Remembering, forgetting and making connection
It’s been a funny sort of week, a funny sort of few months, a funny sort of year. Funny, most in terms of peculiar, unsettling, weird. Not too much of laughter really.
My reading has continued, though sometimes I’ve lacked the emotional or intellectual energy to devote to the deep and fine stuff, feeling too raw, too wrecked, too appalled and exhausted , too benumbed by what seems to be shouty, screamy, excess in the political arena, rather than the laying out of complexity which needs reflecting on. Reviewing has suffered, too, a kind of ‘what’s the point’ ennui and laissez-faire.
I was approaching the American election with dread and despair, seeing ‘populism’ on the rise, in various countries, and following its landing here, could see similar infections spreading. A pandemic of dissatisfaction being medicated by flaming invective, illusory promises and soundbites It’s shocking that what is ‘popular politics’ seems to be retrogressive, divisive and narrow rather than the wouldn’t-it-be-wonderful-if-what-was ‘popular’ was inclusivity, connection, a recognition of our common humanity, not to mention the fact that we share our planet with other species, and just as humans need to recognise the needs of shared humanity, we need to acknowledge our interdependence on our Planet Earth, both now, and for the sake of generations which may be to come.
Isolationism, making this little country or that ‘great again’ is a dangerous illusion. We are inextricably linked, each to another.
We have become so fixed on that winners and losers, survival of the fittest, red in tooth and claw view of evolution and reality. But the fittest merely means the best adapted. As a bipedal, not particularly fast, becoming hairless ape, our best adaptation proved to be with each other. We are a tribe animal, and did best by managing collectively together, not purely me versus you, but me with you. And now, we have forgotten that the ‘tribe’ is no longer little isolated pockets untouched by and untouching of each other. The tribe is all of us earth dwellers.
It’s a sobering and darkening time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. The fierce blaze of October fading and quietening, the days shortening, the energies of the natural world going inwards, consolidating, resting, dormant. A beautiful, spare, reflective season as the mask of leaves fall, and reveals the individual beauty of each tree’s core.
The eleventh of November is always a potent day anyway. It took me a long while to come to terms with ‘Remembrance Day’. In my youth, I thought on this day war was being glorified , that conflict was being celebrated. I thought we were being asked to glorify the dead ‘the glorious dead’ when there was little glorious in why they had died like this. I see it differently now. Those who have died in conflict SHOULD not have died in vain, if only we who are living can learn the lessons which their deaths have to teach us – precisely that division and conflict-between-nations will lead to more dead.
It is terrifying that the lessons of not one, but two world wars in the last hundred years (not to mention years of other smaller conflicts endlessly happening) have not been learned, and we seem to be bent on dismantling our recognition that the bellicosity of our nature needs to be tempered and restrained. The more we think ‘greatness’ is this nation against that the littler we become
I thought about those who have died through conflict, and I also thought about two poet troubadours, complex, often deeply troubled men, whose willingness to explore their own contradictions, and the contradictions of the times they lived in, produced songs that said more than simple
Remembrance day brought me to John Lennon’s Imagine, and also to his ‘God’ ( ‘I don’t believe’) We fight each other over so many ‘isms’ Simplistic though Imagine might be, Lennon’s coda, in ‘God’ after all the ‘I don’t believes’ is ‘I just believe in me, Yoko and me’ – that’s reality’. I thought that when it is just down to the struggle and complexity of the ‘You-and-me’ what frees us from that charged fear and hate place of ‘the other’, is the recognition of common humanity. Every day (and I am consciously having to work to notice it at the moment) there are tiny, unconscious acts of kindness and recognition between individuals. THESE people are the ‘little people, the ordinary decent people’ – not what the rabble-rousing populists are claiming as ‘ordinary, decent’
In fact, the populists are asking us to embrace everything that is UNdecent about ourselves, and claim THAT as ‘ordinary decency’
Real ‘decency’ is all around, and probably rarely found inside a whipped-up political rally. And never when what is being whipped is a hatred towards ‘other’
I do believe in the You and Me of us. Writ small, life by life, connection by connection, humankind is full of Wordsworth’s :
that best portion of a good man’s life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
That is all around, if I take the time to notice it. The splitters and those who call to our hate, our rage, our fear, make us forget unity, seeking to bind us together through division and disunity. Us and Them. You-and-Me, by contrast, might simply be We
And, of course, Remembrance Day also brought the news of the wonderfully layered, complex Leonard Cohen’s death. Like many, I’m one who has found the man, and his music and lyrics, an abiding comfort and inspiration. His willingness to own and acknowledge his demons, rather than fly from them and project them onto the other, always made him someone who ‘lived in the light’ The truly whole are those who know they are wounded and terribly broken. The damagers are those who see others as broken and view themselves as right and righteous.
One of the very wonderful gifts Cohen’s lyrics have to bring is that whatever a song is seemingly about, it has the possibility of other, wider, deeper meanings. He was far more than a simple troubadour of the layered love song. Poets, poetic vision, poetic writing not only makes us see the world in a new way, but often welds together oppositions which might seem to want to fly apart. With Cohen, the contradictions are deep and viscerally felt. Love itself is both Eros, and a trans-personal yearning for surrender to the Divine. And also a challenging to the Divine, a wrestling between Eros and Thanatos – the blaze of love and life, the loss of love and life, the ‘ring of bright hair about the bone’. Death feared, Death making meaning, Death the awareness of mortality, giving our loves their fierceness and intensity.
I’ve been listening a lot, over the past couple of days, to my Cohen collection, but also to some of the many covers of his songs. Many by people with voices of far more musicality than Cohen’s. However, for me, the particular laconic, restrained, felt, but not emoted and over-shown delivery Cohen gives us, perfectly allows the listener to experience their own visceral response, in a way that the over throbbed demonstration by others, doesn’t.
There will be no new songs, but we are gifted to be living in a world where we have the old songs, we can play them, even watch Youtube videos of live performance, and, I think, we can continue to find new meanings and resonances in his words, his music, his renditions