One hundred years ago we were grinding our way between two world wars. The first one, coupled with a global pandemic, created the greatest loss of human life in history to that point. The second one would shatter that record. Two parts of the second one – the concentration camps of Germany and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – were the jolts our species needed to conclude that our technology was running well ahead of our morality.
A few days ago we passed the 76th anniversary of the Japanese surrender that ended the second world war. From the time that our species emerged, about 300,000 years ago, until August 15, 1945 – from the time we killed each other with rocks and spears until we did it with split atoms and Zyklon B – we clung to the belief that brutality could be harnessed for positive ends, even as we came to worship as prophets and gods those who told us that the path of violence was the wrong one.
The sight of a mob of gun-toting idealogues should sicken any of us, regardless of the ideology behind them. The time when the problems of humanity needed to solved with brutality are behind us. Anyone who advocates for it now is choosing that path.
It would be a fool’s dream, in 2021, to think that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending our country’s longest war, might be the beginning of the end of war. But there are a lot worse things than being a fool.
We’re willing to be the world’s clowns, if that’s what it takes to promote peace.
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
Trust is the thing we have lost, and it is killing us. We trust no authority, a healthy impulse that has overgrown its usefulness, like taking too much medicine. We do not trust journalists, police officers, teachers, politicians, scientists, or religious leaders, and for good reason. There are people in each of those professions who have abused the privilege of their position and pissed in the well that we all need to drink from. But most of the people doing those jobs are doing them with a clear conscience and the best of intentions. Most of them have devoted – some have even risked and lost – their lives in the hope of making our society better. It is in the interest of those who want to destroy our society to make the rest of us cynical. It is up to us to trust each other, and also to be worthy of that trust.
It’s been a long time since we were together
Visiting with Jeff
And other old friends in the cemetery
Who no longer need wings to fly
That old song came on the radio
As we rolled slowly through the bones
And over in the distance,
Through the haze of the incinerated west,
Stands the city itself,
Home to the palace of dreams,
Shedding another tear for
Her lost and loyal son
Love seems such a flimsy net to catch so much. So many beasts, capable of tearing a man to shreds, get tangled in its soft web.
Stories are the only creatures to escape from the net.
One tells itself:
To love just one,
and lose that love,
and find it fugitive, hiding from itself,
terrified of each trembling reflection caught between the light and dark.
I saw it with my only eyes
and felt it beating in the same old
heart that I found in a womb
and lost in places where only the
lonesome flowers grow.
The concept of a sacred place can be a tough one for an atheist to grasp but it makes sense to me when Joseph Campbell explains it like this:
I try to find a sacred place every day but only succeed two or three times a week. When I am there, I am glad that I am because of the special thing I find there. It is a thing that I have found in love, in drugs, and in the moment of creative inspiration. It is a feeling of being simultaneously calm and excited.
The calm is not simple relaxation, it is the sense that nothing – not even death – can harm me. And the excitement is concentrated and useful, not erratic and frantic like most forms of excitement. Even after the moment passes, the positive feeling lingers and can re-appear at the oddest times.
Like yesterday. I was walking to work when something unexpected happened: I realized was happy. I could feel myself smiling under my mask and realized it was for the simple reason that I was walking down a sunny Manhattan sidewalk on a beautiful morning in July. You never know when or where you will find your bliss. Or when it will find you.