Waking from the dream........and holding the vision of change:
my relief at the election of Barak Obama 2008
[I am referring in this piece to my frustration with George W. Bush's presidency, not to the United States as a whole, or its wonderful people, so many of whom are striving to do great work in the world. And to my relief and joy when a new era was ushered in, one that inspired my hopefulness to reawaken. I cried with joy the night Obama was elected. This piece was written in the days just preceding voting day.]
It is November 1963. Our grade twelve class is facing a TV at the front of the room. There is not a sound, not a rustle, as we watch the horse and cart carrying John F. Kennedy's casket clip-clop past his wife and two small children. Jacquie is wearing a black veil, her beautiful face stricken yet composed, bearing her loss with dignity and a controlled grace. Caroline stands on her right, face heart-shaped and bereft. On Jacquie's left, John-John, three years old, in his little overcoat and short pants, raises his hand in a final salute to his father, a gesture that rips out the hearts of the nation.
In the 60's, we are the generation that thinks we will change the world. And we almost do, until, one by one, all of our leaders and visionaries are assassinated. Our generation rises up against the status quo and challenges it all: the capitalistic ethos, the war in Viet Nam, the "do as we say, not as we do" code we've been raised by. We have some visionaries capable of painting on a bigger canvas, dreaming a bigger dream than the world has dared to dream thus far.
Gandhi preceded us, standing against an entire nation to free the shackles of his people. One small man, armed with a walking stick and wearing a loin cloth, faced down the might of the British Empire, insisting that they let his people go. His assassination in 1948 is the first shot heard around the world, the first of all those that will follow, extinguishing our luminaries one by one, till it seems that a blanket of darkness and greed has covered the planet.
Before JFK's assassination, it is Camelot. Girls wear flouncy dresses; young men in sports coats slick back their hair and act debonair. There is a young charismatic leader in the White House, we still have some innocence, and everything is possible. Till the unthinkable happens, he is slain before our eyes on television screens across the land, and Camelot comes to a crashing end.
April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King has a dream. His words the night before he is assassinated reveal a prescience that he will be killed. "Like everyone, I would like to live a long life. But I'm not concerned with that. For I have been to the mountain top and I have seen the Promised Land." One more shot rings out in the early hours of the morning. One more leader with a golden tongue, far-reaching vision, and a thirst for justice slain.
The late 60's, the early 70's: in San Francisco in Haight-Ashbury, in Vancouver along Fourth Avenue, the young throw over the traces and are exploring everything: counter-culture, drugs, rock 'n roll, Eastern philosophy. Peaceful long-haired smiling beings in unbelievably interesting clothing stroll up and down the streets: "Peace 'n Love, baby, Peace 'n Love." There are anti-war protests during which the Law of the Land clubs, beats and even shoots young college students for saying the war in Viet Nam is wrong. (A fact borne out indisputably some years down the road. We apparently learn nothing from this.)
Then along comes Bobby. With him as President, the world WILL change. Until a morning in June, 1968. I am a young wife then, in Alert Bay. I am standing in my living room, stunned by the words coming from the radio. It cant be true, but it is. My husband has just come home from work. He looks at me. Disbelievingly, I tell him, "They've shot Bobby." By now, the dream is dying. We are hearing its death rattle. Everyone who dares to dream is shot, gotten out of the way, by those who cling to power and corruption and wealth literally to the death.
But John Lennon's voice can be heard above the despair, trying to light the way of the broken-hearted: "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
The music of John Lennon, Elton John, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Simon and Garfunkle, is the backdrop of our days in the 70's. We know the world is out of whack, but we have been soundly trounced, our voices silenced with clubs and guns. We are just living now. The world has taken a turning down a darker path, with LBJ and "Tricky Dick". Conspiracy theories abound, and personal survival replaces changing a world that refuses to change. We pour our angst into music and poetry and bad love affairs, sullen soldiers marching to a beat we have not chosen. Still trying to believe.
Then on December 8, 1980 a final shot rings out: a crazy man has shot John Lennon. Thousands pour into Central Park in disbelief, standing vigil, holding candles aloft, tears pouring down their faces, as they sway back and forth to "All We Need Is Love."
It is too much. Our heroes, our visionaries are all dead and we are left with Darwin's nightmare, a system gone awry. [Darwin's Nightmare is the title of a documentary about the fishing industry harvesting perch in the Nile. The predatory fish, which has wiped out the native species, is sold in European markets, while the local natives starve.]
"The dream is over, what can I say?" mourns John's voice from beyond the grave. Our dreams all got derailed somewhere along the way.
But the more gunfire tries to silence those voices, the more powerful they become. Years later, all of those fallen heroes still live, their voices ringing out from television and computer screens, and across the airwaves. There is a catch at my heart and tears close by, every time I hear the words and music of those long-gone dreaming days when we lost our round-eyed innocence. Just this way are their dreams still alive, in the hearts of aging baby boomers looking out at a world gone mad, where profit is everything, even at the potential cost of humanity's survival.
It is 2008: now we are looking back at horrible wars fought for highly selective political or financial purpose: Operation Desert Storm, Operation "Enduring Freedom". [This piece is about the political will to wage war, not about the brave men and women who are sent to do the fighting. May they all come home.] War is everywhere, on-going troubles in Ireland, Kosovo, Georgia/Russia, the Middle East, Africa. Tibet has been suffering, ignored, for decades. No enduring freedom for them. The USA administration, so quick to leap aggressively into areas where oil or political might is at stake, and even the United Nations, supposed upholder of international rights and freedoms, responds with indifference when genocide and starvation are wiping out the peoples of Rwanda or Darfur. Then the towers fall on 9/11, a wake-up call if ever there was one.
"Could it be," asks Arundhati Roy in The Algebra of Infinite Justice, "that the stygian anger that led to the [9/11] attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government's record of commitment and support to.....military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)? Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease......If it is to be contained, the first step is for America to at least acknowledge that it shares the planet with other nations, with other human beings....."
John Lennon's assassination marked the death of an era. The interval since has been one of corporate greed and pillage, and military intrusion. [Again, political decisions, with the young men and women of the nation sent to pay the price.] The world's image of the US has changed from the cool conquering heroes and flyboys who arrived during World War II as liberators, to a bully whose presumption is "might makes right."
In the 70's, we were like rebellious adolescents. We got slapped down, went underground for a time, and learned some things. We are much older now, and wiser. We can dream a farther-reaching dream and take the steps to get there. Dream, all crones and creaky-jointed crooners, of a global community working and aligning itself in harmony with Mother Nature, harnessing the power of wind and water, sharing the resources of the earth among ALL its peoples, and bringing us into a kinder, gentler dawn. It's time to dust off those broken dreams, put on our granny glasses, and conjure up the thousand years of peace that has been prophesied and whose time has come. These turbulent times are the birth pangs of a new age trying to be born. I remember the words of a song sung by three gentle B'hai musicians back in coffeehouse days:
"It is time to turn swords
to till the hearts of all men...."
There is a struggle between dark and light forces all over the earth right now. But I remain stubbornly hopeful. After a long time without heroes, a young man of the people has risen up once again with a vision of Change. And we are so ready for Change! In Barak Obama, I feel a hope I havent felt since Bobby Kennedy was shot. But I fear for him. In my experience, every time a man of the people has risen up, he has been felled and silenced. I dont even want to put that thought out into the universe, but I pray for his protection.
The last election was a stolen one; this time the groundroots swell of the common man backing Obama tells me we've had enough of political corruption and war-mongering. It is the dawn of a new epoch: we must turn towards the light; we cannot continue in the darkness. Each one of us can add our small flicker to the growing light of conscious choice we are being called upon to make. We are beaten down, but it is not yet too late to redeem the dulling of our bright beginnings, of what we owe to our fallen heroes, who were the voices of our youth.
We need more than a dream now. We need a shift in human consciousness across the planet so far-reaching that every peasant in a hillside cave in Afghanistan, every suffering monk in Tibet, and every starving orphaned child in Darfur can feel it. This planet is battered, distressed and storm-tossed. Mother Earth is expressing her displeasure, and we are reaping the whirlwind. But my heart refuses to give up hope that there will be a turning in the tide of human consciousness. It may take a series of disasters so stark that humans have no choice but to return to more modest and sustainable living. What will it take to make the warring factions all over the world put down their guns and feed their people? Einstein said he was certain of one thing: "If World War Three is fought with nuclear weapons, World War Four will be fought with rocks and clubs."
But "Love is the intuitive knowledge of our hearts," says Marianne Williamson in The Age of Miracles. And I believe. "As we look, not back nor forward, but deep within, we see a light that is greater than the darkness of the world, a hope that surpasses the understanding of the world, and a love that is greater than all the hatred in the world....we shall follow that light........toward humanity's rebirth."
As I sit on my porch swing, exhausted by the life I have lived and the losses I have weathered - that we all as a species have weathered collectively - I add my small push to shift, shift! the tide of universal consciousness out of the darkness, into the light of a brand new day. It is happening now, consciousness is rising across the planet so strongly we can feel it! Each of us can add our own little nudge, to tip it over the edge into a vast global awakening. We can dream a kinder, fairer world into existence, we can speak it, we can pray it, we can march for it, we can vote with our feet and our pocketbooks for it. With enough of us holding the vision, it isnt too late yet to change the world.