Friday, July 14, 2017

Fourth Prize

Independence Day.  241 years after the fact, the meaning changes.  I am wearing a safety pin on my black T-shirt, supposedly symbolic of my sympathy toward all genders, religions, ethnicities… you are safe with me.  Excepting, of course, those that profess bigotry, hatred, prejudice, exclusion… It is still alarming to me to find traitors among my circle of musicians, as though musical talent guarantees some sort of humanistic tolerance and empathy… and doesn't it?  Are you listening, God?

Actually, I often wear a safety pin because my clothes are tattered and torn; my sewing machine was repaired by a Chinese man in a tiny garage filled floor to ceiling with junk who swore technical mastery of my 1970's Swedish brand but failed to honor his promise despite the nine months of service and my additional monthly payments.  I believed in him.  The fact that he scarcely spoke English only made my faith stronger; somehow I make assumptions that immigrants have way more passion and dedication to the American dream than our birth-citizens who seem more likely these days to pledge daily allegiance to the Apple logo and little else.

Walking through Central Park in near-perfect weather, there was an unusual sense of tranquility… the birds were louder than the cars; Mexican and Puerto Rican families barbecuing and sharing… children playing in the grass… tourists headed to Brooklyn for the fireworks later… up here people are enjoying a holiday, trying not to think of politics and patriotic complicity.

I no longer understand America… the meaning, the immigrants giving speeches about liberty and opportunity that no longer 'ring'.   The bells of freedom, like the bells of St. Martin's church, are in need of repair.  We are like a mis-diagnosed country, the victim of our own philosophical health-care emergency.  Not to mention an early-Alzheimer's epidemic, because no one seems to even remember the melodies that are being recycled, scarcely a decade later.  Where are the lessons learned?  They are archived somewhere digital eons before the 'cloud' of recent invention which is bloated beyond galactic proportion with trivial bits of cultural and personal narcissism.

What will future archaeologists find?  Where are our fossils?  The detritus of our own waste-- unrecyclable plastics and packaging-- corpses and buried secrets from the hideous wars and crimes of warped humanity?  Where is our goodness buried?

Recycling is a good thing in the wake of our wasteful ravaging of this planet… but cultural recycling?  Where is our history, our memory?  Man in his heyday invented writing, to record for posterity things that happened, things that were invented-- instructions, testimonies-- memorials.  Most of us know how to read, but we ignore the important documents of history in favor of entertainment and froth.  How many of us have piles of books by our bed and dedicate time to deciphering ideas and digesting text?  We have televisions-- we have phones; we have instagram and Facebook.  Few lessons are learned here.

In our day, we have invented all kinds of things-- we have created chemicals and microbes; we have changed DNA and bred flowers and dogs.  We have diagnosed strange diseases, chronicled epidemics--- and yet we do not have cures.  We build skyscrapers and house thousands of people in a small space; and still, when calamity strikes, we cannot save these people.  We invent weapons of mass destruction… we fight wars of ideas, but we kill and injure; we cannot spare the innocent victims of these weapons.  We do not really know how to solve our global problems.  Are we independent, any of us?  Do we think independently and make our own decisions?  We rely on our technology and do not think for ourselves.  Somehow we have en masse elected as our national leader a man whose ignorance  is impressive and who could barely survive a day without a network of staff making decisions and executing procedure.  It is a flaccid state of affairs…

Rereading the Declaration of Independence which I am motivated to do after pondering the state of our nation this July, I am baffled that many of the original principles seem to be underknown and disrespected by the priorities of the current presidency.  Are we so codependent and selfish that we cannot look around us and prioritize humanity over material and economic gain?  Are we so shallow that we no longer read or remember any historic lessons?  How many Americans can name Beyonce's new twins and cannot identify 90% of the countries on an unlabeled map of Africa?

Of course, we have our phones; we have Google maps and Alexa and Siri.  We do still use our thumbs, but for many of us, we don't retain numbers and names; we don't wrestle with ideas or walk from place to place but take the physical and mental uber.   As far as history is concerned, we seem to welcome remakes of Hollywood movies and epics that succeeded once; someone seems to believe that massive budgets and contemporary celebrity actors will improve on the original, even though these actors' names will disappear from the horizon in a few telescoped years.  The lessons of history are absorbed in the collective Alzheimer's of our society which is so busy streaming and amassing data that it has forgotten its own origins, and sacrificed the independence of its brain, once the shining crown of Man.

We believe in God, so many of us…  but is religion another excuse for laziness? How many of us fall back on tenets and cliches and fail to have faith in our own ability to think with clarity?  We change our bodies and faces, we are obsessed with style, and yet we rarely spend effort to change our minds.  The tragedy of dementia affects us so deeply, yet here we are, daily, failing to protect or invest our most valuable asset.  Think about it… in the fast-fading afterglow of twilight's last gleaming...

2 comments:

Trisha Mershon said...

We have to get back to our most basic survival modes. I lived in VT without electricity, running water, and used only wood for heat and cooking for a few years. Lived in a basic tree house and it was the best time of my life. But then I said to myself, "this is too good too beautiful, not the REAL world. I went directly to the the other extreme, NYC, and lived the eyes behind my head existence. People need to get back to basics, appreciate all the unman-made natural world. This world is eating itself up. I do appreciate my android phone to connect with others but would give it all up for purity.

Swati Srivastava said...

As a "not-so-fresh-off-the-boat" immigrant (I came to America in 2000), I feel I have lived long enough in this adopted country of mine to have more than just a superficial understanding of it, and long enough to have gained some distance & perspective about the experiences - both good & bad from my country of birth - India. I often feel like a bird perched on the fence/ wall/ boundary between the two countries, between east and west, looking at BOTH cultures as an immigrant. That experience is not always comfortable but certainly brings a different insight of being able to see things from both sides. It brings a different perspective too for example, even though I well understand that there is far to go when it comes to women's equality & safety in USA, in all honesty when I compare it to my experiences in India, safety in America feels like heaven. And though we know there is corruption in US, but it doesn't (yet) affect my every facet of life like it did in India. A fellow immigrant friend said sometime ago - "if India and America are like two buildings, it's the penthouse in America that has real corruption, in India every floor is corrupt.." On the other hand India has more community, people are more connected - they have to, the large population and scarcity of resources doesn't allow most people the luxury of a large home & a yard which creates easy separation and avoidance of our fellow humans. Lack of good governance requires human beings to help each other - when someone has an accident, its not the ambulance but fellow drivers who stop & take the injured to the hospital. This self-reliance in many poorer countries makes people tougher. So yes, I too feel immigrants are possibly more hard-working, and risk-takers - after all leaving one's country of birth & settle elsewhere is not an easy undertaking and immigrants bring this vigor & vitality to America. Americans seem to suffer from the ills of having too much, Indians from too little. Americans have so much space they are alienated from each other, Indians give so little space they crush you with so-called-tradition & their neediness. So, like everything in life, I feel there are pros and cons, good & bad, black & white - no where is perfect. Everywhere needs work. Did I celebrate 4th of July? Yes - one has to celebrate something...!