanks, Leonard. You gave so much to this world. Today you gave hope and resolve to me.