Transcendence

I have been a fan of musical theater for decades now. I have seen shows in my hometown, in New York, in the movies and in television. The last five years gave the world at least two truly great musicals – Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. In the tumult of today, I often sit back and just listen to these shows. And many others.

I didn’t really listen to the whole Hamilton soundtrack until the show started streaming in Disney Plus. The first act was great. The acting, the songs, the story was just a treat. The second act, though, was incredible. And then there was this song, this moment in the show that made me realize that this is a show that all of us needs to see. Not just for the incredible cast, the incredible songs, the incredible performances. For me, this song is transcendent.

The beauty of this song is not just the melody or the voices that sing it. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. And yet, in the midst of the sadness there was no recrimination. Instead, it talks about the loss, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. A beautiful tune and in the sadness of it all, hope and love.

Thank you Renee Elise Goldsberry. Thank you Philippa Soo. Thank you, Hamilton cast and singers. And thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Truly amazing.

The Forgotten Virtue

We are living in interesting times. Uncertain times. Volatile times. I read the stories about protests, destruction, the lack of leadership, the blame shifting, the marginalization of people that someone does not agree with, the marginalization of people because they look different than the familiar. Unsettling, convulsive, stressful. Words that we choose not to use somehow are words that we must use. What is happening? Why is this happening? What can we do to make our world the world that we like to live in, the one we are comfortable in?

The answers may not always be pleasant, and no one person, not one group, not one party, not one nation has all the answers to the questions that we ask. And yet, there are so many of us who want to tell others that our solution is THE solution. Shout down the words and ideas of those that I feel are unimportant. What matters most is what I believe, what I feel, what I see. There are great injustices in the world that must be corrected. This time, it is my time, our time to change the world for the better. To the world that I see. To the world as it should be. History has shown us that men are evil, that nations were built with pillars of hatred and oppression.

In many ways, there is a lot of truth to what is now being said. For too long, people refused to acknowledge that our world has not been fair, that justice has not always been just, that even a society that longed for freedom, that a nation established in search of freedom was not always free. At least not for a great many of its people. From the men and women who roamed freely for thousands of years, suddenly torn from their lands, pushed westward, herded into spaces that offered nothing but a bleak future. For those who survived. The cries of the wolf, of the bear, the cayote, the buffalo, mixed with cries indistinguishable from our own. If people would only listen.

I cannot imagine what life was like for those who marched the trail of tears. I cannot imagine what life was like for a man or woman, torn away from one continent, to arrive at another and live a life of destitution, helplessness, treated as yet another item in one man’s inventory, to be used, to be abused. Somehow, people allowed their worse instincts to guide their life. Even people with noble ideals became a prisoner of their own sense of righteousness, forgetting that all men and women are intrinsically part of the same human family. Greed, hatred, a myriad of reasons assured a life of suffering for too many Americans.

And so, with all the things in the past, we must be ready to break with all the things the past represented. Some say that ideals tainted by human frailty are not ideals at all. All the accomplishments of flawed men and women are worthless and should be relegated to the dustbins of history. We will not tolerate those transgressions. We live, after all, in a different time, a more enlightened time, a time with possibilities that allow us to remove the vestiges of everything that offends us. We are their betters. We demand justice. We demand so many things. Hatred must be a thing of the past. No one from the past is worthy. The sins of one, the sins of many are the sins of all. Recrimination abounds. The mantra of the emboldened rule the airwaves, if not our lives. We can make this a better world. We will make a world in the image that we see fit. Those who do not agree, well, they are throwbacks to that evil past. They are to be ostracized, criticized, demonized. A new collective has risen, with all the answers. There is only one truth and those who disagree will be shamed to submission. It is the price that people must pay for a the new world order. Where freedom is extended to all who believe. And woe to those who dare think to be different. There is only one truth, and it is our truth. Oppose us and you will be deemed an enemy of modernity, of truth, justice, and the new world that is being created.

Sometimes, I look at the world and I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn’t pay much attention to my high school reading back then, but it seems to me that The Scarlet Letter can still teach us something today. Lessons about our humanity and our impulses. Hester Prynne was shamed for having an affair. Instead of withering in the midst of universal condemnation, Hester lived a life that refused to bend to the societal pressures imposed upon her. Her quiet dignity in the face of attacks from the self righteous allowed her to grow, to find her self worth, to understand that her weaknesses and failures did not define her. It was this ability to learn, to seek improvement, on her own terms, that gave her life meaning. Centuries ago, Hawthorne gave a lesson that many seem to have forgotten. A life lived with a sense of right and wrong is better than a life of self righteousness.

We as a society seem more than happy to be the tools for creating a new gulag. We happily parrot the ideas and beliefs of those who want to think for us, who thrust their ideas upon the world as if their ideas alone are right. That their solutions are the only solutions. That being part of a whole, unwavering in commitment, unquestioning in demeanor, is the only way to live one’s life. I am reminded of some of the ideas put forth by Raymond Kurzweil a few years ago. The singularity is here. Common thought for a common action. Individuality is not needed in the collective. We are part of the greater whole, a world where man and machine become one, where an individual’s contribution to society becomes nothing more than a machine assigned chore. Today’s apparatchik are precursors to tomorrow’s hive mind. While today the self righteous leaders insist in homogeneity of thought and intent, tomorrow’s cybernetic overlord will be no less benign and just as sinister. A single orthodoxy, created by a new breed of enlightened men and women, is here to save the world. Embrace it. Or else.

We need to acknowledge that diversity is what gives humanity its strength. Different abilities, different interest, different ideas, different beliefs. All grounded by a virtue that seems to be forgotten. The virtue of humility. If you believe that you are unworthy and not important, then your desire to subjugate others will probably not be very strong. Without the desire to impose your will or your ideas on others, you may find merit in something that someone else believes in. Or at least have an idea why that person believes in it. If you open your mind to the infinity of ideas that people can share with each other, you can begin to understand that we are a global community of individuals capable of doing things with a sense of selflessness. When no one man or woman is important, we understand that we are all important.

With humility, you can temper hate. With humility, you begin to understand that the differences among us can be enlightening. The humble does not seek to dominate but to serve. If each of us serves the other, which of us is the slave, which of us is the master? We can learn so much from one another. We humans are imperfect and will always be. And yet, we must not allow the imperfections to justify cruelty, intransigence, hatred.

Nelson Mandela allowed his sense of self to be subsumed by humility. In so doing, he helped begin the healing of a nation. In his quiet dignity, we saw what true strength really is. Humility. Forgiveness. And love.

Ruminations at Christmastime

When I think about the things that happened this year, I want to go to a dark room and make everything go away.  And just like the college campuses around the United States that deem it necessary to isolate people supposedly investing their time to learn new things, experience a world outside of what they have known, and learn that life is full of the unexpected, it seems that the temptation to only feel, hear and see the good things in life is the answer to a life that doesn’t always have answers to questions that come about.  And yet, to shut the world out because it’s not what you want is to deny yourself the essence of what being human is all about.

Life is a series of events that in its eventuality is unstoppable, in its unpredictability predictable.  This year has seen the death of someone very dear, the death of others that have filled my head with ideas and my heart with love.  There was sadness all around.  For the realization that some voices will never be heard again.  Some smiles will never be seen again.  That a warm touch, that warm hug will never be felt again.  The mind senses that change has come.  The heart knows that change has come.  The spirit knows that while change has come, the world still beckons and that which are gone truly still live in our midst.

A Christian believes that the promise made by a loving Creator becomes manifest in the birth of a child.  Whether that child was born in squalor matters not.  What matters is that the God who created us all kept His promise to His people.  That love, true and unerring, triumphed over disappointment.  That forgiveness and mercy is more powerful than hate and betrayal.  That in giving His people His son, knowing that He in turn will be betrayed by His creation, God showed us the possibility of what we all can become.  If we let love reign in our hearts, we are capable of making the world we live in a world that all of us, whether we consider our self a child of Abraham,  whether we follow the precepts of Buddha, whether we find solace in the spirits of the forest – all of us the can transcend the limitations we place upon ourselves.   Respect one another.  Care for one another.  To see people not as impediments to our ambition but truly as a brother or a sister that we can nurture and love.

In the spirit of this season, we can find in the people around us, the world around us reason to be hopeful.  To be inspired by those who do small things and seeing countless small things bring joy to those who give so wholly of themselves.  I pray that today, we remember that salvation did not come with a proclamation of greatness.  It came from a Father that loved us all, from a couple who devoted themselves to the care of a child entrusted to their love, and eventually, the willingness of this child to give Himself wholly for the people He and His father loved.  In spite of the hatred and spitefulness heaped against Him, this Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself up to serve all of us.  To purchase, with His sacrifice, our salvation.

Love, freely given.  And today, we remember, if we so choose, that we are children of this same Father.  That like His son who died for us, we are tasked to take care of the world around us.  To be stewards of His creation.  To love all of His creation.  It is not always easy.  There are disappointments.  In the end, it is this selfless love that must inspire us to live a life of generosity.  Of giving.  Of sacrifice.  Forgiveness.  Charity.

Peace on Earth.  It starts with each one of us.  A small act of kindness, magnified a billion fold.  May each of us be a reflection of the love that made life possible.  And worth living.

Joy

Make someone happy.  Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life.  In our day to day lives, we are bombarded with messages, overt and subliminal, about the importance of being happy.  Live your life to maximize your happy moments.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  And yet.

In the height of happiness, everything seems possible.  The world is at your feet.  The view can be intoxicating – everything around you is orbiting a central sun.  The central sun that is you.  And yet.

Moments of happiness never last.  They are not illusory, but they are transitory.  A lifetime lived pursuing happiness is a life lived in selfishness, self centeredness.  A life that puts one’s self in the center of everything is a life that means nothing.  A life that constantly searches for affirmation, for the next big conquest, the next big raise, the next mountain to climb – is that really a life worth living?  A life where the self is the centerpiece of existence will experience moments of happiness.  And it will experience moments of sorrow.  Moments of pain.  Moments of great accomplishments mesh with moments of great disappointments.  A life that centers on the self and the self alone leaves the soul barren.  And the heart empty.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to understand that true existence must be centered not on one’s self, but on what one can do for those around us.  Selflessness instead of selfishness.  A soul exist within the body and outside its confines.  An existence that seeks to give, instead of take.  Not the material things that we all covet.  But one’s self.  To let others see you as you are.  The crooked smile, the thinning hair, the not so perfect eyebrows?   These are not the things that define you.  It is that smile, as imperfect as it may be, given to others that may be in need of a smile.  Helping someone cross the road, in a stiff wind that blows your hair into a frenzy.  Listening to someone, with eyes wide open, eyebrows raised, to let them know that they are not alone, that you can share their burden.

Respecting people, no matter who they are.  Embracing differences as a means of recognizing that an individual is but a part of a greater whole.  To see the weak and the oppressed and then realize that their struggle is your struggle.  Our struggle.  To understand that the sense of self is completed when it becomes entwined with the many selves that surround us.  Understanding that it is a kind heart that allows joy to permeate a life.

Joy.  When happiness subsides, there is something that centers us.  When sorrow overwhelms, there is something that supports us.  When we feel pain, we somehow know that like happiness, it will not last and a new page will eventually be written.  Joy allows us to know ourselves; to find value not in what we have done, not in what we have accumulated; but instead, to find value in who we are, in what we give of ourselves to others.  When our heart is filled with generosity, we can truly love.  In the selfless abandon of truly sharing who we are, what we have, what we do with others around us, we find that in moments great and small, in the important and in the mundane, there truly is meaning in our lives.  That in the core of our existence, there is joy.