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?
You learn a lot about yourself and others when you are in a physically compromised situation like I have been for the last six months. Between a couple surgeries and multiple fractures in my back, I’ve been laid low. Having a history of being fiercely independent previously, I have had the opportunity to learn the fine art of being dependent on others, at times feeling like a burden, a very uncomfortable position to say the least!
The Spiritual Squeeze
I have been forced to learn about patience, humility, and grace, none of which comes naturally to me. Quite the contrary. Being a single person for most of my adult life, I have taken undo pride and no small amount of egotism, feeling quite self-satisfied with my own fortitude and sufficiency.
Asking others for help now, sometimes from the smallest gestures to larger ones that might inconvenience them, has been challenging and sometimes downright painful for me in my current situation. It has come easier though is still uncomfortable and sometimes laced with fear and guilt.
I have found some people are generous and offer willingly while others get downright nervous or withdraw, pulling back with the subtlest of mortification, their pupils contracting inward scanning their own lives and responsibilities. Then there are those who offer but don’t really mean it, mostly unavailable when you get right down to the specific request later on.
It is very easy to be judgemental about this latter group, having operated from this very behavior myself in the past. I want to judge them when they turn me down, usually feeling a bit sorry for myself in the process. It is a lonely road. But the catch is, while I want to condemn them for being selfish, absorbed, uncaring or unsympathetic, the finger has quickly curved in on myself with the whiff of past recognition.
One of the greatest gifts of my life, and I say this with all humility, is the occasional ability to move quickly from judgmentalism to forgiveness to acceptance. This was aided not long ago by flashbacks of moments when I’ve declined to help others during my far more vigorous, busy and able-bodied history. I remember drawing away, pulling back, thinking I’ve got too much on my plate, sometimes offering help but knowing I don’t really mean it myself.
Recently I asked a woman in my apartment building if she could put a pain patch on my back and be available if I needed help for a few days, trying to explain that my regular backup people were away. Recognizing her reluctance from the get go, I tried to make clear it was short term. Her response was vigorous and persistent, telling me she was very busy, she wasn’t the best person to ask, she’d do what she could but couldn’t make a commitment.
Invariably she kept steering me away from her, stating she worked 55 hours a week, could I get a nurse, call the ER, whatever. I like to think my decline of help to others was gentler, more subtle, but guessing I’ve been as transparent at times as she was with me, I doubt it. Becoming more angry than fearful I wouldn’t have help, I pressed her and she ultimately relented.
Remarkably, while I was very upset initially, I moved quickly to taking stock of my own past behaviors in this regard, knowing, knowing not only did I have to forgive her but also forgive myself. This struck swiftly and thoroughly and I felt relief, free of having to project my judgement onto her. This forgiveness and relief lasted about 12 hours!
It is a hard thing at times having to take a steely-eyed look at ourselves, yet without examining our own behavior, what good are any lessons that are presented to us. After all, isn’t that what we’re here for? To learn, to grow, to evolve, to transcend? If I cannot forgive her how can I forgive me, and vice versa? We are all on a path at times intersecting with others, teachers of a sort, and presented with these golden opportunities. While this might seem like such a simple example, for me it is no less important than the earth shattering larger spiritual or ethical challenges in life.
At the end of the day, we are all at our own place of consciousness and development. When I forget that, that someone else no matter how obnoxious or irritating they might seem to me, or self absorbed and self centered, I am the one who suffers on the inside both emotionally and spiritually. I suffer in the judgment of that other person, But mostly I suffer in the condemnation and judgment of myself. To love oneself is just as important as to love another, to have compassion for the impairment that may be developmental, less visible than broken bones or surgeries in another, that is no less real but far less obvious.
The seemingly complicated state of fleeting forgiveness towards my reluctant neighbor squeezes me spiritually to step back, to really assess why I’m hurt, frustrated or scared and to at least try to identify with her. And even if I can’t stay in that space, I know I’m able to return to it at some point. Oh, the lessons of an illness, what consciousness-raising grist it provides for growth, acknowledging she too has her own struggle of guarded isolation and remoteness, filled with fear and self protection that felt as threatening to her as mine was for me in that moment.
And So It Goes
At the end of the day it does no good to compare me to her, her to me or even her to the two steadfast friends who have provided support and compassion but just happened to be gone at that time of seeking another’s help only to be thwarted by my neighbors reticence, no good at all. Identification is one thing, comparison quite another for comparison is filled with judgment. Whether I get irritated or not is irrelevant at the end of the day if she’s doing the best she can as I was in earlier situations—and even now—but lose the thread of ongoing understanding and forgiveness as a constant I can return to. Because I will invariably have to repeat the lesson, God willing, and by my own intention, be squeezed into that place of love and forgiveness of self and another we all seek until it all sticks.
It is so very hard for me to write about what is happening with the death of our democracy, to make sense of it in both specific and general terms. It was suggested that I give voice to my anger, that it would be therapeutic and healthy to do so, empowering even. The problem for me is that it’s not just anger I feel. Instead, I have become acutely aware of traversing the five stages of grief, traveling back and forth between each emotional state: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and back again. Read more →
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 →
The emotional types respond with facility to world glamour and to their own individual inherited and self-induced glamour. The bulk of the people are purely emotional with occasional flashes of real mental understanding – very occasional, my brother, and usually entirely absent. Glamour has been likened to a mist or fog in which the aspirant wanders and which distorts all that he sees and contacts, preventing him from ever seeing life truly or clearly or the conditions surrounding him as they essentially are. (Glamour: A World Problem by Alice A. Bailey and Djwal Khul)
Dateline: Orlando, FL. June 12, 2016. Yes, I’m horrified. Yes, depressed, filled with compassion and sorrow for all those affected, both “on the ground in real time in Orlando” and all of us as a nation. Read more →