In The Golden Notebook, her masterpiece of disillusionment, Doris Lessing wrote about the dream of a fellow stalwart of the British Communist Party. The book was published half a dozen years after Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations to the 20th party congress in 1956 of Stalin’s terrible crimes. In the party worker’s fantasy, he goes to Russia, and is called from his hotel to see Comrade Stalin at the Kremlin. The Stalin he meets is a modest and humble man who asks for news of the British labor movement. The visitor, flattered beyond bearing, does his best. Stalin responds with kindly and helpful advice, then returns to his ceaseless labors.
I thought of this yesterday when a friend called long-distance to share her dream, that George Bush had been awakened from his complacency by the events following Hurricane Katrina, and had declared his intention (to use the Hebrew term) to make t’shuvah, to turn away from distortion toward healing, to make things right.
Even those of us who never chose this president, who have never felt him to be our leader, cannot escape the feeling of kinship that attaches to a common fate. George W. Bush is captain of the ship of state and we are all on board. We want to be able to look up to him, or at least to look him in the eye without cringing. Forgive the pop psychology, but in crude parental terms, if he is our national father, we want him to be one we can love and respect.
The more difficult he makes it–the more spin and smoke he applies to his shameful treatment of the poor, his neglect of our commonwealth, his enrichment of his greedy friends, his cynical court nominations–the more our yearning grows. When it gets especially intense, people start crafting alternative realities, scripts for what could have, should have been done. The fantasy of kindly Comrade Stalin grew more intense after Khrushchev admitted Stalin’s ruthlessness and its heavy price for the nation. Just so, yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle featured an op-ed piece worth reading by human rights attorney Robert S. Rivkin on “the post-hurricane speech Bush won’t deliver.”
In the Hebrew calendar, this week marks the start of Elul, the month preceding the High Holy Days of the Jewish new year, in which Jews are asked to conduct a cheshbon hanefesh, a soul accounting, to repent, seek and offer forgiveness, and to set things right before the next year begins. It is said that in Elul the conditions for repentance are ideal, and thus the process of reorientation is easier to accomplish. A key requirement is yearning, the desire to connect to one’s center and to heal what has been broken.
Our yearning is intense. It waits only for the president to match it. It is never too late, never too far, never impossible to make the turn. I pray that some of Elul’s powerful energy infuses Mr. Bush, and as I pray, I try to release my fear that like Stalin, he is so committed to a path, and so sure of its rightness, that he cannot be swayed even by the heaped-up corpses of his countrymen and women.