‘O my God,’ I say, ‘do not take me awayToday is my 47th birthday. For the past few weeks, just that thought has put me in a serious funk. I have no idea why, and that hasn't helped my funk. For some reason, this particular number has made me sit up over and say to myself, "Crap, I'm getting old." This past weekend, in a fit of the blah's, I spent quite a bit of time listening to music that was popular back when I was younger. I watched some old movies, or at least clips from them. What I saw and heard made me wonder if young folks today had any idea how beautiful their parents were a quarter century ago. Not just beautiful, but talented and thoughtful.
at the mid-point of my life,
you whose years endure throughout all generations.’ - Psalm 102:24
As I told someone in a comment a few days back, I realized I was having an attack of The John McCains. Pretty soon, I was going to be out back yelling at the clouds. That certainly helped snap me out of the funk.
Then, I got thinking. I realized, with something like happiness, that we in fact live in quite good times. Oh, I know the economy still sucks, and there's always the possibility that it could all come crashing down around us. Still, economic conditions rise and fall; I've been through a couple moderate recessions in the past twenty or so years, along with our current sluggish good times, so stuff like this happens. If I were to measure how I thought about the times in which we live solely that way, sure, I'd probably be even more depressed than I was before. Thankfully, I don't.
When I was 18, Ronald Reagan was President. There was a widespread fear that the nuclear standoff between the United States and Soviet Union was far too fragile and any moment the whole thing could be gone in a hail of fire. I remember Eddie Murphy making jokes about the first black President of the United States having to be in constant motion, dodging the missiles thrown his way.
I graduated college and started my adult life without a President of the United States acknowledging there was a virus that caused the human immune system to break down; I lived through far too many years with far too many people not caring about the millions of their fellow human beings dying horrible deaths, blaming them for their conditions. Shoot, in the same concert film in which Eddie Murphy pictured the first black President dodging and weaving bullets and fruit, he could wonder aloud about Ralph Cramden and Ed Norton from The Honeymooners being "funny faggots" and get all sorts of laughs. How times have changed.
Ours is a remarkably more peaceful world. Our land is more at peace, more safe, more congenial to lived difference, than at any time in living memory. While hardly a paradise, it would be ridiculous for me to pretend there haven't been amazing strides in the way we Americans treat those who aren't white, straight, and Christian. While we still have more work to do, today, this day, the day I realize deeper in my gut that I am a middle-aged man, I want to celebrate that we Americans, and people around the world, live in a far more congenial place than any time in living memory.
Nations that spent centuries at one another's throats have laid down their arms. Countries whose tyranny seemed endless are learning the habits of the democratic heart. People around the world are standing up and demanding to be treated like human beings and they are no longer silenced or marginalized. We aren't there yet, like I said, not by a long shot. But we have started down the path that might well take us all to a world that has decided to be more human. These are good things. They need to be celebrated.
The difference at the top, here in this country, couldn't be more stark between the days of my youth and today. Ronald Reagan versus Barack Obama? No contest. The President's re-election demonstrates that we might yet be getting it. For all I have been critical of some of the things he's done, I cannot deny the many good things as well; nor can I deny that we as a people have shown that we are better than our history, better than the worst among us even now. I am quite pleased that I cast my vote for him not once but twice.
So, I may be a middle-aged man, but I refuse to sit around and tell my kids stories that begin, "When I was your age . . ." because when I was my kids' age, the world wasn't a safe place to live for millions of people. Whole populations were held hostage by the threat of nuclear holocaust. Hundreds of millions lived under nightmarish tyrants and dehumanizing systems of dominance. No, I celebrate the world in which all of us live now. I am thrilled I have lived this long, able to see my country, this land I love, begin to live out even more fully its social and cultural creed that we are a free people. We haven't arrived at the Promised Land. We do know it's there, though, if we're willing to open our eyes and look around us.
Coming in time for my birthday was the 2CD+DVD set Octane Twisted from Porcupine Tree. Recorded in Chicago at a show I attended, I am happy to report it is even better the second, third, and fourth times around. Here's the last song from their song-cycle "The Incident", called "I Drive The Hearse".