Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Not to Yield

The rains have come to San Francisco and the snows to the Sierras and this is a great comfort, Nature fulfilling her seasonal duties. I’m eager for more Spring, enticed by the daffodils and the crab apple blossoms and the cherries on the cusp of bloom. But the evening rain brings that indoor winter feel that sends thoughts inward, invites a sit on the couch with a good book or old movie. I think of the old Chinese poem: “If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.”

Not only the annual seasons, but the larger cycle of the season’s of life. One of my first students from a school I taught at turned 60 yesterday. That caught my attention. I welcomed him to my decade and sincerely told me it’s a good time, in spite of all the tugs of gravity and other advancing physical deteriorations.

But our culture is not helpful in initiating elders into their new lot in life. We are not wanted for the sexy ads and the sexy ads are what drives the imagery of the culture. Not life’s tracks on wrinkled faces or Buddha’s serene gaze or the eyes that have known so much joy and suffering and learned to accept it all. The elders in Washington at the moment are old only by years, but so many stuck in the toddler mind, the teenage mind, the grabbing-for-power young adult mind. They have refused all of life’s lessons and don’t even know what they don’t know.

And yet. So many grey heads at the meetings for canvassing neighborhoods, writing postcards, attending rallies. We are the children of the 60’s risen again, but older, wiser, less brash and sure but not less passionate about the issues that got us out to the streets 50 years ago.

Today, the 8th grade organized another school walkout of their class to continue to process their grief about Parkland. But they needed two teachers to accompany them to the end of the street. So a Humanities teacher and I went and stood outside their circle and listened to them. So much to admire and applaud, but I couldn’t help but think they cannot do this alone and I’m not sure they realize that. They need to team with their grandparents and marry their fresh idealistic energy with some of the been-around-the-block wisdom of the elders. Both sides need to reach out to each other and march together.

You see how quickly everything turns to politics and given the extreme state of our culture, it’s no surprise. But when I began writing, I was thinking of Tennyson’s poem Ulysses and his reminder to my peers and above to keep the flame lit. Not just the political flame, but the artistic one, the spiritual one, the community-minded one. To beware of complacency, of the end of dreams, of the endless golf game in the retirement community. “That which we are, we are, made weak by time, but strong in will.” Here’s the end of his poem:

…you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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