Sometime during the night of July 18-19, in what we now know as the Year of Our Lord 64, probably in one of the shops that lined the road between the Caelian and Palentine Hills, a fire broke out. The Circus Maximus, the Great Roman sports stadium, dominated the neighborhood of little wooden shops and large wooden apartment … Continue reading How Populism Ends: The Fire of Rome, Nero and Conspiracy Theories
There are things about growing old that are nice. First, and most important, one is not dead, at least not yet, though as my nephew pointed out to me today, it appears increasingly likely that we may all be dead sooner than we expected, given certain current international tensions. Second, one can hear such things … Continue reading Talking to Myself and Feeling Old
Political rhetoric doesn’t kill, however shrill or hateful it becomes. Only a person who takes up arms against another kills that person. He alone bears the responsibility for that murder. That is not to say that it is acceptable to advocate violence against others, or to declare that one’s political opponents are enemies of the State. Constitutionally protected freedom of speech comes with the personal responsibility to use it wisely, even as it does in the constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
In a fit of royal rage, Henry uttered the words that would change the history of both Church and Crown in England. We are not sure exactly what they were, but the traditional version is: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
Today, on the National Day of Prayer, the President of the United States invoked the National Deity before issuing his latest Executive Order: “Freedom is not a gift of government, it is a gift of God.” Which God he had in mind was not totally clear, but presumably it is the generic Civic God trotted out at the end of every Presidential address: the God who blesses America. Then he signed an Executive Order which used a lot of words but really didn’t say much of anything at all.
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.