Date Added: 2007-05-21
Date Modified: 2008-06-23
070509: That Far, Far Better Thing
Edward Pickersgill, Passing Times
document 4 of 8
the journey is always
more interesting to me
than the arrival
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
9 May 2007
That Far, Far Better Thing
The old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" does appear to have been visited on us. It is uncanny how many of us seem to be sitting spellbound at the horror and the uncertainty -- almost afraid to open our mouths in case we do not make sense -- apparently awaiting an historic hero to step out of the woods to lead us to a profound victory of peace, justice and the enlightened way.
Charles Dickens wrote an eloquent version of that Chinese curse in the opening paragraph of his Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
It seems to me we are in one of those cusp moments.
Out in the shadows I'm sure there are some who believe a Fidel or a Mao or a George Washington will appear from the mountains or the far plains leading the way to an internal national regime change of a deeply systemic nature and the Good Ship America will be bathed in a soft glow as if caught in a Frank Capra closing scene. Out past the shadows in other countries there is not so much of the passive-aggressive audience approach to change.
In France there was an 86% turn out of the electorate and a right wing Hungarian is now President of that Republic. Sometimes the bizarre cross breeds with the surreal and we can see from whence an Edvard Munch might envision a Scream. If the 50% turn out in America's elections produces a President Bush what would an 86% turn out produce. Those electoral activists who work like Trojans to engage more people in the process may in fact be horrified that indeed it could be worse.
Surely the litmus test for each of is not what might happen when others speak or write or act. Surely the litmus test is whether we speak or write at all in the midst of these interesting times. How do we answer our children and their children when they ask what we said in the midst of those interesting times. What do we do when they ask to see copies of our statements or the positions we took in the midst of the madness.
Will we answer, "well youngster I joined a group and sort of stayed quiet in case someone noticed me and I lost my job and was unable to feed you." Or will we be able to say that we fell into the habit of being grateful somebody was willing to be Cindy Sheehan. Or will we lie as tens of millions have and boast that we were among the hundreds of thousands who were at Woodstock in 1969....
Reports are now on the record that the Nixon regime ordered National Guardsmen to fire live bullets into crowds of demonstrators at Kent State in 1970. Is the Bush regime capable of less deadly force than the Nixon regime? Is that what we're afraid of?
If we are afraid to speak up, to take positions, to argue our political case on behalf of future generations then there will never be any need for another Kent State. At least there will not be such a need inside America. "It was the best of time, it was the worst of times...." those words are impossible to read without getting a sense of one's personal adrenalin pump starting to hum. And what do we remember of the time when Dickens was writing those serialized novels?
I remember hearing that massive crowds of readers flocked to the New York harbour when the ship would arrive carrying the latest issue of the newspaper in which the next chapter could be found. What do we have today to rival that kind of cultural excitement. In our passive-aggressive culture we're more likely to be pinned to CNN breaking news as reporters speculate on whether the shadow in the doorway is Charles Dickens emerging with an envelope which will be taken on horseback to the publisher. And there would be widespread speculation on what he was wearing and whether he would just this once glance over at the cameras.
America, for better or for worse, is a nation that was formed by the energy of citizen activists. That season of activism may have been brief but it did occur. The spirit of that revolution may have been buried and ossified in the machinations of constitutional obfuscators but it did burn bright and hot long enough to cause a change. But what of now? What of our time?
When Charles Dickens (or Chuck as he'd be called by America's current President) drew his tale of two cities to a close he gave us another set of memorable words.... "It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known." In the balance of competitive powers today -- between brutal regime, on one hand, and the people on the other -- the brutes count on people being unwilling to stake it all on waging active opposition.
What I suggest is that in this moment we will each be placing our words and our actions into a virtual time capsule which our grandchildren and their children will open in the hope we, their ancestors, were women and men of courage and determination -- who chose to do our own far, far better thing.