The following meditation includes wisdom from my back pocket. More precisely the succession of tiny notebooks I carried back there, and two pens in my front pocket, for the past 20 years. I’ve been scribbling my thoughts, accented by collected quotes, poems and lists, snatches of conversations overheard, bumper stickers observed, song lyrics and lines from movies that moved me. A sample is included below in italics. Unless otherwise indicated, the thoughts are mine.
Transcribing this trove (c. 80 notebooks) and organizing it by category, I wasn’t surprised how much material fit under the heading “change.” I have hungered for change my entire life. There is such a need for it.
There is a difference between change and progress. All progress is change, but not all change is progress.
Trump’s election represented change for sure, but not progress. On the other hand, he may go down in history as one of our greatest change agents, though not the kind he had in mind.
Change is inevitable and usually healthy. Attempting to obstruct it, the Republican Party has, for the last 50 years, as William F. Buckley famously put it, “stood athwart history, shouting ‘Stop!'” As if that were possible. Screwing the lid on tighter and tighter only builds pressure. That lid is about to blow.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is an argument usually advanced by those who want to keep the bathwater. But at some point the old bathwater will make the baby sick.
The necessity of the past becomes, in the crucible of the present, the possibility of the future.
Progress is overdue with respect to this country’s deep, systemic racism. Change is upon us at last.
“Father, give us the courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.” (Reinhold Niebuhr, original wording)
We’re told to change what we can and accept what we can’t. Are we able to tell the difference? Aren’t we better at accepting what we can’t change than changing what we can? Is accepting what we can’t change just another excuse for inaction?
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” (Angela Davis, taped to the window of The Book Table on Lake Street)
What most needs to change is our caste system with its notion of a superior race and an inferior race. Racism has sickened this country and its people for centuries — especially white people. We have reached a reckoning.
The future is neither dystopian nor utopian but progressive, evolving. I’m no good at predicting the future, but I can tell you what won’t remain the same: Everything.
Hope is a revolutionary act, an insistence on a better world than our smaller-minded fellow citizens just voted for. Hope is an act of defiance against those determined, for complicated reasons, to keep us mired in their imaginary past.
Human beings are a ratio of being to becoming. Becoming dominates when we need to grow — otherwise known as “crisis.”
It’s time to change what we cannot accept. Racism is at the heart of everything that ails us, especially economic inequality.
“As it is written: ‘Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.'” (2 Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15)
“We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” (Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1936)
The great paradox of Jesus, Gandhi and King: The powerless, united, are stronger than the powerful.
There is a time for every purpose under heaven.
“Over time, people who advance liberties tend to win the argument, whether it’s for women, African Americans, immigrants, or the gay community. In the end, America takes the side of the people looking for rights. That’s one of the wonders of this country. Eventually we live up to our ideals.” (Chris Matthews, from an ad for MSNBC)
But we have never lived up to our highest ideal: Equality. No group of people is superior, no group inferior. “They” don’t have to rise to “our” lofty level in order to be accepted. They’re already at our level. In some ways, we have to rise to theirs. Can we put up the white flag and surrender our white supremacy?
“At first, dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable.” (Christopher Reeve)
“You try to appeal to the goodness in every human being. And you don’t give up. You never give up. Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. It’s better to be a pilot light than a firecracker.” (Congressman John Lewis, On Being interview, 2013)
If John Lewis never gave up, neither must we.