The kitchen wall. Fresh paint, old familiar art, the 70s-era "Orient Express" lamp. Nothing to do with the post. Just wanted to show everyone that we painted the kitchen wall and the water heater closet door. The door is blue. I like blue.
Thinking about politics ties me in knots, because as soon as I do I feel like I’m in a funhouse maze, trying to find my way through the dark alleys and dead ends, not mention trying to parse out what’s real in the illusions created by smoke and mirrors.
So I try to step back, to take an overhead view of the maze so to speak, which isn’t much help. It’s still a maze, still all about confusion, illusion, and dead ends, and the smoke makes me sneeze.
So I take another step back and ask, where is God (the label I use for the ultimate, rock bottom spark of the divine) in all this? How can I stand in the clear light of reality?
I have my human opinions and beliefs – oh boy, do I – but if I can momentarily step back from being embroiled in the human struggle, I know that my call, my obligation, is to love everyone – even me – who is bungling around in the maze. It’s not a gooey softheaded love, either. It’s a clear-eyed love that sees all things human, from atrocity to agape.
It hurts that so often human beings don’t seem to be able to have or even desire one lucid moment in which we all understand that we are in this together. We have our moments. The Danes smuggled the Jews out of Denmark before the Nazis arrived, for example. Yes, there are ordinary people who do extraordinary things, but so often members of the species homo sapiens seem bent on besting, hornswoggling, defeating, and screwing each other, literally and metaphorically.
Even in a defining moment such as the 9/11 attacks. We understood then that we were all in it together, and we had the sympathy and support of many around the world, but there were people who rejoiced in the tragedy and said we got what was coming to us.
Just to clarify: no country, no person, has a 9/11 attack “coming” to them.
How long did our national unity last? A week or two at most. Then we went back to biting each other’s backs, and the people who truly hated the United States could sit back and relax and watch us destroy one another.
When I talk to my sons and other people in their generation, I get a sense that many young adults are fed up with the horrible behavior of politicians and the condition of United States politics as it exists now, especially young adults who have traveled in other countries and have gained a longer perspective. They’re tired of people getting elected and using the opportunity not to work for the country and the people, but to collect the perks of power and sandbag their opposition, as if those things were the point. We have a whole young adult population saying, “Excuse me? Hello?” but the baby boomer politicians are too busy fighting each other to listen.
I wish you young people well. I wish we were leaving you a country that knew how to do more than chase its own tail to the detriment of its people, and the rest of the world. As you grow into the leadership roles, see if you can figure out how to overcome the implacable inertia of The Way Things Are Done.
Meanwhile, back at the maze: if you think God is on your side, you’re correct. God is also on the side of your competition, your enemies, and the billions of people of whom you never think, not to mention your friends and family members, including the ones who drive you nuts. God is looking at all of us with lucid, clear-eyed love as we struggle through our days and nights.
If you don’t believe in God, fine. Let me put it this way: reality does not give a rip about your precious opinions. If you think your mighty intellect can alter in any way the immutable reality of existence, I wish you good luck.
I’ll be going back down into the maze now, to continue struggling with my anger and my opinions, passions, and judgments, not to mention my confusions and illusions. I’ll continue to think that the people with whom I disagree politically must be mentally ill, deluded, or liars, and that I know what’s sane and right. I’m a human being who is being human.
But I did enjoy that one lucid moment.
Me, holding my hammer. MY hammer. Don't touch it, dammit.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas was writing of his dying father when he penned that poem in 1951, or so the story goes. You can find the complete text online or at the library or perhaps on your own bookshelf.
Brief digression: Thomas speaks of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men in the poem, and as I read it I substituted “women” for “men,” an old habit that I and many women have developed over the years in order to see how texts speak to our condition.
As I grow older, and old, that first stanza has become something of an anthem. There is an expression: “growing old gracefully.” At some point I decided to grow old disgracefully, to “rage against the dying of the light.”
When we are young we wish to live for a long time - forever, if possible. When we are young we cannot imagine what growing older really is. When I was young I had this idea that I would have an adventurous old age. That was before life happened, with the accidents and illnesses that pruned my body’s abilities and energies. Adventure can be hard on the human body.
When we hit our 60s, my husband started to say we were “nouveau elderly,” edging into the so-called golden years. We did not plan for those illnesses and accidents to happen to us. These things were not part of my youthful imagination of what old age would be, but I have heard it said that aging is caused by accidents. Not entirely true, but I see the point.
In the fantasy old age, we would continue to live the life of someone in their 20s or 30s, complete with an active sex life. The reality of growing older, and old, is quiet, watching the roses bloom and laughing at the antics of the crows and blue jays and squirrels that come for the orts I throw out in the yard. As for sex, well, here’s a rhyme I just made up:
That’s the chorus. You’ll have to supply your own verses. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss it here. Sorry if you were anticipating hot stuff, but I really do not wish to talk about it.
So here we are, going slower, but still going. Old age is a new country, and it brings limitations both physical and financial. There is sometimes a feeling of being trapped, and it is against that trapped feeling that I sometimes rage. The best answer I can give to the question of growing old is to live as fully as I can. I thank God for every day, and for the illumination and sustenance of a faith that has grown deep and wide over years of practice. That is how I rage against the dying of the light.
I see my children and their friends experience bitter disappointments and hard times of young adulthood as they navigate their 20s and 30s, and I feel for them, and I love them, and I pray for them. I have the perspective that their hard times are part of their ongoing education, a necessary mordant to bring out the bright colors of being alive. It’s hard to see that when you’re going through pain, but it’s easier to see in retrospect.
There is a blessing in growing older, knowing that some things cannot be fixed or helped, and that is life. I’ve been sighing to myself for years that sometimes life bites, and all you can do is be bitten.
We elders had to take our lumps, cry our tears, feel our rage, ride our highs and triumphs, and live on to see all of those things dwindle in the rear view mirror, and so shall you, my dears, so shall you. By the time you are my age you’ll understand deep in your heart that all things do pass, your troubles, your joys, your precious youth, your offspring’s childhood. If there is not so much ecstasy in the ocean of age, neither is there so much frantic despair, and there are deeps of contentment. Life is good, and it’s temporary. It’s not what we thought it would be, but we like being here. We’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
Now hand me my cane. I have to tell those damn kids to get off the lawn.