I don’t think I could name a single person that doesn’t feel we’re living in terrible times. As Michael Meade says, “nature is rattling and culture is unraveling” and the most honest and frequent reaction to the daily news is “WTF?!!!!!!” The constant shadow of climate change, of too many people and too little resources, of everything we thought we knew and could count on— like a President who at least pretends to tell the truth and public that at least pretends to care if he lies—is up for grabs. The solid ground beneath our feet is like a daily earthquake—unreliable, scary and damaging.
A mere century ago, World War I just ended, Mussolini began his Fascist Party and Hitler gave his first speech to the German Worker’s party. Women in the U.S. couldn’t vote, Prohibition was signed into law, 38 black men were lynched, as was the white leader of the International Workers of the World organization. My father at one-years-old would grow up in a world that might call him a dirty Jew. That year, Cole Porter married Linda Lee Thomas to hide his homosexuality. And so on.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the Australian mini-series “A Place to Call Home” which takes place in the 1950’s. By that time, homosexuality was still considered a disease and a perversion to be “cured” by electro-shock therapy, it was scandalous for a Protestant to marry a Jew or even a Catholic and growing up in New Jersey, just about all my friends and relatives used the “n” word without apology as well as all the familiar epithets for Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish, gays, etc.
Looking back it all from the people I spend time with now and knowing what I know, I can’t help but think, “What the heck is wrong with you people?!!!!” And yes, I know that there are far too many of them amongst us still and they all have the power to vote, but in the public conscious, the ideas and attitudes about all the ways you can limit people and put them down and publicly insult them and unabashedly hate them have changed dramatically and I wouldn’t trade one second of it for “the good old days.” Caning and corporeal punishment of children is mostly a thing of the past, the last person lynched was in 1981 (!!!!) and nobody is training for trench warfare.
Believe me, none of this is an excuse to relax. I think the horror of our time is we know so much about what care of the environment, raising of healthy and happy children, tolerance, acceptance, compassion and celebration of “the other,”, the gifts of diversity look like and could be and are in small pockets (like the school where I work), and yet, we’re still stuck in the old ways that cause so much suffering, still having to deal with ignorance and the purposeful marketing of ignorance so the rich and powerful can have their way. That’s our version of trench-warfare.
But let’s not lose sight of the extraordinary progress humanity is making in enlarging their hearts, minds and attitudes. Not fast enough, not wide enough, not deep enough, but it’s happening and it makes it a good time to be living. Not to mention an extra 25 years in life-expectancy since 1919 and affordable dark chocolate bars at Trader Joes.