Last week was awful. I was sickened by the news of the Boston Marathon bombing and I was stunned by the Senate’s down vote on gun control. Several medieval bills regarding reproductive rights put me in mind of other medieval procedures, like castration. A few more boulders came down in the on-going avalanche of ignorant ideas about rape. The new pope is (apparently) upholding the Vatican’s paranoid investigation into those radical nuns. Sometimes my response to such a week is to obsessively follow stories while chasing antacids with Alka-Selter. Sometimes I sign petitions, send money, call my senators. Sometimes I go the other direction. Last week was a good week to read history.
In Foundation, the history of England from its earliest beginnings to the Tudors, Peter Ackroyd has this to say: “History is about longing and belonging. It is about the need for permanence and the perception of continuity. It concerns the atavistic desire to find deep sources of identity. We live again the twelfth or the fifteenth century, finding echoes and resonance of our own time; we may recognize that some things, such as piety and passion, are never lost. We may conclude that the great general drama of the human spirit is fresh and ever renewed.”
Americans effervesce with idealism that pushes for the new, the “better.” When things don’t work out quite like we had hoped, we crucify each other on the notion that “it wasn’t supposed to be this way,” an attitude that makes the shocks of life even more unbearable.
For example, in America, we foam at the mouth that there is supposed to be a separation of church and state and yet the religious keeps leaking in no matter what concept is embedded in our Constitution. Back in Henry II’s time, the clergy could not be tried by civil law. They got the benefit of Canon law. Since the Pope was as out of touch with the world then as he is today it meant the clergy pretty much got away with anything. It wasn’t too long before everyone who could read was calling himself a cleric. The audition piece was the first verse of Psalm 51 which became known as the “neck verse.” If you committed a crime but could read the verse, it saved your neck. It was religious gerrymandering in the 1100’s.
The privileged classes have always told themselves they deserve their advantages. People on welfare soon come to feel entitled to it. Power has always been about going to war and amassing personal wealth, protecting one’s own. Men have always tried to control women. Actually women have always tried to control men, too, but men are bigger and have louder voices. Terrorism is the last refuge of the misunderstood and the violated. You’d think we’d have figured this out by now. Perhaps things are “better” than they used to be, but that’s not today’s point.
We live by the rule of law, not by the Spirit, and not much has changed in that department for a long time. Reading Foundation reminded me of the contortions we still go through in order to get what we want. Corporations are people. Embryos (but not women) are persons. Money is speech. Generations from now people will laugh at how unbelievably silly and gullible we were, just like we laugh at the idea of bleeding as a cure for fever or of the Lydia Pinkham remedy, a “tonic” that was mostly alcohol and that my father used to say was for fallen arches and fading females. Future generations will come up with their own stupidities.
I’m going with Peter Ackroyd on this one: to appreciate my part in the great drama of humanity. I felt it last night when after a three week Easter break, the church choir, minus one alto and one floater, showed up for rehearsal:
Mary Ann (soprano) who whinnies notes, but not a distinguishable part.
Bill (tenor) who always forgets his reading glasses so the pastor has to root out an extra pair of his.
The pastor, himself, is the entire bass section.
Maxine(alto),the Feng Shui goddess. She only comes every other week because she has Dream Group on alternate Tuesdays. She and Tracye (alto), both of them shy, huddled together for protection against a world of flamboyant sopranos and booming basses.
Karen (tenor) and Marvin the Magnificent (Miniature Pinscher) walked from their apartment a half mile away. Marvin always paws at me for treats during the rehearsal. “I’m working,” I hiss at him.
Tinsa(shy Shitsu), came with Charlotte( soprano) and hid under the pews.
Ruth(soprano), who cuts the hair of everyone in the entire church, came straight from the day’s last appointment.
Dennis (tenor) has a lovely, pure voice. He is so shy that when he does say something, everyone listens and takes him seriously.
I’m the Squadron Leader. I’m responsible for morale and for playing the correct notes. We are all stock characters. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years.
My friend Deborah told me a nifty thing to do for garden-variety anxiety: Focus on my peripheral vision. When I remember to try it, it puts me in a frame. It puts me in a context that makes sense of me. I’m here in this place at this time. When current events overwhelm us, a sense of history can locate us in a context where we all have a place in the world.