Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hope in hard times

Headlines speak of people being laid off, not being able to pay basics, losing homes, losing hope. President Obama has set out to try to remedy the financial crisis with legislation to target money to a host of areas that need help, while raising taxes on those who have more of the means to pay. I wish his plan success, not just because I agree with him but because we as a society need it to succeed.

We hear so much sadness in the air, and that's why I hope that what Obama proposes and is trying to get passed will help us heal. However, now comes the wait. And the hope? I hope so.

While elected officials are debating and passing legislation, the rest of us need in whatever way possible--however small--to envision hope, imagine abundance, create a place where we can dare to dream; where people can meet quietly as friends and share ideas, drawings, poems, small talk, coffee, and laughs. We need to not let large corporate entities buy out all our time and leave us money-rich and time-poor. We need room to behold.

Riding on the trolley from Media last Friday, I began to dare not so much simply to hope--a word maybe overused and a yet less and less believed in-- to feel that we need to assert the presence, the stubbornness of survival.

We've had periods of devastation in history, events I would never have wanted to live through--the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the tribal warfare in Kenya--yet people have lived through these things, scarred and heartbroken, sometimes wondering how they lived and their neighbor or friend or spouse or child didn't. Somehow these reigns of terror ended. Of course, sad to say, new reigns of terror arose elsewhere in the world. We get up, fall again, get up as a civilization, sometimes finding our way, sometimes groping blindly, but going on. And in that going on, we even sometimes find small ways, sometimes very small, to keep us going from minute to minute--a smile shared between strangers, the sight of a butterfly, the flower growing through a crack in the pavement. These seem so small, so insignificant in the face of tragedy and suffering. And they need sunlight and care to multiply.

I'm not sure I can join the "suffering is redemptive" bandwagon. Suffering is suffering. As Yeats wrote, "Too long a sacrifce/ Can make a stone of the heart" ("Easter 1916). What is redemptive is the drive to alleviate it--the doctors who travel to Darfour, the rescue of the prisoners at Auschwitz, the remembrance of that time so that it never happens again, the free and low-cost health clinics for uninsured patients, the winter coat drives, and such. But these things don't make suffering a good thing. These things don't mean that somehow we should idolize suffering for the good it brings out in people.

But we should continue to create space in which people can hope, can dare to enjoy life, can be inspired by the flower growing out of a crack to plant a garden. We can't do this with isolated moments. We need to bring these moments together, and while some would say we shouldn't depend on government to take the place of human good will, I think we need a government that recognizes that our fate as a people depends on the fate of the most vulnerable among us.

We ARE the government. Those we send to our city council chambers, state and national capitols have been charged by us to use their power, the power we gave them, to make policy that supports the efforts on an individual level to alleviate suffering. We are, however, sending human beings, not demigods to our capitols. They will, many of them, whether or not we agree with them, do the best they can according to their consciences and beliefs. They deserve our support--not our blind agreement, and in fact at times our disagreement--but support in the sense that they know they aren't working alone while citizens pursue their own interests indifferent to the decisions being made by those they elect. We need to let them know where we stand and what matters to us, but also recognize that we and they have to work together with a host of different opinions and priorities. Those who voted for Obama wanting him to "work magic" need to be patient. Those who voted for McCain and believe the world will come to an end now that Obama was elected need to understand that many have asked for a new approach which is now being tried, and they too should be patient.

Government has always been about service: whether it's local (fire fighters, police, streets departments) or national (military, national parks, disaster relief, and such national service programs such as Peace Corps), it's about trying to create a society in which (one hopes) everyone can live together, move freely about the country and the world, provide for retirement or unemployment, and protect the money they save. But all these things aren't even at the center. What's at the center is our individual and collective souls and their need to experience beauty first-hand. I'm not organized enough to be elected to high office, too shy to make speeches in public, but I hope this blog and articles I write will help to create space for dreams and hopes. Here's a poem about hope, a modest effort and a first draft, but something....

On the Media trolley, late February,

It’s best

when passing

houses on hills, steep

roofs pointing skyward, a lone

hiker crossing otherwise deserted

park, brown trees, branches still

bare, a thaw revealing all, unsoftened

by snow,

to know

the tufts of green

grow into leaves

and crocuses, that covered

pools hold secretly the seeds

of summer laughter.

Swimmers and toys

lying idle wait

for an open door.