The most wonderful thing has come into my life: a new Powerbook laptop. My friend, who’s not a Mac person, inherited it from a friend of his, and generously (miraculously!) passed it on to me. Among its many benefits is that I am now using the newest operating system, which has led me through portals that were previously barred by my superannuated software.
For instance, my birthday present was to go to iTunes and download a couple dozen songs, almost all of them things I formerly owned on vinyl, now long gone. I burned them onto a CD and listened to it during a long, winding, green journey I took earlier this week. Or shall I say a journey through my own consciousness and sensibility?
Friends, I was truly impressed (and a little embarrassed) by my total and evidently perpetual allegiance to the aesthetics of longing and desire. Three hours of old Rolling Stones ballads (“Angie,” “Winter”), Jeff Buckley covers of Van Morrison and Dylan songs, old Springsteen (“Drive All Night,” “Bobby Jean”), “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” “Stand By Me,” even Velvet Underground doing “Pale Blue Eyes.” The first cut is Tim Hardin singing “Misty Roses,” which I could probably play continuously for a day or two without tiring of it.
Whew! I feel I must specify that this mood of syncopated yearning is not something uniquely personal. To the contrary, many of these songs were hits or if not exactly commercial successes, favorites of a very large cult comprising a lot of my age cohort. But “Angie” is playing right now, and the feelings it creates in my body are pretty personal: a sweet ache in my shoulders spreading toward my heart, floating images of embrace and isolation, a resonance—a certain vibration—along my legs, rhyming with Mick Jagger’s vocal cries: “I still love you baby/Everywhere I look, I see your eyes.”
The difference between hearing this now and lying on my bed decades ago, hearing it in the aftermath of lost love? Well, in some ways, there’s no difference at all. Now Bonnie Raitt is singing “Since I Fell for You,” and when I close my eyes, I can remember the dark room, the feel of the bedspread against my cheek, the black sky and bright stars beyond my window.
But here’s what I’ve been thinking: what has been the effect on my life of all this cultivation of longing? What does it mean that deep in middle age, I drive along listening to “Misty Roses,” feeling a point of pain and sweetness below my breastbone, feeling tears gather behind my eyes? What does it mean to nurture a lifetime of desire and come to a point where I see the great likelihood I will not get what I want?
Some of my disappointed desires are painful to contemplate. “I Shall Be Released” is playing now: “They say everything can be replaced/Yet every distance is not near…” The twists and tumbles of experience sometimes separate us, I see; those who once were close may now be very far away. Listen to Bonnie Raitt singing “Love Has No Pride”: “I’ve had bad dreams too many times/To think that they don’t mean much anymore.” I see that I have chosen a life that revolves around taking part in the Great Conversation, and that has integrity. But it seems pretty clear I won’t have the effect on the Conversation I’d hoped my words would carry.
Some of my disappointed desires are grandiose or unrealistic, but still hurt (and not just me). Like every Miss America candidate, my wish for world peace has as yet gone unheeded. In this morning’s New York Times poll, slightly more than half of my fellow Americans approved warrantless wiretaps when the President says they are “necessary to reduce the threat of terrorism.” It seems that slightly more than half of my fellow Americans are determining the shape of our social contract, and I am almost always in the other half, the one a few percentage points light of a majority.
Mick Jagger is singing again, “Winter,” “It sure been a cold, cold winter/My feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground/And the fields has all been brown and fallow/And the springtime take a long way around…. Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you….”
Have you ever gone to a park with giant Sequoias and seen one of the cross-sections of a great tree labeled with dates? Here’s where the Magna Carta was signed, here’s where Columbus landed…. I wonder what my story might have have been if the rings of my life were marked by something other than this lifelong longing?
The Band is singing “Tears of Rage”: “And now the heart is filled with gold/As if it was a purse/But, oh, what kind of love is this/Which goes from bad to worse?”
Congratulations on your new creative partner, the Mac. I hope it brings you as much freedom and pleasure as it does those that designed it.
And, thank you for your poignant writing. I’ve read several of your articles here over the past month (as I travelled to the Middle East and back to “good ole’ USA.” They’ve been a pleasant companion.
I don’t wish to presume to know you from these writings, but I do understand a persistant viewpoint that they convey. That viewpoint seems to be one of “we are misled,” along with “there’s something very wrong that needs to be set right” and “we can do better.” Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding.
I spent a couple of weeks in Israel last fall, working and getting acquainted with Jerusalem. As a community, it reveals all that is true about us as both humans and spiritual beings. There is worship and anger in the same place and the same time; there is openness, loving acceptance, and rejection in each holy place. There is wealth and poverty living together in the same city block. Perhaps more than any other place I’ve been, Jerusalem has the courage to bear all that we are. And, it’s very uncomfortable to experience, fully.
I longed to visit Jerusalem for many years, and when I did visit, I longed to see it differently. I wanted to be a pilgrim to the shrine, to be inspired with hope. I returned from that visit with hope, but not what I expected. The hope I feel now is in creating conscious relationships (painful as they may be) with my enemies. To know their children, and to give them gifts on their holidays. I met a Muslim man there who cursed me as an American, and a Christian. In reaction I felt defensive, but I was very curious to learn more about him, and his thoughts and ideas. After the anger had subsided, I invited him to share tea and that we might get to know one another. Today, on the birthday of his prophet, I’m sending he and his children presents, and he sent me a wonderful message yesterday to remind me of the glory of Islam, which I now recognize.
So, I, too, yearn to contribute to the evolution of life and consciousness. I’m sure you’ve found many other journeymen (and -women) on this voyage as a result of publishing your ideas openly.
I do not wish for world peace, though. For war is the measure of what a community is willing to suffer when they fail to make peace. I believe America is caught in a spiral of self-worship, greed, and comfort (and I include myself in this accusation). Our comfort comes at the cost of someone else’s suffering. Let us each take back our own suffering and lighten the load of the world?
Instead, I wish for my heart and mind to be opened to humans, just as they are. Is it possible to love those I see as evil, greedy, or ignorant? Am I willing to accept leadership that is human (not simply error prone, but also malicious, or deceptive, or compassionate, etc.) ? I have been given a human life — a transformer of matter into energy through which thoughts can become actions that affect the whole world. How will I use this gift?
May your day be filled with awakenings.