October 25, 2020
We are living in an ancient eastern proverb, “May you live interesting times”. To say these are interesting times is perhaps an optimistic way to summarize the current time here on planet earth. From nearly any perspective, everything seems chaotic. What are our societal norms? Is there any single unifying cause in our country, or on the planet today? I’m failing to see it if there is.
One might think that preserving the function of the natural systems essential for life as we know it would be something people could all get behind, but science is messy and there seems to be little tolerance for anything short of an “absolute truth”. Unfortunately, complex systems with evolving conditions don’t lend themselves to being summed into simple factual statements, so good science is jumbled with bad, or taken out of context and discredited.
We could also consider the noble cause of helping those among us who are less fortunate as an effort we could all support. People with real physical and mental health issues. This seems like a simple, straightforward enough idea. Helping people who, through no fault of their own, inherited genetic conditions or were born into situations that denied them adequate nourishment or a healthy living environment when they were growing up. Conditions that may have resulted in physical or mental need, but somehow the notion of working together to achieve adequate health care for all people has been portrayed as “socialism or an un-necessary entitlement”.
Or maybe resolving the widespread issue of poverty could be a unifying goal. Certainly, the notion of eliminating or minimizing the horrible effects of poverty could be a universal cause that those of us who have been blessed with relative prosperity could embrace? But conditions of poverty are often twisted and associated with “low productivity or laziness or any number of generic labels” toward a collection of individuals who all happen to be living in the same geographic area or maybe are of a different culture.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single unifying cause pulling us together as one. Every issue has been politicized. Scientists who have devoted their life work toward measuring and studying natural systems and who are increasingly concerned with indicators and trends that the human race may be heading for some very challenging times are often portrayed as extreme alarmist. Their concerns are sometimes portrayed as an effort to interfere or with or stop economic growth. The health care system in our country is so overwhelmingly complicated that it feels like every individual needs to have a healthcare advocate to navigate through the bureaucracy of insurance and service fees. Environmental, racial or cultural justice is perceived or portrayed as a threat to take wealth and prosperity away from those who have to randomly give to those who have not, as opposed to an effort to invest in people who may simply not have the resources to make a contribution to better themselves or their community.
These social tensions are not new, and by no way are these three examples of our challenges comprehensive, but from my perspective, it certainly feels like social tensions have escalated over the last few decades. And then along comes Covid 19.
Humanity has seen similar crises before. The Year without Summer in 1815 occurred after half a dozen volcanoes erupted over the course of a few years which resulted in widespread famine and starvation. The average global temperature only dropped a degree or two, but this subtle change was enough to trigger serious disruptions in the growing seasons and local weather conditions. Both had dire consequences on humanity. And of course, going further back a few centuries we had the Bubonic Plague. This killed an estimated 50 million people, which by the way happens to be about the same death toll of the flu pandemic of 1918.
So we could slightly modify and collectively quote Bernie Taupin’s lines from the famous Elton John song, I’ve (we’ve) Seen That Movie Too.
I’m sure during these past trials and tribulations there were people haranguing their brothers and sisters, and those taking advantage of dire situations for personal gain, and others intentionally or unintentionally spreading bad information. I guess we can classify this behavior as human nature. But somehow, in the midst of these challenging times, people who faced tremendous adversity and suffered extreme loss survived. It had to be horrific during the period of 1815-16 when crops failed with snow and frost during the summer months. It is hard to imagine widespread starvation. Or during the plague when there were no media outlets to offer suggestions or even hope on how to avoid getting sick. Children even danced and sang a little song about the inevitability of dying. Ring around the rosey…
We are in a much better place today to deal with the challenges of Covid. For better or worse we have the capability for multidimensional communication, internet and transportation options, global food distribution networks, and advanced medical systems offering treatment and hope, and yet the situation we are dealing with feels so emotionally fatiguing and demotivating.
There are many days all I feel compelled to do is go from one obvious simple or straightforward task to the next. Or I may call an older friend just to check in with them making an assumption that they might like the conversation and this might add joy to their day. And while these activities are all right, I suspect like many people, I need to feel like I am working to improve a future condition or contributing to a bigger project. With the weight of so much uncertainty, and so much societal tension this simple objective is difficult to attain.
I am so fortunate and blessed to live in a place where I can walk outside, or simply look out a window and be struck with the beauty of what I behold. I can also be distracted with any one of the dozens and dozens of uncompleted projects around the house. I can putter about until I want to move on to another distraction or keep at it until I get a sense of simple accomplishment. I could journal about such a day to day existence and create a sense of a bigger totality, ie the pieces/parts of my life adding up to a bigger sum, but that would be a very insular perspective and I have always needed an element of external engagement. So I digress from societal tension to personal tension.
As I look around, or rather, I cruise around social media outlets and the internet I see some remarkable folks, some are friends, others I don’t know or maybe never met, who are marching right along with their lives, continuing to work toward making the wheels of commerce spin, providing services or creating and sharing art and just being engaged. And their actions are indeed motivational. But over the past few weeks, I have found great motivation from personal interactions. Several people have asked me: “When will your new recording be done or if they are still on my mailing list, or if I have stopped doing email updates? Folks who have asked me to make sure I let them know when I will be doing another Live Stream?” These simple inquires mean so much to me as they impart a value to the esoteric or abstract things I do. Writing and singing songs is pretty abstract.
Being perfectly honest, if I come up with a solid lyrical phrase or unique musical twist, it does bring about a certain personal joy, but it is nothing like the reward that comes from providing or stimulating an emotion in others. That is a remarkable experience. It is such a profound thing that I have on occasion felt like nothing I have ever done had been more significant than turning a person's day around or helping them through a challenge just by sharing a song. I simply can’t describe how profound that feels. But it is such an ephemeral experience and for performers, that experience has been eliminated or drastically modified.
I believe the desire to give is as strong as the desire to take and there is a return on the choice of our actions. We are collectively at a time when the need to give maybe much more important than the need to take. Let me express my gratitude to those of you who have helped me re-affirm this truth and reminding me that what I try to give does indeed have value beyond any joy I may have in the making of stories or songs. Your support is uplifting and motivating encouraging me to offer my simple efforts to those who might enjoy them.