My lack of interest in sports competitions is so total that I’ve sometimes wondered if it is dangerous, un-American, or both. You know the World War II movies where the German spy is discovered among war prisoners in the Stalag because he can’t say who won the most recent World Series? All through my childhood (granted, I came up in an atmosphere saturated with dread of the Germans) I replayed that scene in my head, wondering if my otherness would betray me, with sports as the instrument.
Or, put another way, when my friend tuned into the Detroit versus Oakland game after the debate last night, he prefaced it by saying, “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?” I didn’t, and after he explained the mystical marvel of the playoffs, I speculated that other friends knew more about baseball than I did. He said, “Vladimir Putin knows more about baseball than you do.” No doubt.
The debates are a kind of sports competition. While I am glad that Joe Biden stood up to Paul Ryan’s blank-faced lies (and hope this helps President Obama win a second term), I had to get out my mending to occupy my hands while the horserace unfolded. Mostly, it’s the anxiety of competition I dislike, and the way it concentrates attention on one immediate objective to the exclusion of everything else.
For me these days, a big part of the everything else is a future vision not constrained by the instantly doable of the moment. If we don’t hold the big picture, it’s too easy to succumb to the shrunken sense of possibility that tells us to lower our horizons, to resign ourselves to permanent disappointment.
It is always salubrious to visit my old friends in Mendocino County, as I did this week. We’ve known each other for decades, witnessing each other’s lives and offering each other comfort and truth in more-or-less monthly meetings. There is much to be said for a long view: one thing we are able to give each other is a reality-check on progress. Remember when you felt trapped in that situation? we ask each other. Take a minute to feel how much more free you are today. I do, and I see that I am, and I pause to breathe it in.
When we veterans of earlier movements to expand human rights and opportunities take the long view, we tend to see social change in two categories. Economic justice has been retrograde, with the consolidation of wealth, the hollowing-out of the economy, the exploitation of workers worsening year-by-year. We hope that the refusal to go along signalled by Occupy and other such movements indicates a change in the Zeitgeist that will potentiate change on the ground. But it’s not here yet.
But cultural change has been remarkable. Racism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of invidious discrimation persist, but there has been undeniable progress: the diversity of voices rising to challenge oppression is remarkable, brilliant, powerful. All around us, individuals pursue opportunities that would formerly have been foreclosed, such as same-sex marriage. Despite resistance, there is a feeling of the world opening out into possibility; the choices available to young women now make my girlhood look like a kind of dark ages. It will be up to each of them to muster the courage and resilience to pursue what they desire, but the path is far clearer today.
Sitting with friends reminiscing in this way made me ask myself a question. If I am vouchsafed long life, twenty years from now, what do I want the long view to show me? Sitting around with friends, what are the “Remember whens” I hope to utter? Four came immediately to mind:
*Remember when we turned our backs on climate change, acting as if our impact on the planet didn’t matter? My heart lifts when I think of the great turning, the way we mobilized our will and our actions to prevent the worst harm! (I’m especially supportive of responses that drawn on all four worlds—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual—and especially close to The Shalom Center. Read Mordechai Liebling’s “sermon” delivered at an interfaith anti-fracking gathering last month inspired by a remarkable lineup of spiritual teachers.) Looking at this photograph gives me heart.
*Remember when we thought the best model for education was a factory, and all students needed to prepare for the world were the three R’s? Isn’t it remarkable how education has been transformed by the infusion of art, cultivating the whole person? How incredible that we used to think we could skip that! (There are countless great organizations working on this, but the basic principle is STEM to STEAM.)
*Remember when we suffered from prison addiction, building jails and locking people up as fast as we could? Isn’t it great how many of those Supermax monstrosities have been gutted and repurposed as schools, clinics, community centers? (One of my favorite projects working on raising awareness about the tragedy of Incarceration Nation is Thousand Kites.)
*Remember when we had a nearly incurable case of the metrics syndrome, falling for the lie that value had to be assessed and conveyed through numbers? That was so deadly, so colorless and inadequate. Thank goodness we now understand that transformation begins when we are fully present to each other’s stories, when we bring our whole selves to the moment! (I’m deeply committed to StoryLab, which is making this transformation real, day-by-day.)
Each of my four future memories could come to pass in twenty years. Each is doable. Cast your mind forward: what is it you want to be able to say, looking back?
A friend recently turned me onto Michael Kiwanuka, a British musician of Ugandan heritage, inspired by old-school American soul. “Tell Me A Tale” says its very well.
Tell me a tale that always was,
Sing me a song that I’ll always be in,
Tell me a story that I can read,
Tell me a story that I believe.
Paint me a picture that I can see,
Give me a touch that I can feel,
Turn me around so I can be,
Everything I was meant to be.