Written on 05-04-2020
As I open FB on the morning of May 4, I chuckle at the many Star Wars jokes (May the Fourth be with you), and cry at the memories of the shootings at Kent State, fifty years ago.
Fifty years ago, I was 13 years old, an angry and confused middle school student, passionately anti-war. In fact, I was expelled from junior high school that year for “cluttering the hallways” with “offensive flyers.”
The flyers said: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
I was a passionate reader, then, of everything to do with Clarence Darrow and the Scopes trial. I was trying to imagine a world in which there was justice, and intelligence, and good sense. It wasn’t easy!
Within a couple of years, I had tripped into the rabbit hole of the ’70s, amongst hippie astrologers, drug dealers, back-to-the-land communards, crazed schizophrenics hailed as gurus, abusive psychologists, and a few more suspect characters. In a phrase: the works. And that, too, was the first year I ran away from home. (By the time I turned 15, I had left for good.)
It is an interesting phrase I wrote a couple of paragraphs ago, as I spoke of my junior high school experience: “I was expelled.” Let me explain. Fifty years is a long time on which to look back. As a Jew, 13 years old would be the year that I became a man. So, really, this is the first year of my life that I can look back at a half-century of being “me,” a full person, and not a child. It is interesting that, as I look back on that incredibly eventful, watershed year of 1969-1970, what stands out for me, the phrase that most seems to summarize my experience is: “I was expelled.”
It is part of our common humanity to feel that we have been expelled, from a kingdom of childhood in which all our needs are met. This sense of expulsion is reflected in many myths, for Westerners, most specifically in the story of the Garden of Eden. The world, it seems, is broken, fallen from a state of grace in which justice and peace were realities, and now reduced to aspirations. It is the heart of religious feeling to assert that somehow this state of grace continues, or has been restored, in spite of all contrary appearances and that we can, if we choose, live in it, away from the fallen world, at least in the caverns of our hearts.
This possibility, however, while it is paid lip service by many, is seriously considered by only a few. Most are satisfied to be distracted from the reality of the damaged world and our own limitations, rather than make the necessary effort of mind and soul to see past the disaster which is life into the glory beneath, and, in C. S. Lewis’s felicitous words, to be “surprised by joy.”
But sometimes events occur that compel us en masse to confront reality: the fall of empires, the breakdown of society (as occurred during the Vietnam War), huge natural disasters (as is occurring right now). Such times are spiritual watersheds in the societies of those affected, with ramifications that last centuries, even millennia. They are turning points in the history of our being.
The entire world is now living through such a turning point: expelled from our dreams and awakened to a grim reality that is not new, but newly manifest to our eyes. Each of us, I think, has an opportunity to choose consciously between distraction (if we can manage it), or delight.
Delight? Am I crazy? No. Turning inward, reaching with all I can muster of mind and spirit, I can find a quiet center in the chaos. It really is not that difficult.
It is my hope that many more than a few of the majority who will survive this crisis and the coming ones (remember the climate continues to change) can do so, and the inspiration going forward to move our world, however slightly, towards an Eden of Justice, Peace, and abundant Joy. Surprise!
We’ve done it before in living memory (hippies, do y’all remember?). And we can do it now.
From my lips to Goddess’s ears! And May the Fourth be with us all!