The news pundits are at it again, with their “terrible tragedy” and “crazed lone gunman” distractions covering the recent South Carolina massacre and terrorist attack. Only Jon Stewart got it right, gave up his role of making fun of the news to speak from the heart in a five-minute talk that hit it dead center. The way we scrupulously avoid peering into the deep, gaping, still-bleeding wound of our nation’s racist legacy, or take a peek and quickly file it away into the Columbine/Newton drawer and go back to having a nice day. We let the Confederate flags fly undisturbed where we would instantly tear down any banners from ISIS or Al Qaeda, let the police throw a black man down to the ground and kill him for selling cigarettes while they politely walk the white guy away from his killing spree. And thus, no healing is possible.
What the hell is going on here? Why are we taking twenty steps backward after decades of inching progress toward racial and other equalities? Why is the arc of the moral universe being pulled back away from justice? And why are letting the vandals pulling it get away with it?
In the great myth of Parzival and the Holy Grail, a wounded king lies bleeding day and night on his litter, powerless to die and powerless to be healed. Because he is crippled, the whole land is a wasteland, a place where in T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same title, the earth is a “a stony rubbish… a heap of broken images, where the sun beats and the dead trees give no shelter, the cricket no relief and the dry stone no sound of water.” The king (called The Fisher King) is waiting for a knight courageous enough to ask him the necessary question to begin healing and restore the power of the Holy Grail.
The young knight Parzival finds the hidden castle against all odds, witnesses a strange series of magical events and wonders what’s wrong with the king. But because he was trained as a knight to be polite and not ask too many questions (like what we ask of our school children), he misses the opportunity and leaves the castle. Nothing changes in the land and he goes through a long series of adventures before, against all odds, he finds the castle yet again. Now all these years later he has matured and has the good sense to ask the king, “What ails you?” Now the healing can take place, the wound begin to close, the land restored to its life-giving properties and the whole world is refreshed.
Okay, Fox News and Washington. Take any black person (or woman or gay or Latino or Native American— we have a long list of marginalized folks) and bring them into the halls of power or put them on TV or bring them into the schools in front of the children or into the churches or the town meetings and ask them, “What ails you?”
And then listen as if our lives depended upon it.
Because they do.