It’s the Good Friday feeling. When your marriage comes undone. When your beloved partner lies rotting with cancer. When your company implodes. When your brave son or daughter is blown apart in a senseless war or splattered on a windshield by a drunken driver. It’s what the abandoning and abandoned disciples felt that day, back there in Jerusalem, looking up at a broken, tortured and dead body, hanging on a tree trunk, the dirt below reddened with blood.
In order to get the people to offer up their young to the Gods of War, democratically-elected leaders find it necessary to make promises about war: it will end the rule of despots, protect innocent lives, enforce treaties, free captives, end looming threats from weapons of mass destruction, insure national sovereignty. Mostly, those things are not true.
Our dystopias are pretty tame compared to the dystopias of the imagination. But we still need them, these visions of the Inferno, these liaisons dangereuses of the heart. Because they drive us towards the light, towards the good, towards the possible, towards the future.
The poets, along with the prophets, urge us to breathe, really breathe. For it is only in breathing and being aware of our breaths, that we become truly mindful of our bodies and the bodies of all those around us. We know we are alive through that mutual breath. We know the others are too. Being alive together, breathing the same air unites us, as nothing else does. And if we all share the same breath, do we not all share the same life?
Things are not getting worse, Armageddon is not just around the corner and the world is not about to get really, really, horrible. We need new lenses to see the facts of life: things are not perfect, not by a long shot, but they are better than they have ever been. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Tell them to get new lenses.
The images of the American Gods project the opposite of what the prophets (Jesus included) urged: doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly. But they are our Gods, and we will go down to the dust singing their praise.
There are now two prevailing sets of ideas pushing against each other in the Nation of the Idea, two narratives competing for the American soul. Unless we come to understand why each side feels aggrieved by the other, unless we are willing to approach the enemies in our own household with honesty, humility and compassion, the American idea will not endure.