I’ve been slowly attending a virtual retreat offered by Ram Dass’ Love Serve Remember organization and it has done me an ineffable amount of good.
I can still eff it a bit, though.
Today’s speakers included a relatively young Sikh racial justice activist who did some important shaking up of the primarily septuagenarian group. Valerie Kaur challenged the ideas both of accepting things as they are and turning inward for the sake of turning inward, fraught concepts among activist meditators, and the main reason I sought out this retreat. Her greatest gift to me, however, was an image that totally flipped my idea of where we are right now and where we might be headed.
She suggested that we might not currently be in the darkness of death and decay, but the darkness of the womb. What if we are about to be born? And if we, as the United States for example, have not yet been born, what does that mean for our potential?
The seed was planted by the guys who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, right? That all men are created equal; that they have inalienable rights; that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are among those, that it is the duty of a people to “throw off” a despotic government – these were truly revolutionary ideas. As any fair-minded student of US History knows, they had all been denied, prevented, and/or deliberately perverted even before they were penned by the men who penned them, and the betrayal has continued every day since.
Our “founding fathers” ejected the seed, and then, like many men, they walked away – into slavery, capitalism, sexism, concentration camps, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, voter suppression. What if all of this was part of the germination? You’ve heard of the century plant? What if this is the four-century plant and we are about to bloom?
What if the ideals of the country haven’t been a failure since birth, but have all been shoots navigating through choppy ground, now ready to finally spring forth into the waiting sunlight? What if it’s not that America has never been Great, but that America has never been? That this is all, if not a delusion, then a nascent idea, one that depicted itself as fully formed, but never was? What if what we needed all along, for America to finally be, was the liberation of Black and Indigenous (and disabled, and trans, and all other) people? What if the horrors and revelations of the last few years are the magic ingredient, the secret, obscure symbol, the dance, that, when the moon is full, gives birth to a nation of liberty and justice for all?
What if America is not a mess of a country that Others its own and uses that Othering as a weapon to centralize power for people who look like the hypocrites who wrote down these good ideas, but one that, once it comes to fruition, would horrify people who grasp onto White Male Fear and Supremacy, like Roy Cohn is horrified by the heaven of flowering weeds and beautiful trash and destruction and voting booths and “big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion” that Belize describes in Angels in America?1
What if we have been waiting for the right time to be born? A time when we are recognizing our enslaving, genocidal history and our present-day racism and sexism? A time when we have witnessed the failings of capitalism in the deaths of 200,000 people, the unemployment of millions, the lines of masked neighbors lined up for food and diapers? A time when the revolution will be tweeted and Zoomed?
My favorite metaphor comes from the chrysalis.2 When you cut open a chrysalis, you don’t see a half-butterfly. You see a rotting caterpillar. What if we’ve been the hideous chrysalis all along? We’re still a young country; it’s not that absurd an idea. Change is painful and ugly and we have been pained and rotten.
What if the “rough beast/ its hour come round at last”3 is approaching its birth, but the second coming is not one of fire and brimstone, but of justice and compassion and equity and those things that Jesus appears to advocate for in the New Testament, the ideals that every religion seems to hold at its core, the ideals that our country has been waiting to realize for hundreds of years?
Look, all I’m saying is we don’t know. As much as it seems to many of us like the end of all we hold dear, we cannot help but notice all the love generosity and compassionate action that surrounds us. We do not know what will happen. This is a mysterious place.
Today I’m indulging in possibility. Happy Labor Day.
- Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika; Act 3, scene 4
- Rebecca Solnit introduced me to this image in A Field Guide to Getting Lost
- William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming, of course
- the image is Georgia O’Keefe’s Flower of Life II