Every day my phone and e-mail is filled with alerts about the next shenanigans by our elected representatives — and let’s face it, 99% of them Republicans—doing everything in their power to bring down democracy. You know the drill— the voter suppression, laws criminalizing teaching the truth to the children, the fueling of conspiracy theories to dupe the vulnerable, the tax evasion, the gerrymandering, the long shameful list of what we have become, how we have somehow used the precision gift of democracy like an unlicensed gun that keeps shooting us in our foot. Never has it been so important to be vigilant and informed.
And yet. It is so damn exhausting and so damn depressing and why do I have to spend my days with these people that make me ashamed of my own species? It’s like I know I need to shop at the store for food, but the only store available is run by people bruising the fruit, tampering with the package contents, jacking up the prices and yelling at the customers. When you spend time day in and day out with people like that, it starts to wear you down, somehow normalizes insane and malicious behavior, gets you feeling the purposefully manufactured despair about the human condition while those promoting it are drinking gleefully on their 500 million dollar yachts.
Would what happen if the media packaged these malicious antics in a certain corner of the news, to be ritually opened by those determined to stop it, but with a 5-minute time limit? The rest of the news would be showing children being taught well and asking great questions and writing brilliant little poems and making great art and music, would be daily chats with poets, a daily history lesson by those who actually know. The news would show town meetings with respectful discussions and spirited family discussions around the dinner table and kids skipping stones. You know, simple little reminders about how to be a decent, kind and happy human being on this planet so that anytime we tune in, we can expect a bit of uplift every bit as real and every bit as needed as the report on the latest little (or big) piece of evil.
Of course, the best news of all is that the people wouldn’t want to watch more than a half-hour because they’d prefer to be actually living a good life. So why not shut down the 24-7 addiction and mandate a 30-minute limit, with an optional other half-hour for examples of how humanitarian living works? Enough.
Today is Memorial Day and in a time when I not only feel the daily shame of sharing the same citizenship as the people paraded in front of me every day, but wishing I could drop out of the human race, it’s crucially important to remember the long, long, list of good people, ranging from your grandma and nice neighbor and caring teacher to those who have used their exceptional talent to uplift, refresh and inspire. I had the good fortune to go to a wedding yesterday filled with such people, amongst them Zakir Hussein, one of the most extraordinary and accomplished musicians on the entire planet. As I was preparing to go, he was standing by the coat rack waiting for someone and I spontaneously said, “Thank you for all the beauty you’ve given to the world.” And how did he respond? He bowed to me acknowledging my thanks. That combination of virtuosity and humility is rare and precious. Then I told him I liked his shoes, he smiled and I left. That little exchange would be worthy of my new TV news, combined with an example of him playing tabla that would make all of us proud of Homo Sapiens.
I feel grief for all the young soldiers who dutifully obeyed the old men waging war for profit and plunder and sent them out to die, so yes, they will be on the list. But I would like to honor on Memorial Day all those who resisted the culture’s obsession with death, destruction, greed, profit, who used (and use) their precious life to master their craft, offer it up with humility, speak out for life and love and beauty. And as this is an American Holiday and America feels at an all-time high of relentless shamelessness, I want to remind myself and others of Americans who help make me feel proud of this land I was born into and live in. There are thousands that I know personally and thousands more that I know through their music, books, public life, etc. So in free-association style, with accent on those still living or recently passed, knowing full well that I could name a thousand more, I would like to honor Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Angela Davis, Anne Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Lisa See, Amy Tan, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Robert Bly, Michael Meade, David Whyte, Michelle Obama, Stacey Abrams, Sherry Mitchell, Steph Curry, Colin Kapernick, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jon Baptiste, Bobby McFerrin, Zakir Hussein, Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, the Marsalis family, Stefon Harris, Regina Carter, Jackie Rago, Wendell Berry, Billy Collins, James Hillman, my teacher Avon Gillespie (who left us 33 years ago yesterday) and hundreds and hundreds more American citizens, known and unknown, who have lived with an open heart, a cultivated intelligence, an inspired imagination, a disciplined practice, an exalted spirit, in service to the whole of humanity.
Who is on your list? Let us remember and honor them all.