I was in and around Greenwich Village at the start of the Hippy era. Since I will turn 66 in May I am definitely of an age to be a hippy. I was certainly of an age to take to streets and elsewhere on behalf of civil rights and against Vietnam, although I did later enlist in the Marines because I believed I had an obligation to serve.
I have in the past few days had a lot of time to read and reflect as I recuperate from hernia surgery. I will not return to school before Tuesday, and possibly not until Wednesday, as I need to wean myself off the Percoset before I drive. Thus the words I offer may be affected by the painkillers allowing me to sit up and type. Be forewarned.
The hippies I knew were not dirty, although most of them certainly did a lot of f*&%ing! I saw as much dirtiness, and far more inebriation and f*&$ing in the Marine Corps.
So on an evening when I have just finished reading Andrew Sullivan write about how he learned to love the Goddamned Hippies I think I am entitled to a little bloviation of my own.
So don't keep reading unless you want my unfiltered thoughts on a couple of topics perhaps of current interest.
For all the anger I may feel at what I see happening, at heart I remain an optimist, believing against a lot of evidence that it is still possible to make a difference. I could not teach one more day were I to believe otherwise. At times it is a struggle. At times a part of me wants to withdraw, but I refuse to be defeated.
Perhaps it is because my perception is that when given a chance the American people respond to the message of the kind of changes we need - they want more economic fairness, they support the actions of those who occupied first the state capitol in Wisconsin and now public space after public space around the country.
Today I read some words from a man I greatly respect. The words were these:
The lesson of any authoritarian society is simple. Without a vital public to hold power accountable and protect individuals against its incursions, there can be neither a democratic polity nor a secure private life. Public life gives isolated individuals forums in which to join and amplify their voices, making it more likely that they will be heard by those in power. It also provides a communal shidld to protect individuals against political manipulation and retribution, thus helping preserve the sanctity of private life.
The words are from a book titled Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, written by Parker Palmer. I am now halfway through it, may well finish it tomorrow, and wonder how I can in only a few thousand words convey its insight, importance, even power. That is a problem for another time.
For now, reading it has helped remind me that we need a balance between the public and the private, that they are intimately connected if they are both to be real.
We cannot allow the deterioration, the deliberate destruction, of the public sphere by those who do not value democracy, who choose to use fear to mislead and suppress democratic impulses.
Not all of us will take to the streets. Enough have done so already to remind us that we have a responsibility to one another as well as to ourselves. We have seen in the people's microphone how a single voice can be amplified through the voices - and actions - of others.
We need no longer be worried that our voices and concerns will not be heard.
We can remember that we can find wisdom and insight from the ordinary folks of whom we, the great unwashed masses who do not aspire to be master of the universe, are so much a part.
We can, with Palmer, look back to the words of Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural in 1861, when it seemed the nation would be irrevocably torn apart over slavery:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when againt touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
A single man speaking out in Tunis, and the Arab Spring began.
Our democracy is not yet lost.
Our hopes are not yet smashed.
We can rediscover our common purpose, at least those of us willing to try.
Perhaps it will be the quiet dignity of a person who picks up the trash he sees in a public space - it may not be his job, but he sees it as his responsibility to himself and to all of us - it is our public space.
Or maybe it will the words of someone we knew slightly now articulating on behalf of many the concerns breaking the hearts of so many.
Our hearts may need to be broken so that they can be expanded, so that they can include others of whom they may not previously have been aware, or whom they previously chose to ignore, walk past, or at best "thank God that's not me or mine."
We may find ourselves saying words we did not know we had, doing actions that are totally outside our experience. Or we may say and do the ordinary things of our everyday lives but now with full attention.
The power that can confront us may seem overwhelming, but the solid rock of the American Southwest over time was deeply carved by little more than the constant flow of tiny droplets of water. We are tiny droplets. Together we can form a stream that can carve through mountains, flow over barriers and dams.
This may be my last year as a classroom teacher. But I will remain a teacher. As a teacher I believe positive change is still within our grasp, if we do not despair.
Perhaps it is the Percoden, those pills that dull the remaining abdominal pain from my surgery two and half days ago. Pain at time serves useful purposes. Yet if we are consumed by it we cannot remove its cause, prevent its spread to others. Sometimes we need painkillers in order to think and act more clearly.
Were I to drive a motor vehicle while on this medication I would be breaking the law.
Blogging while under the influence? I know of no such statute, whether the influence be that of alcohol, prescription or non-prescription narcotics, or the words and insights of a thoughtful man.
Healing - heart - courage - democracy - human spirit
all together these represent the word that inspired so many just a few years ago - HOPE.
I have not abandoned that word, nor do I feel abandoned by it.
and yes, I HOPE.
Just some random thoughts on this Sunday evening.
Peace? Maybe not yet, but still possible, still achievable.