What be this thing called hope, this state? To wander back-and-forth between hopelessness and hopefulness, why at times it feels as crazy as the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It is amazing how it seems to swing so slowly for a period. Yet at others, it lurches uncontrollably in staccato fashion between the two states. 

THE NATURE OF LIGHT

We sit confined, in a prism of our making. Yes, that’s the correct word: prism. Besides the traditional definitions of refractive light, the case I make for the word thusly is, “prisms can be made from any material that is transparent to the wavelengths for which they are designed…prisms can be used to reflect light, or to split light into components with different polarizations.” These latest words depict a state of both a claiming and rejection of elements of ourselves, as well as the implied polarization that is its consequence.

We will not always be home-bound. At some point we will be set free to roam the social gathering places, like gazelles to a watering hole but will not feel the same. For many, it may pale in comparison to the interior depths of ourselves we have plumbed during confinement, finding solace and comfort in a more authentic manner with those we hold most dear, including our own hearts. 

THE TEMPORARY IS JUST THAT

For others, being let loose will provide only temporary thrills, acknowledging a lack of appetite for the shallow and trite, intoxicating though it may be for a time. Somehow freedom to wing-spread will undergo a new definition, an acknowledgment of sorts. Given enough lack of interior sustenance they will begin to miss what began in their heretofore home-bound state, that unnamed itch for growth that has been awakened.

There will be those that carry on as if nothing has altered their perception of the world (and those in it), behaving like drunken sailors and raucous wenches, repressing the recent sting of social isolation, only to behave as before. Yet a seed will have been planted for future enlightenment, ripening once they have germinated long enough, whether in this lifetime or the next. 

ITERATIONS

Regardless, many things will be redefined, restructured and changed, for a quality left to the living will capture enough people’s imaginations to speak it, to live it differently. The “it” is that intangible and beneficent regard for others that acknowledges the depths of connections we all share as a species, regardless of malvescence by some, dependent on heroism by others. Those that have harmed the herd will endure accounting of it, there is no doubt. But with any luck, the subtle change in the refracted light of our better selves will triumph with enough heat and pressure of the current moment. 

And it is this process, the evolution of us as individuals and groups, having come out the other side to a new order of things that hope births. I see glimmers of it already: in nurses, doctors, deliverers of goods and services, in some public servants, and in the ordinary of us carrying on, socially isolating not just for ourselves but for the good of the whole. We KNOW inherently these acts are “in the service for more than us, they are for others too.”

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Many will not be able to see this change but more folks likely will than not. Of that I am confident, hopeful even, regardless of the human, political and social “infection” we will have survived. Or because of it? While it may not be loud, there will be evidence. There already is in fact, in that subtle shifts are visible in the compassion shown by some media leaders, medical individuals interviewed, common neighborhood helpers and many ordinary people. The angry ones, the bitter and noisy gong people, critical and venomous will pale in comparison.

Not all moments seem to call for hope. There are times that call for despair, and we will have experienced the state far too often during this pandemic. Yet despair can be temporary at best, ultimately fostering hope from which emerges a slow but sturdy light refracted from the prism. After all, we do know why the caged bird sings.

AND SO MUST WE

And so we stand on the edge of sorrow and joy, despair and hope with the intuition that there will be better days, better angels and greater things to come. 

For we are not just refracted light. We are reflected light as well, created from a nature that in the end claims us all. Whether one believes in the divine or not, nature has its way with life, always continuing onward. Groaning though we may be in the current morass, hope is greater than even itself for it reflects something more. Out of it springs a faith in things unseen, of the promise by and for the living; for life ongoing forever after.

I sit here on a gloomy-stew Sunday, just me and the rain. It continues to feel like such a surreal existence, the social distancing, the subtle fear of others—could they have “it” or could I infect them, crossing my mind all too frequently. The odd wariness of people, be they strangers or even friends, it’s disconcerting, but a near curiosity nonetheless.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

Through no fault of their own, everyone is suspect, including myself. The rain makes me think the earth is weeping for us. But maybe not out of sadness. Maybe just maybe, it’s a way to cleanse the world and metaphorically, us in it. How many mistakes we  humans make. If I wasn’t so personally involved and engaged in the whole pandemic, from a distance it presents as a puzzle, curiosity about the human race, however briefly. Oh, the folly of us.

It’s impossible not to judge although as quickly as I do, I try desperately to chastise myself for doing it. I watch people walk around without any protection, though not too many of them, and marvel at governors who still don’t have statewide orders to social distance. They are making an assumption because they only have four people in the state who are infected, that they are exempt from tragedy somehow. Oh, the folly of human thought. And the arrogance.

I LOVE ME WHO DO YOU LOVE

Arrogance is as arrogance does, or so they say. So too ignorance, and too many Americans, certainly suffer from it. Sadly, both conditions are part of the human experience, part of each of us in unequal measure. We either think we know best, think nothing bad will ever really seriously happen to us, or believe in wacky political ideas that are naive at best, nefarious at their worst. 

Then there’s the greed and selfishness of people hoarding, sometimes out of downright fear I realize, but all too often out of a belief system that “I’ve got to get mine so I won’t lose out” mindset, strutting their behavior like terrified peacocks. I, I, I! It is the bane of our existence.

COVID-19 RISING

They say the next couple of weeks could be very grim with the contagion spreading like wildfire, infecting many more people, with a rising death toll as a result. It will be an uneven contagion no doubt, much like it has been to date. Still, there’ll be some in disbelief, denial. Still there’ll be people who think it’s a conspiracy, some absurd plot. For what end? What global purpose? Remarkably we still live in an age of the superstitious. Still!

And so we soldier on, trying as we might, to protect ourselves as best we can from “the others” be it person or germ. What lesson is it that we must individually and as a collective learn? What spiritual, ethical and social nugget have we yet to break open and discern? Can it result in a “dear God please let us be better than our former selves, please let us think of our brothers, please let us have compassion and caring,” at least those of us who are capable of it. To expand that intent and cover, not just this nation in an atmosphere of love, but indeed the entire world, is our mandate besides the practical behaviors we all must exercise. 

If only…

 It is hard to make sense of things in the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially when there’s no sense to be had. I’m not talking about all the instructions coming out from the CDC, Trump’s undermining of certain medical measures, and minimizing others, pitting constituencies against one another. Get a test, don’t get a test, etc. Open the markets, don’t open the markets ad infinitum.

Even in the best of times, let alone the worst of times, a new disease let loose on the population can certainly create their own contradictions when so much is unknown about the spread of it, how to contain it best. It is particularly challenging, however, when we have a president who has decimated certain aspects of critical governmental infrastructure ever since obtaining office.

THE DEEPER FISHERS

I don’t wanna talk about those. There will be time to do a postmortem after so much of the risk has passed. In the meantime, we are all challenged in the face of social distance, isolation, to reevaluate not just the bigger picture along with the key players. Just as importantly I suggest we look at our individual selves AND the aggregate of the same. It is an opportunity to go in. Not just to relieve anxiety, although that is true enough. But to really take stock of who we are, what we want, how we ferociously judge, what we value, and to look at what and how we want to be going forward.

Is there not a great possibility to consider the other person, to practice compassion and forgiveness even with those we can’t stand, not to let them off the hook for we can illuminate accountability later on. That has to happen. But just as importantly if not more so, we need to get micro as well as macro, to look at our own role and dare I say, responsibility to our neighbors as to ourselves. I know not everyone has the capacity to take this kind of self inventory, but those of us who can would be better served to examine ourselves and the society at large by taking a steely-eyed look at what we value and why. Who do those values hurt sometimes and who do they help, besides our own self-interest.

DELAYING GRATIFICATION 

We are a very spoiled nation in so many ways. What’s more, very few know it. How is it that too many grumble, unable to comprehend the concept “for the good of the whole.” When my son was in college and there just happened to be for the millionth time a flare up of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians he started a film treatment about God making both sides have a time out, effectively isolating them to opposite corners until they could think through the folly of their behavior, their untenable positionalities. 

I likened his idea in certain ways to Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life film where Brooks’ character has to defend himself in the afterlife for being driven by fear, afraid to really love, afraid to look at the other. In his case it was fear of loving a woman, fearing a risk of rejection, an ultimate loss of himself in some way. As a collective, our American fear is about losing things, money, our precious comforts, possessions, status, power, whatever externals that too often drive us apart instead of together. 

LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

And now, through the pandemic we all are on the brink of possible redemption juxtaposed with destruction. Do we have the courage to take stock of our values and the fear that drives too many of us apart heretofore isolating from one another in other ways, suckling our precious opinions, greed, judgments, attachments to things or belief systems as our identity. The metaphor writ large NOW is being forced to isolate physically so as not to contaminate one another. Can we not see that we have been isolating ourselves by class, fear of otherness, fear of not keeping up, fear of losing power or influence—the list is endless but still all driven by fear. What a golden opportunity we have now to examine ourselves and what we truly value and exercise compassion and sacrifice. There are great examples in truckers, nurses, doctors, cleaners but they are not the end of it. We are called to make our own.

And so we continually stand on the precipice waiting for a collective aha moment. Otherwise, we will continue to repeat the same lesson through catastrophes such as this or others we can’t even imagine be they physical, financial, societal, political, whatever, until such time as we come to understand how we have created such incredible comfort and privilege – – even those of us in the middle class – – that this is just that: a privilege. But it is more than that. It is a responsibility. And to deny the least among us out of fear we might lose something at the expense of truly loving our brothers, our fellow countrymen, why, we’ll just keep having to repeat “4th grade” lessons of caring compassion, EQUITY, etc until we ultimately learn and live it. 

ON THE EDGE

Bizarrely, we have the choice right in front of us reflected in two “characters” that represent these options: the grotesque distortion of greed, deceit, and self-absorption in our current President on the one hand, and a compassionate scientist in Dr Fauci, looking out for the good of the whole on the other. One defends his “30 pieces of silver” like Judas while the other defends his love of life itself for the true good of all and asks us to do the same via social distancing. What will we do with this golden opportunity of a “time out”. Can we stand the individual discomfort for the good of the whole? We will all have to decide, for this problem runs far deeper than the current pandemic and will only resurface again and again until we truly move past the isolation of too many hearts and minds that exist in this country today.

I don’t know how I feel about the recent article below and its position. It strikes me as a chicken and egg debate and therefore a bit fatuous, intellectually self-serving. So many things have broken down in our culture, and institutions seem symptomatic of that. As highly educated elites, and let’s face it that is what we are—well educated, ponderous, separated in so many ways from those who aren’t—I think we also have to look at ourselves and our own self absorption, our own precious positions that we cling to. We are those institutions—we are them and they are us.

America has gotten so big, so unwieldy, so degraded on so many levels and not just institutions, I don’t know how we change our perspectives. Sometimes rot and decay take on lives of their own. Can this very large ship be turned around, chart a new course? Is anyone reading this article willing to change and volunteer or go work for any of these structures?? Not a criticism; just a question we owe ourselves to consider.

I have no answers, no recommendations other than taking a steely eye turned inward to examine our own participation or lack thereof. What does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? What is the difference between equality and equity? They are not the same. Equity is providing resources, financial as well as modeling behaviors/examples to those who are deprived, and provide them with what they need to sustain and flourish their lives. Equality assumes that everybody has to have the same $10 no matter what. It’s absurd.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Joan Dideon is her talent to hold a mirror to my generation, our generation. I miss her voice. We have been as selfish and self-absorbed as what came before ours. We also inherited highly virtuous qualities and values as well: hard-working, commitment to community to some degree, a reasonable sense of right and wrong. How we apply these positives has to be recontextualized, however, which is the rub. 

Obviously not everyone has the same talents, expertise, aptitude or abilities. Yet can’t we all see we needn’t not “self-segregate” from those we perceive as having less, or who are not like us? If we have no courage to be the change, that is what our institutions will mirror back. Helen Keller’s quote springs to mind at this time in our national crisis:

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” 

If we are not dead there is likely something all of us can do as individuals to “be the change.” It is our charge to figure out what that is, large or small. After all, if we have lost faith in our institutions like the title of the Op-Ed below suggests, that also implies we have lost faith in ourselves. Yet only we can regain that faith. It is high time we held ourselves accountable as well.

To access article below, press graphic to select link using touch screen or right click with mouse.

Where is the soul of America? Where is our “It” factor, the moral compass we once strived to steer by? Is It in the smeared face of the immigrant, the stoic Native American, the descendant of a pilgrim?

Is It in the Liberty Bell? Is It in the crack of it? In the Statue of Liberty perhaps? Is It in Custer’s Last Stand? Is It in the forging forth of the wagon train? The Iron Horse? The Alamo?

Is It in the Cotton Gin? The model T Ford, the Tesla? Is It in the super computer? The iPad, the launch pad of Canaveral or Houston?

Is It in the slave, the slaveholder, Jefferson’s Monticello, the Declaration of Independence? The Bill of Rights? Is It in the parchment, the whisper of It?

Is It in the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center? Is It in the shadows its decimation has left?

Is It in the thud of fruit, heavy with ripeness as it hits the ground in Southwestern Michigan? Is It in the Grand Canyon, its river sluicing through the depths?

Is It in the silence of snow, heavy on the baugh of a lone bristlecone pine in the Sierras? Is It in the thrashing fish resisting the fate of the hook-filled mouth? Is It in its fight, or it’s surrender?

Is It in the plow that turns over a rich loam soil in the fields of Iowa? Is It in the ditch digger, the school teacher, the factory worker, the astronaut leaving earth’s gravitational pull?

Is It in the athlete with the freedom to take a knee? Is It in the creativity and ingenuity that flourishes in this land, prompted by inspiration, vision, utter desire?

Is It in each American’s heart? The marrow, gristle and bone, the structural integrity supporting that most vital of organs? Is It in freedom’s age old yearning but one that has waned to a shadowy sliver of what it once was, the integrity of it, the hunger and thirst for it?

Does it shame us to see that hunger for freedom’s expression reborn in brown skin, speaking in tongues that frighten. Has that sense of integrity, the fierce determination to crawl, sail across danger-filled seas, to fight for the inalienable right of it, simply been lost in translation in our bloated sense of self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement, and spoilage?

Have we traded the promise of Plymouth Rock for the wolf pack of the Tribal Win?

Are we so frightened, filled with our own sense of entitlement we’ve lost our own sense of soul, of compassion for others “not like us”? Have we forfeited charity, decency, equitableness? Can we regain any of these values before the rancid, fetid hatred and selfishness that has infected our way of life dominates our national landscape?

Do we have the courage, fortitude and maturity to save our own American soul? To be honest, to forfeit “winning” and ambition at any price and reclaim integrity, decency, prudence, honor? Have we sacrificed the good of the whole for the privilege of the few?

Can we recapture our American soul? Do we have the strength to be humble, to look ourselves in the depths and acknowledge that we are losing any moral compass we once had?

Can we?

 

Suicide! With Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s recent suicides, a national conversation has occurred. It happened after Robin Williams’ death as well only to fade away like so many other shocking events in contemporary life these days. People are genuinely sympathetic and empathetic for a time only to fall back into daily living. It’s natural enough, of course. Read more

So mad, so frustrated, so judgmental! At whom? The left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives. How dare either side judge ‘me’ when I’m so very busy judging each of you!! Ferociously, excoriatingly, ravaging my superior moral position condemning you to your stupid, stupid emotionally-driven positions and beliefs, projecting my own fears onto you. Read more

There is no accounting for Mark Twain’s enormous talent–other than he was a true and “stable genius.”  Read more

Driving over to Napa the other day, I witnessed the most amazing beauty. Breathtaking and compelling, low hanging clouds draped themselves over the mountain ridges. Near tears, it was obvious to me, obvious, the fog-laden peaks were caressed equally whether they had been untouched by the recent fires retaining stalwart golden-leaved trees or revealed burn scars, treeless, grassless and naked. It was as if these supple minute water droplet-filled boggy floating bulbs served equally as interfaces between earth and heaven. Mother nature – God, if you will – cared not what had come before it seemed, instead insisting on providing the same advantage for each peak rising up from the earth and I knew, not just that all would be well, but all IS well.

Lotus Fower

Lotus Flower

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I have always loved Joan Didion’s writing. While some of it seems dark such as her commentary on change over some of the most tumultuous eras in America, she has an unusual quality of perspective and observation, acting as witness to events of the day. Oddly, this has seemed even to be the case in her more recent memoirs, “The Year of Magical Thinking” and “Blue Nights”. Yet there is also a quality about her in “The Center Will Not Hold”, the documentary about her life as viewed through the lens of her director nephew, Griffin Dunne, that is emotional, intimate, accessible. You see it in the face, in the tears that do not fall, the questions Griffin asks and refuses to ask out of the most delicate yet sturdy love and respect for his aunt, and for Didion’s own ongoingness. Read more