It has been quite a week, mostly good, really intense. Framed by my measured and probably too whiny post on one end, and a realistic panel discussion about the needs of our children in this society on the other, with public radio, public appearances, public fulfillments splashed in between, I feel like I caught a train by my fingernails with half my body flying out the freight door, grasping desperately at the doorframe like I believed I could actually hold on. Most of all, this was the first week of three in which there is no hiding from dis ease fatigue. I have written before that fatigue has a quality that strips everything away so that what is left is pure awareness, even when the awareness is like a blur, a fog, a physical mesh that softens sight even while it sharpens being. It has been quite a week.
This past weekend, my College co-sponsored a conference for equity leaders. It was a first attempt, and if the attendance wasn’t huge, the quality of the presentations, discussions and attendees was wonderful. It was fascinating how political the conversation quickly became. As one of the panelists at the closing session observed, politics isn’t a bad word. Being political isn’t a bad thing, although current associations with manipulation, power struggle, deceit, and immorality have usurped the whole meaning of “politics.” The word “political” comes from the Greek word politikos, with its root meaning a relationship to citizenry. Citizenship, as it was defined on my third grade report card, meant how well you followed the accepted rules for treating each other. So the panel discussion yesterday brought home for me just how weirdly juxtaposed is my citizenship in physical dis ease with our current socially dis eased concepts of citizenship, in spite of our elementary schooling. Citizenship now seems to mean protecting one’s borders from outsiders and usurpers, composing variations on a theme of us versus them that in my new world of fatigued clarity, does not actually exist.
The focus of our conference was on children, assuming that the education of children is a great social barometer. Children have no say in the decisions that bring them into this world, but are produced by human choices ranging from the overly thought out “Do I want children;” to the decision to toss all care to the winds, perhaps even self-medicating the decision-making capacity out of one’s self; to ignorant sexual practice framed by superstitious beliefs about what keeps babies away. It is instructive about life, for no matter what process we overlay on the primal act that creates children, the resulting possibility is the same—a child, and children require care. So, the discussion about how we care for our children is certainly one that relates to the third grade report card meaning of citizenship, for it also gets into the factors of what we are willing to commit, how we share, whether we can be respectful, and frankly, just how nicely we play together in the great sandbox of life. Children really are bellwether indications of the moral priorities of a society.
If I were prone to despair, I would tell you that the perfect storm of social and traditional media, the legal decision that a corporation is actually a person, the ability for corporate bodies to toss all kinds of lies and drivel into the ethers without the accountability of immediate fact or even a person’s name, and the not so coincidentally enormous amounts of money poured into every state and local election about the very same issues, indicates that fear is an overarching priority of someone. Someone would have us be afraid of each other, convincing us that we will never have enough, that protecting and conserving human-made (actually, mostly man-made) institutions and beliefs when all logic shows the need for new understanding, is so overwhelmingly important, that we are physically incapable of violating this knowledge-base—even when it is clearly in our own best interests to do so. If I were prone to despair, I’d tell you that there is every reason for me, in my dis eased state, to pick up my toys and wait out the apocalypse.
But this week, I am not.
Thursday, I went out for lunch with a friend and he asked me how my God-life (not his words) was doing. Since he is that kind of friend, he allowed me the time to turn inward, to search out the corners of the dusty attic where such stuff lies until eventually, I found something I could share and here it is. What I have come to realize is that self and no self do not exist. There is vast space ahead, and vast space behind, and yet there is no space at all. The fears that we experience as humans are based in the fact that we perceive that there are others, but they are not us. And this frightens us. When we appreciate that the only self that exists is indeed a part of our vast humanity, and that in fear we distance the self we perceive to be so all encompassing from the selves that surround us in the no space of our own imperfect perceptions, then we are given a gift that illumines precious life and frames death as a failure to grasp just how much we live within each other.
How’s that for an answer about the God-life?
Yesterday, as I struggled in my über-fatigued state to maintain my focus on a panel discussion about the real issues of children and tax codes and legislative priorities and political agendas; awareness washed over me that each of these panelists—a lobbyist, a superintendent and a state representative—was not a separate entity from me or from the audience in the room. And although we each behaved as if space existed between us, I found myself overcome with love and grace and gratefulness for the men and women surrounding this conversation as we asked practical questions about wealth and commonwealth, children and responsibility, fear and acceptance. And for just a few seconds a gift of sight, of vision, of shimmering comprehension was granted to me as I carefully sought to maintain my balance with the clear insight that the struggles of others are my struggle, and any attempt to deny this is just a temporary purchase of noise to drown out the overwhelming silence of children’s voices, for they cannot speak for themselves.
A week ago, in another conversation, it was observed by a good friend that the “…stupid things that happen at work … must make you really mad.” Before the gifts of dis ease, I probably would have just agreed. But I realize now that anymore, I don’t feel mad. I feel sad, and I am sorry. I am sad that often, our time together is spent in such inauthentic space, where we must play the self-other game striving will against will, seeking the inevitable chess openings that will lead to temporary victory, even while sacrificing our humanity like a pawn that leads to the ultimate checkmate. It strikes me as the same kind of diminishing return that comes in utter aloneness. I am sorry that I have dehumanized others in my own participation, incorrectly perceiving this as my only choice. The fear of the supposed chasms of space between billions of humans can appear to be eased by such activity, but dis ease tells me that those spaces do not exist, and that fear is their only trace.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young might have had it right—
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to stay present in the space of no space, and feel the love and energy of so many who are not apart, but of whom I am a part. It just seems like the best politics to do so.