Archive for July 2015

Privilege   1 comment

The living know a privilege the dead no longer do. And if the ancient Greek historian Herodotus is right (“Call no man happy till he is dead”), the dead enjoy an under-appreciated but inevitable mirror privilege.

We resolutely continue to reproduce in the face of a world seemingly ever more uncertain as a cradle for life. How can we balance both privileges and also (peace, Hunger Games) odds increasingly not in our favor? Possible answers abound, many of them very old, some discarded, some revived, a few hoisted as banners, or burnt on street corners, excoriated on Twitter, or — of course — all of the above. How can we test them for validity, utility — or compassion?

A healthy person, privileged by good genes or birth in the right body or borough, blessed by careful diet and exercise, pure dumb luck or divine gift, enjoys a privilege her sick double may long for and envy each weary day. Medicine, unevenly available or efficacious, may or may not redress the named injustice of it all.

Animals all around us, subject to ecosystems fine-tuned over millennia, spawn, hatch, are born, devour each other and die, in carefully interlocking patterns of privilege and disadvantage balanced by contingencies both evolutionary and reshaped by human presence.

The very characters of our myths and stories, movies and daydreams, often laze in privilege, vie for it, abandon it all for love or destiny or despair, shuffle their cards one way or another and start over again, or bow before their uncaring fate. We earn and forfeit it, find comfort in promises of future rebalancing, accuse and suffer and strive to comprehend. We are born in or out of it, notice or ignore it, act from or against it, minimize or maximize its effects, in the scant few years we have between entering and leaving this world.

What is it about the word or its shifting referents that’s made it recently so toxic in the West, so raw and troubling? Do we really need to ask?! Is there anything anyone can say about it right now without someone else disagreeing?! And doesn’t that give us our diagnosis — and prognosis, too?

Two hands, a heart, a mind, and time still ahead of me. Work to do.

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Posted 18 July 2015 by adruidway in Druidry, ecosystem, privilege

Tagged with , ,

Our Honored Dead   Leave a comment

[I’m teaching in a 5-week boarding school summer program this June-July for American (academic enrichment) and international (English as a second language) middle and high school students. The intensity of the pace accounts for the dearth of recent posts here.]

entrance

Egyptian entrance gate, Grove Street Cemetery

 

Tomorrow we have a day off from classes for a visit to the Yale University campus. For the older students, we’ll also make a side tour of Grove Street Cemetery, listed as a National Historic Landmark for its historical interest (its first burial occurred in 1797 after a Yellow Fever epidemic), the names of its famous dead, and its enduring ties to Yale.

In the past year my wife and I’ve discovered our ancestors lived in the same small town (in a different state, near the Canadian border) around the same decade that Grove Street was established, and mostly likely they knew each other. And as we’ve been telling the students this summer, a well-landscaped cemetery can be a peaceful and unique experience, because it can enlarge our sympathies and imaginations beyond the immediate concerns of own lives.

Live long enough, I’m finding, and your sympathies may enlarge so that any dead become part of your honored dead. We share DNA from around the planet (one of my cousins had his DNA tested and found Greek and Central African markers in it), we all face the same challenges of dying and living, and if the dead have any honor in my memory, it’s because I give it to them.

JunglebookCover

cover of the first edition (1894) of The Jungle Book

 

In Kipling’s Jungle Book, the human boy Mowgli says more than once to his animal companions, “We be of one blood, thou and I.” Such simple acknowledgements may at times matter more than many prayers and offerings, if they open our hearts to gratitude and the wisdom we inherit in our bones and our mortal dreams.

So tomorrow in my own way I’ll commemorate the “Grove Streeters” by reading and repeating their names, pouring libations of water (nothing stronger — I’m with adolescents, after all) in their honor, and acknowledging their part in shaping the world as we have it today. And always, I am confident, there will be others who will follow us and do the same, touched through their own sufferings and joys by a similarly enlarged sense of kinship.

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Images: Egyptian entrance gate, Grove Street Cemetery; Jungle Book cover

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