Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The shelter of each other

Shortly after I started working full time again, Liko and I developed a tradition: On certain Sundays we take the F train downtown and we spend the afternoon watching hockey or figure skating, playing on the playground, going to museums, eating.

This past Sunday I took him ice skating. We had tried it about a year ago and I had concluded that it was too early. But on Sunday he took right to the ice, and we skated around and around the rink, holding hands, and neither of us could stop smiling.

Later we went to the playground and Liko hooked up with two little girls, twins, about six years old.

"Did you guys go ice skating?" he asked.

They nodded.

"Did you see me? I was really good!"

They laughed, as they should have, and ran to the slide. Liko chased them.

Later we rode the merry go round and I watched his face and I thought, I'm happy.

That night I put him to bed. "I love you, Dada," he said as he nodded off.

Then on Monday I read that the House voted to reject the $700 billion bailout package. Today I read that the war in Iraq continues to go badly; we're now losing the war in Afghanistan. An internal Justice Department investigation has concluded that White House fired federal prosecutors for political reasons, while a former CIA official pleads guilty to fraud--just two examples, plucked at random from today's headlines, of the ideological corruption that now seems to permeate American institutions.

The word I keep hearing in all these articles, the common thread that connects all these scandals, is "trust"--it seems that we no longer have enough it. People don't trust banks, banks don't trust each other, and neither trusts our political leaders or judicial system.

I'm not a sky-is-falling kind of guy; I tend to see history as the story of progress, and I have a great deal of faith in the creativity, decency, and resilience of human beings.

But the signs and portents are not good; it is now very likely that America is about to enter a full-blown crisis, one that will unfold on every level: spiritual, psychological, philosophical, financial, political, and military. Every institution will be affected, and so will every person.

Am I being melodramatic? I really don't think so. America could plausibly pull out of its nosedive, but at a certain point you have to admit, if only to yourself, that we are going to crash.

Journalists keep raising the specter of the Great Depression, but we're not going to see history repeat itself; America is a different place than it was in the 1930s or, for that matter, the 1960s, two previous crisis points. The next decade will be as different from those two decades as they were from each other.

In retrospect, both the 30s and the 60s were bridges; the Depression and New Deal completed the modernization of America, readying us for the role we occupied in the second half of that century; the 60s laid the foundation for the values we have needed in the twenty first century: diversity, tolerance, cosmopolitanism.

It's conceivable that the next decade will also be a bridge, though where it's going, I have no idea. At the moment, it seems that we are on the now-proverbial "bridge to nowhere," built by nihilists, but I don't want to believe that.

I can't; I'm a dad. For me, for all of us responsible for nurturing life, nihilism is not an option. "When I travel alone far from home, I think of my children's faces to calm myself down," writes Mary Pipher in her 1996 book The Shelter of Each Other. "Those faces are my mandalas. They comfort and secure me. The faces of those we love are the first, the primal, mandalas for us all."

Now I'm thinking of Liko's face, and of my wife's, faces I trust. They comfort me, but they also remind me to try to do the right thing, to be my best self, to try to be a hero, not a villain. We're walking on the bridge together. We all are, I think.


Backpacking Dad said...

Everyone needs to read this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. You made me stop and think and you're right.

Danielle said...

Over from BP Dad.

I have goosebumps.

Momo Fali said...

Gulp. This is real. I know it, because we just lost our business (not a real good time to be in mortgage lending...just sayin').

We ARE all in this together, and when I start hearing politicians bickering with each other over party lines, it makes me want to scream. I don't care if my neighbor is a Democrat, Republican, Christian or atheist...if they're starving, and I have a loaf of bread to share, I'll share it. As would the majority of our population. When will Washington see that they need to come together the way the people of this country do? Never?

J said...

Here from BP Dad, too. You make a point that most people don't think of. Thanks for the awesome post!

Cindy and Co. said...

Yet another drop in from BPD that has cold chills.

Swirl Girl said...

You are so right.

I hope we are not heading down a bridge to nowhere...

Anonymous said...

I've been blogging for ten weeks. This is one of the best things I've read. Bravo.

BretCB said...

Found this through BP Dad, and really glad I did. Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Good post Jeremy. In fact many of your posts make me proud you are my son-in-law.

Dana said...

Thanks for the very thoughtful post, Jeremy. It reminds me of what my grandfather once told me: that after a long day of door-to-door sales, he'd come home feeling kicked around, frustrated and troubled. Then, he'd go into the room of his young daughter (my mom), kiss her good night and she'd wake up enough to say, "I love you, daddy," and the world would be okay again. It's good to be a dad, indeed. Keep up the thoughtful posts, Jeremy!

Dana Glazer
The Evolution of Dad Project

Anonymous said...

Hi, first-time commenter here. I really appreciated this post, Jeremy, but I have to say the nihilism stills lurks behind the doors of my supressed consciousness—the part of me that I choose not to acknowledge too often. Even as I cherish every moment with those I love and revel in the essence of the moment I can't help but wonder about the meaning(lessness) of our existence.

And I also wonder if that doesn't help me appreciate what I have even more.