Friday, December 30, 2016

Outlasting The Emperor Day By Day

The New Year

A club in The City displayed a window poster for its annual holiday party which depicted a cowboy boot, kicking the numerals 2016, above the legend Give The Year The Boot.  Wherever I've been so far in this holiday season, everyone agrees that the year about to close sucks, even more so than any other year they can remember.  I asked why, and the answers were more or less in this priority:
  • Trump's election as President; his Twit behavior since the election, and the persons he's chosen as cabinet appointees;
  • The ForeverWar in Syria and Iraq; brutality of IS terrorism; migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe;
  • The rise of nationalist, rightist politics in France, Greece, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, and the former Yugoslavia;
  • The death of so many culturally seminal figures -- such as Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen; Muhammad Ali, Harper Lee, Edward Albee, Gene Wilder; Elie Wiesel; and so many others. (Man; I  almost forgot Mose Allison.)
  • It wasn't mentioned often, but some feel the bill for having sold our collective souls  to the ideas embodied in financial, corporate and political structures which run the world has begun to come due.
2016 isn't necessarily worse than any other year -- and for comparison, I pulled 1968 right out of the air: There was a Youth Revolution at home. Yuri Gagarin died in a plane crash.  Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. The police rioted in Mayor Daley's Czechago; the NVA and Viet Cong's Tet Offensive caught the U.S. by surprise, and combat deaths in Southeast Asia were approaching 50,000 in the decade since we had intervened there.

Richard Nixon said he spoke for the "great, silent majority of Americans," and was elected. John Steinbeck died.  And, in the background of every year since 1950 was always the possibility of a thermonuclear war between the U.S. and our NATO allies, and the Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis had happened only six years before.

2106 feels worse than other years because the future seems to carry so much potential for negative disruption, and that's beyond question -- but how it will all actually go, what the larger situation, which does affect our individual lives, will turn out to be no one knows.

How we deal with whatever comes will be the sum of who we are -- our values, experiences; our realizations and prejudices -- and how we deal with things will be supported by others; family and friends, allies. At every hairpin turn in the road, we're called to be who we are -- not to temporize, or bullshit, but to stand. In that sense, 2017 will not differ, except in the details, from any other.

But, consider - how we approach things is a matter of perspective. A good friend, one of my best, once told a story about a Buddhist monk imprisoned in China, placed in solitary confinement for ten years. He was allowed no visitors, and only a few hours of exercise outside alone each week. When released, the monk thanked each of his jailers. Jesus, I said to my friend; that's a remarkable act of compassion. And, ten years -- I don't know if I could maintain my sanity locked in a small cell.

"Well," my friend said, "it's a matter of perspective. You see a hell of imprisonment. The monk might have seen that he was safe from most harm; he was fed twice a day, given a quiet space, free of most distractions, to practice meditation techniques central to his system of belief about reality -- for him, a heaven," he said.

Consider, too, a fable attributed to a number of cultures:  Once upon a time, an Emperor owned the finest white stallion in his kingdom. And one night, a thief tried to steal the horse, but was captured by palace guards. The next morning, he was dragged before the Emperor, who ordered the thief to be put to death.

The thief accepted the emperor's sentence calmly, but humbly made one request -- not that he be spared; but that if the Emperor would only postpone the execution for a year and a day, the thief would teach the horse to sing hymns. The court burst into laughter, but the Emperor held up his hand and, to everyone's surprise, accepted the offer.

As he was being taken away, the Emperor's Jailer whispered to the thief, "You are a fool!"

"Am I a fool?" replied the thief. "Much can happen in a year and a day. The King may die. The horse may die. I may die. And, perhaps, the horse will learn how to sing."

And, my favorite:  If you sit beside the river long enough, the body of your enemy will float by.

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