"When a man's an empty kettle,
He should be on his mettle--
And yet I'm torn apart.
Just because I'm presumin'
That I could be a human
If I only had a heart..."
Yip Harburg, from The Wizard of Oz
It is the unique attribute of human beings that we are born with human hearts. I don't mean the the fist sized blood pump in our chest cavity, which is not essentially different than that of many other mammals; I am speaking of the figurative center of conscience, wisdom, and love... the thing that makes us human. Just as heart disease is common in the physical realm, these spiritual hearts are often found to be corrupted, often beyond resuscitation. The absence of a functioning human heart where one expects to find one, often leads people to seek elsewhere for the succor they had hoped to find in their fellow human beings. Unsurprisingly, they may gravitate toward the simpler hearts of pets, where expectations are lower and disillusionments rare. They join churches and clubs, or throw themselves into careers or hobbies trying to replace that which can only be found in one place. They imagine where man has failed, governmental structures, agencies and bureaucracies can succeed.
"Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's a no go? Why things are what they are?"
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Remember the days when Barack Obama was referred to as "the adult in the room"? As with the young it's a coveted position for a politician to hold, a perception they very much wish to convey. Unfortunately, saying it doesn't make it so, and desiring to be viewed as an adult doesn't always make you behave like one. Cover-ups, arrogance, belligerence, outright dishonesty, shirking responsibility while finding time for pleasure... these are not signs of adulthood, but of adolescence (though so-called adults often have a hard time moving past their adolescence!). It is unclear whether our adolescent President is the product of the nation, in Benjamin Button fashion, regressing from adulthood, or if the nation's further regression is part of Obama's fundamental transformation of America.
Legend speaks of a time of great darkness. Many hundreds of years ago, nation fought against nation. Corrupt leaders killed at will; great and evil deeds were committed, domination and even cannibalism; much blood was spilt. Then there was a child born to a young virgin who grew to be a man whom the people called "The Peacemaker". No, this was not ancient Israel, but right here in upstate New York. The man was named Dekanawida of the Huron Indians in Canada. The legend says he came as a prophet to the warring tribes of our upstate area probably around the mid 1100's, or possibly as late as the 1400's. He found Hiawatha, a leader of the Mohawk tribe, or possibly of the Onondaga, wandering in the land of the Mohawks. This is not Longfellow's warrior "Hiawatha" who was probably quite another Indian altogether with quite a different, less poetic name: Nanabozho. Hiawatha was a sullen wanderer, maybe a cannibal, whose own evil chief had killed his wife and daughters. Dekanawida convinces Hiawatha of his plan for peace, and Hiawatha, who had a gift for oratory, becomes a great asset to Dekanawida who himself had language difficulties with the New York Indians, and a speech impediment. Hiawatha is even able to help The Peacemaker to exorcize and convert his evil chief to the way of peace.
"Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei." (My friend, the enemy of my enemy)
Politics is a blood sport. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not an arena where we all sit down with each other, agree on everything, and believe in one accord... that's church. ...Well, no I guess it's not church either. Increasingly it would seem, people believe they are participating in the political process by demanding almost universal agreement, pure devotion to whatever issues they deem important, or they take their ball (or in this case their vote) and go home.
We are not a perfect nation. We are not a perfect people, we do not expect to have perfect leaders. The story of America is more about redemption than it is about perfection. We try our best, and we sometimes make mistakes... but when we do,we fix them. Freedom includes the freedom to fail, but then the freedom to try again. We are a nation that believes in second chances, forgiveness, and mercy. We eschew the holier than thou attitude, we strive to coexist, we reserve our harshest judgement for the judgmental. In our tolerance, however, we risk tolerating those who would poison us, infect us, destroy us.
It was before daybreak on an April morning in 1775. Paul Revere and William Dawes had made their famous rides through Massachusetts to warn the minutemen that the British were coming to confiscate rebel munitions stored at Concord. The Redcoats would need to pass through Lexington to reach Concord, and it was there that Captain John Parker assembled his small militia, mostly comprised of relatives, friends, and neighbors. The assembly was meant more as a demonstration of political and military determination than to confront or even impede the British forces. The small 80 man militia gathered in the commons in a parade formation, not blocking the road to Concord and in plain sight. Instead of just continuing on to Concord the Redcoats turned to confront the patriots and disarm them. One of the officers began waving his sword about and arrogantly shouting, "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!" Greatly outnumbered, and not intending to begin a battle foolishly, Captain Parker instructed his men to go home. His voice, raspy and muffled by tuberculosis, went unheard by several of the men amidst the yelling of the Brits, and the ones who did hear were not quick to disperse; none lay down their arms. A shot was fired, no one knows from which side or by who, but it was "the shot heard round the world". The Brits opened fire on the Colonists killing eight, and wounding ten, and the Revolutionary War had begun.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that we live in sensitive times. Actually, I suppose, it is not the times that are sensitive, but the people that live in these times. It is difficult for a writer or a speaker to use colorful analogies without being accused of being insensitive to the object from which the analogy is drawn. If a starlet likens the involuntary invasion of privacy exercised by the paparazzi to the act of rape, she is accused of being insensitive to rape victims. If an actor uses an analogy comparing his work to war, he is accused of being insensitive to soldiers. While these may have been engaging in over the top hyperbole, it is doubtful they can be justly accused of the idiocy of actually equating their burdens with the hell of war or rape. If one "targets" an opponent in a political race, she is said to be promoting gun violence against that opponent. If I say someone is on the "warpath", I suppose I am being insensitive to those whose ancestors were actually on the warpath, or those whose ancestors were victims of the same. I guess that's just the cross we must bear... by which I am no doubt blaspheming the Christ.
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air bridge harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
"The New Colossus" Emma Lazarus
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Abraham Lincoln, 2nd inaugural address
Making war hardly seems to be something that needs to be learned among the sons of men, except to do it well I suppose. As surely as Winter follows Fall, peace ever fades to war; there is always an outbreak somewhere in the globe, and more often than not, several somewheres. Kingdom against kingdom, nation against nation; and within nations, party against party; and within parties, group against group. Across the country, we have warring between races, warring between classes, warring between political persuasions... we have none of Mr. Lincoln's "peace among ourselves", how can we expect to have it "with all nations"?
"Yet Freedom! Yet thy banner, torn, but flying, streams like a thunderstorm against the wind."
Radio commentator Paul Harvey would use the tag line, "It is not one world" when reporting on a news story from elsewhere in the world that particularly offended the sensibilities of what we call civilization. I could almost hear his voice as reports issued forth from Nigeria of the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, for the great crime of being female and receiving an education. And then to see the leader of the notorious Boko Haram gloating over the abduction as though he had done some grand service to his god, "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah... girls, you should go and get married... There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."; and how much does he sell them for? Twelve dollars each, and it would seem there is no shortage of customers. It is dismaying that after all these thousands of years there are such dark corners of the world. "It is not one world." Or is it?