Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer Doldrums

It is easy to loose one's faith these days, even for me, a Unitarian Universalist.

Let’s start with Ferguson, Missouri. I remember when I was in college I was walking home from a party to my apartment. I was certainly drunk. I had the remnants of a joint in my front shirt pocket. Along the way I found I hubcap lying alongside the road so I picked it up. “This will look cool in our apartment!” my 19-year-old male brain concluded. A block or two later one of Blacksburg’s finest (To Ticket and to Tow) pulled up beside me and got out.

Where was I going?
Can I see your ID?
Where’d I get the hubcap?
Wait here for a moment.

Ok, you can go, but if we get a report of a stolen hubcap, we’ll be coming to you.

Sure thing. Thanks officer.

I think I was a pretty good kid, but I made some stupid choices, or some mindless ones at least. I’m guessing a few of us have some of those in our past.

Yet I was never shot by the police for it. That’s for sure.

So now we have Ferguson and all it now stands for and means for us.

But there is more: Israel and Palestine. Again. There is a humongous volcano in Iceland clearing its throat  and then there is what ever is left of Iraq and Syria.

Out west we have droughts AND floods.

To top it all off, a FaceBook friend posts a link to a minor key version of Cindi Lauper’s 1980’s fun-pop song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”  And I love this version. I really do! But I couldn’t help but wonder why such a fluffy happy dance song from our past, re-interpreted and channeled through the ennui of ColdPlay and the fatalism of the Millennials, would seem so, so, perfect for 2014?

Arbitrary cute cat picture
Man, this decade is getting depressing. Thank the Buddha it’s August and our Congress is in recess so we don’t have to endure that, that, whatever that, thing we still call Congress is. I say that because I saw a recent report that came across my social media desk: America is no longer a Democracy or a Republic. Guess what? We are an Oligarchy! (Original study here)

When I saw that article my first thought was: Well, that’s hardly a surprise.

Then my second thought was: I wonder if anyone has “liked” the cat video I just posted?

Some days it just feels like we need a global anti-depressant. Maybe one of our friendlier Oligarchs, Elon Musk, say, could partner with Richard Branson and they could spray Zoloft into the atmosphere. Not only would we feel a little better, but also the lower-libido side affect could help with global population growth! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the looming crises from the convergence of population growth, environmental degradation, death of honey bees, threatened water supply, increasing fuel costs, and global food production yields.

Thank the Buddha (again) for a near limitless global supply of cute and funny cat videos and ice-water bucket fail compilations. Otherwise I’d loose my mind worrying about a Nutella-less dystopic future with no Guacamole at Chipotle!

I am reading a book right now called Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. It’s not what I would call a “feel good” summer read. It’s not. In addition to the description of a lessor known near apocalyptic disaster with a Titan II missile in Arkansas in 1980, Schlosser provides a history lesson of our nuclear weapons program starting with the Manhattan Project during World War II. As I read the account I was struck with this thought: If our society was faced with the same existential threat as we were in the 1940s could we pull off the same scientific and engineering feat? In about three years we collected the best and brightest and sequestered them in the desert to create new technology with a power of unimaginable consequences. The outcome was, of course, the beginning of the nuclear age and the Cold War. I’m not say that was necessarily a good thing. What I am wondering is: What would it take for this country to really pull together and create something? Something really big? Can we even do it anymore?

Congress has its head up its ass. Our President has been rendered ineffective thanks to a relentless opposition set to undermine him at every turn. Industry is more interested in generating profit, hording cash, and avoiding taxes. Regardless of who you side with, grass roots movements, like Occupy or the Tea Party, can only really claim gains on the fringes as the Oligarchs lie in wait to squash them. Big Religion? I do like the new Pope’s style, but I can’t help but think the tide has ebbed for how much influence he has as a agent for change.

So what to do?

I could just give up. Give in to the outgoing current and just be swept away. Enjoy my glass of wine and late-night TV the next day at a reasonable hour on my DVR. That would be okay. And as I get older I can see the wisdom of disengagement. Why create additional frustration and suffering for myself trying to do something meaningful but have to also push against it all? There is enough suffering just from showing up on this planet. Why create more?

But that is a denial. It’s a denial of the inherent human spirit and what we are all, I believe, generally wanting:
To find something we can find meaning in and commit our life’s work to,
To help our fellow man and woman when they are in a jam, like this guy did, and
To love and be loved.

It’s pretty simple, really. And I need to still believe in that.

It's simple, but also not easy. I wonder what would have happen if we chose a default view of compassion and trust with each encounter rather than one of fear and cynicism? Maybe if we did that a police officer seeing a kid walking in the middle of the street could pull over and say, “Hey, there! It’s dangerous walking in the middle of the street, can you move to the sidewalk so you don’t get hit by a car?”

I know, pretty naïve of me. But I have to hang on to it just a while longer.

Only one more month ‘til Autumn and I can officially bid the summer doldrums farewell.

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