I've waited for this year for forty years…and it's only just begun…a few weeks ago. A member of the "might have been generation," I'd feared it might never come. The youthful hopes of '68 dashed in the hail of bullets and burning cities, I learned to make the best of the numbing mediocrity and worse my country had become. I feared I might never again experience the open-ended optimism of that long-ago time. I even feared to hope and, in these most recent years, came close to despair.
Then, of a November morning, the sun came out; the long bad dream was over. I reached for that copy Langston Hughes' Let America Be America Again on my bedroom bookshelf. Somewhat giddy, I began to read to a dog and a cat:
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
And, for the first time in forty years, I could hope again that it might yet be. Oh, I realize that there's a lot to be done, a lot to be repaired, but we were free again to try and dream we might succeed.
And, soon enough, it was Inauguration Day, a bright clear morning in Washington…and here in California. A time to dream.
I waited till they had left the steps of the Capitol to put out the flag, now flapping crisply in the morning chill…a morning marked for me by silence…a silence that was palpable, as I walked Cocoa, my dog…silent waves of recognition from passing strangers, and just the sounds of distant barking dogs. And, with that sound of silence, peace rushed in, crowding out the anger and discordant noise.
How good, how fortunate the computer's crash last night. Enforced silence – now embraced – a chance to listen to the wind chimes, to watch the fish, to read, to reflect, to refresh - that monk-like silence that is the predicate of action – Friday? Next week? In all due time. For this is a special time, this time that is an unexpected gift.
Already the urge to poetry, to poetry not of anger, but of hope, has returned. While walking Cocoa, one word from Barack's speech crowded my thoughts – "endurance." He spoke of all we had endured and, I added, struggled for. I thought of those who had struggled and endured; of how few they were at the start, at the darkest time; but, oh, how right and righteous they were…the remnant. They were the recurring remnant that is always there to call us back, push us forward.
God bless the remnant
That held firm to truth
And kept the faith,
Its voice once faint
Became a roar –
Hope, believe, yes!
Now, in the winter chill,
A solitary sign –
"We have overcome!"
And, in a poet's words,
The primacy of love,
The light again of promise.
There were other things to reflect upon – the music of simple things…and of a rising, and of "who we are, what we'll do, and what we won't."
And then there were all those thoughts of children and the child-like that came together last night and this morning in God's serendipity. There was that moving inter-faith service at Grace Cathedral last night – one long prayer for Martin and Barack. But, before and after all the pomp and prayers, I paused before the open Book in the side chapel. It was open to Mark 10:13:
And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch
them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it
he was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to
me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of
God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the
kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. And he took
them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.
This morning Barack, too, spoke of children, but in a different way. He called upon us to grow up, "to put away the things of childhood." And, yes, we must. But for me the juxtaposition of Mark and Paul conjured up paradox. But so much of the Book is paradox. Man is paradox…and so is God.
But this was not a time to struggle with paradox, but rather to confront the simplicity of the children themselves. Joseph Lowery's cheerful, playful words echo in my mind, especially his loving nod to "angelic" Sasha and Malia. So too those of Jesus: "Let the children come to me…." And, in those words of Jesus, last night and now, I couldn't help but think again – and weep inside – for all those children in Gaza who have now gone to God…and those I left behind in West Bank towns and camps, their hope still so bright in my memory. Soon after our return from Palestine, a friend spoke of avocations and vocations – mine being to keep alive the collective memory and current reality of Palestinians, a people facing oblivion under the heavy weight of injustice, ignored by an uncaring world.
And, once again, I was angry. But having dipped into Obery Hendricks' Politics of Jesus, I found it okay, appropriate, because I was angry not for any injustice visited upon me, but for the "mistreatment of God's children. I took solace in Hendricks' words:
Jesus…shows us that there are things we should be angry about,
There are things we must say and do as a testimony against
every action, system, policy, and institution that excludes any
of God's children from the fullest fruits of life for any reason.
That is to say, we must endeavor to love everyone, but we must
also take sides. We cannot be against injustice if we do not take
the side of justice. We must be angered by the mistreatment of
any of God's children.
Content that I could now act upon that anger with calm resolve, I turned to my Sunday Times, as always, my week's reading. Even there I found today the stuff of inspiration and reflection. There amidst the 'hard' news of the "Week in review," was Benedict Carey's thoughtful essay on that "Miracle on the Hudson" and "The Afterlife of Near Death." How, he wondered, do people face death…and live with that confrontation?
In "Arts and Leisure," there was a piece on the movies that "made a President," the movies of a lifetime, Barack Obama's 47 years. It was a good enough list, but, my life having been a bit longer, I wondered why they left out "Nothing But a Man.'
In "Sports," there was George Vecsey's reminder to a younger generation of springtimes sixty years ago, of Jackie, Newk, and Roy, and of "a journey from Ebbets Field to the steps of the Capitol.
And, in "Style," there was a jarring full-page Ralph Lauren ad…a light-skinned black kid, lolling on a classic wooden Chris Craft, wearing a straw skimmer, lots of bling, and a Trump-like arrogance. Different color, same message, appropriating someone, something new to all the old wrong ways of Me-Generation materialism.
But even that couldn't mar the joy, the incredible lightness of being of a sunny day of new beginnings…and happy endings. How else to describe that buzzing "It's done" alarm of the Bush countdown clock, that helicopter lifting off disappearing from view? The nightmare is over. It's morning in America.