I came of age in the 60s and 70s. My generation cut their teeth on the dream of changing the world, making it better. I remember the folk music and the protest music. When the dream was very young, JFK was president. I was a little girl then, but I could see the shimmer of joy around his dream. My relatives were full of hope, dreams, plans, and willingness to give to the country and be part of the dream. They fully engaged in it and joined their voices to the dreamers. They saw early on that The Peace Movement had radicalized and moved in a new and dangerous direction. They saw the signs early—I denied they existed. Shortly thereafter, violence erupted all over the country. It was horrible. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr were both assassinated (first Martin then Bobby). Violence was everywhere. People screaming for peace grew violent. How ironic. I could see that the movement had become about the egos of the movement’s leaders: the Weathermen, the Chicago 7, burning buildings down, etc. How could people demanding peace be so violent, I wondered?
I reviewed back over JFK’s words and the comparison of his years to Camelot. Ah yes, Camelot. If you recall, King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table came unglued in the hot pursuit of power and many disagreements, too. King Arthur pleads at the end of the play “Don’t let it be forgot ….” and so I do remember that. There have been many movements and societal shifts since then. I cannot forget how those Camelot years felt and looked. I cannot forget the innocence of the prior generation despite all that they suffered. I cannot forget the huge shift that has occurred in my lifetime. I have believed in many political leaders over the year and many “movements” for lack of a better word. As a result of growing up in Minnesota with relatives that politically aware and involved, and people of great faith as well, I highly valued working within the system to affect change. To this day I highly value changing peoples hearts, minds, and lives through rational, calm, respectful dialogue and work.
Until recently I believed that everyone felt that way. The older I get, though, the harder it is to hold on to that belief. As a matter of fact, that piece of my idealism appears to be gone. These past few years have brought about a different kind of awareness. I can see that there are people who do not consider that their words and actions can hurt people’s hearts and spirits. There are people who show by their words and actions that they believe that “the ends justify the means”. The potential of falling into their grip has made me more cautious and self-conscious than I was before; the potential of my spirit being crushed frightens me at times. The potential of people I love having their spirits crushed makes me protective.
In that respect I have a hard time being an idealist. I understand that the world isn’t perfect. When I watch the news, listen to political discussions, or follow Facebook discussions I notice there is an increasing number of people who refuse to filter their words and actions. Do I mean everyone should walk on eggshells and not express their opinions? No, of course I do not. But the extra ‘digs’ and ‘jabs’ that malign someone’s character, intelligence, or sanity just because they disagree seem to be in plentiful supply. It is THAT that makes me sad. It is that trend that took my idealism. My old idealism is gone.
A new type of idealism will return; after all I am a perennial optimism. But there have been so many rounds of movements, protests, violence etc over the years. This time feels different. The disrespect expressed by both sides is more strident and insistent. I backed off from the arena awhile ago. I haven’t taken that action before. I was always involved. I was always trying to affect change. I was always certain of what direction I thought we should go. Now I am uncertain. The solution is, to say the least, elusive.
But whatever the solutions, we have to live together on the other side of the battle. I know that remaining like the battling Roses [ (Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas) in War of the Roses] will fix nothing. At the end of that movie, all was in shambles. By jousting and exchanging cruelties and refusing to see the best in each other, the shrieking people push the solutions farther away. I used to believe we would quickly become like that….in a sense joined together singing ‘we shall overcome’ and ‘kumbaya’. It appears to me these days that neither side actually wants that. And so the battle rages on and grows more shrill. They have gotten their wish. They will ensure their is no solution, because neither side will give an inch. They will stand toe to toe glaring at each other. It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book where two characters stood toe to toe. Neither would move aside. As a result highways were built above and around them and they stood toe to toe forever.
So am I still a dreamer and idealist? In a different way. I cling to my idealistic notion that someday there will be sufficient people interested in working together with respect and kindness. I believe someday the balance will shift and there will be a place like that. I KNOW there will be a place of love like that. Of course, we have been promised there is a place like that. It is heaven–a place of happy ever-aftering [a word from the song Camelot]. That is where I wish to be for eternity. God has promised me that. Can we establish a piece of that on earth? I surely hope so.
As the Reverend Mother sang in The Sound of Music “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’til you find your dream”.