An American Dialogue

Carl Sandburg, on my left, nudged me with his 1948 words:

Each time is a time of its own and the time before and the time after can never know any other than its own.

Each time has its own hopes, visions and illusions, its own plans, follies and vanities, and the time before and the time after can never know them as its own.

Twitter beckoned. @activist360 tweeted:

#Charlottesville: Ex-KKK leader David Duke
confirms ‘Unite the Right’ march ‘fulfills the
promises of Donald Trump’

Pandora tempted, I invited Buffalo Springfield to sing louder:

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

A spider caught my eye. I called him ‘Iktomi’ and captured him, nodding to the Oglala Lakota in my stacks that taught me his name.

Twitter mentioned #StandWithKap but I thought of him kneeling, #7 in 49er red & gold, reminding me of black gloved fists raised high. Tommie & John, Wiki said, Olympians in ’68 standing on the winner’s platform.

I turned from the monitor’s glare back to Sandburg, flipped a page to a WWII hero celebrating the end of war, “You shall have music, the nations over the globe shall have music, music instead of murder. It is possible. That is my hope and prayer – for you and for the nations.”

Steven Stills cut in, “I think about a hundred years ago, how my fathers bled . . . . . .” then stopped short.

“Fuck you, Pandora,” I complained, “I paid the non-stop fee.”

Stills came back, this time with Crosby, Nash and Young, “Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.”

My mind went to the song on the flipside of ‘The Cost of Freedom.’ But Pandora stepped ahead of my sad recollection of four fellow students dead in Ohio, reminding me instead how young I was then: “I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck, with a pink carnation and a pickup truck.”

For days I’ve pondered the great American question: ‘What’s become of us?’ A week ago Thomas Paine reminded me what his 1776 generation believed, ‘The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind.’

Sandburg wanted ‘Common Sense’ to be part of Remembrance Rock where his ashes were interred in 1967 while the ‘Summer of Love’ reigned in San Francisco. Fifty summers later the President of the United States pardoned a racist sheriff and gave a thumbs up to ‘Make America Hate Again.’

A Quora follower just asked me, “Does supporting Trump make me a racist/white supremacist?” I hit the ‘Pass’ button.

Pandora quoted Rod Stewart’s query, “How long has this been going on?’ This is the question that digs at my sixty-five-year-old conscience. After we stood arm-in-arm against the war, my generation turned our attention to disco and cocaine, then went about pursuing our slice of the American dream. Hiding out in San Francisco I ignored rumors of redneck militias, Reagan’s trickle-down economics and skinheads with swastika tattoos.

Can truth be captured in 140 characters or less? Our president, unabashed by the Twitter limit, dictates sweeping policy change tweet-by-tweet. @BakedAlaska seemed to think that 103 characters would do, tweeting, “Thank you President Trump for condemning the alt-left antifa thugs who attacked us in Charlottesville.”

A time-traveling oracle, Pandora resurrected 1976, the Doobie Brothers:

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me.
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see.
Takin’ it to the streets.

How did we get here?

A small yellow sticky note fluttered down to my keyboard. My sloped and sloppy scrawl reminded me to text my niece: ‘Lana Del Rey at Bill Graham Auditorium 9/5.’ Wondering if Del Rey’s love songs captured the essence of her first romance, I heard Tina Turner wail within my broken-hearted college memories, “What’s love got to do with it?”

Has not love always been at the heart of the American ‘pursuit of happiness’?

Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen and Emily Brontë stare down from their high shelves reminding me of love’s turmoil, of the fleeting nature of happiness. Perhaps the despair Brontë expresses in Wuthering Heights — “I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.” – is the same folly as my believing that we’ve somehow lost the ideals of our young nation.

Maybe it’s not ‘how did we get here?’ Perhaps we’ve always been unfaithful to the ideals we claim to cherish.

Sandburg, still looming on my left, pointed to the two old Rogers taking up their share of his 1,065 page tome recalling America’s history. The Puritans loved Roger Williams’ eloquence, until he confronted them, ‘Boast not proud English of thy birth and blood – Thy brother Indian is by birth as good.’

Williams learned the language of the Pequot Tribe, spent weeks brokering a peace with the white settlers, preventing a war. The people who had arrived on the Mayflower committed to ideals of tolerance kicked him out, then slaughtered the Pequots, celebrating their triumph with thanksgiving.

@LakotaMan1 just tweeted: “We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population.” His tweet featured a photo of MLK soundly condemning our history of genocide.

Creedence warned of “a bad moon on the rise.” I thought of David Muir upstairs with my wife. He should appropriate the CCR lyrics for his ABC Evening News coverage of ‘Harvey’:

I hear hurricanes a-blowing
I know the end is coming soon
I fear rivers over flowing
I hear the voice of rage and ruin

Don’t go ’round tonight
It’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise

But even the weather reports are not just about the weather. Huffington just popped the headline, “Houston Flooding Always Hits Poor, Non-White Neighborhoods Hardest.”

@realDonaldTrump in back-to-back tweets: “my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!” followed by homage to his rich friends, “tax cuts and tax reform – so badly needed!”

Old Sandburg quietly reminded me that I mentioned a second Roger. Indeed, Carl’s version of American history insisted that our ancestors kept trying to find the truth through religion. Three times, at the beginning, middle and end of his book, he enumerated 13th Century philosopher monk Roger Bacon’s Four Stumbling Blocks to Truth:

#1.  The influence of fragile or unworthy authority.
#2.  Custom.
#3.  The imperfection of undisciplined senses.
#4.  Concealment of ignorance by ostentation of seeming wisdom.

In 1948 when Sandburg published his history, religion was still at the center of American life, a dozen different churches in every small town, hundreds in cities, anyone in public life identified by which one they attend. Wiki was quick to depict the new truth:

Religion

Where do 21st Century Americans seek the truth? Sooner than I can phrase my question, Pandora replaces it with Don McLean’s question, ‘Can music save your mortal soul?’

Behind me, mostly forgotten, my Maryknoll Seminary yearbooks remind me that I once found an answer there, though not the one you would expect. We talked to Jesus but it was Simon & Garfunkel who spoke to our souls, “Hear my words that I might teach you, Take my arms that I might reach you.”

Perhaps I should change my Quora profile – ‘Seminary to Anti-War Protests, I prefer Peace over religion.’ – maybe, ‘Confused by priests, I now depend on poets and musicians to speak the truth.’

My Pandora doesn’t play Ted Nugent or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Truth or lies, music says what you want to hear. Pondering the point I remembered my captured Iktomi. I set him free outside my window. Before he left he reminded me of his legend: a trickster, capable of both good and bad.

Always pursuing, never arriving, idealists trying to be heard over a cacophony of shysters and their sycophants, it struck me that Americans have always asked ‘How did we get here?’ We have asked for centuries and will need to ask for centuries more.

For eight years #POTUS Andrew Jackson plundered the land and its natives. During those same years Ralph Waldo Emerson sought peace and wisdom in nature, writing: “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship” For every George Wallace there was a Martin Luther King, Jr. For every Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon there was — I looked up to see Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thomson playfully flipped me off from the shelves to my left.

Sandburg, still closest to me, shook his shaggy grey head, reiterating his wisdom with an easy smile, “Each time is a time of its own and the time before and the time after can never know any other than its own.”

Bowing to the great American poet, my digital friends went silent, except Pandora turning to the Moody Blues for its final overture:

Love of love, love of life and giving without measure
Gives in return a wondrous yearn of a promise almost seen.
Live hand-in-hand and together we’ll stand on the threshold of a dream.

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