(8 of 8)
What draws us close are accidents--catastrophes to which we attempt to assign blame or affix explanations but which we know intuitively to be inexplicable. In the past year, a teacher and 12 schoolchildren were shot down by schoolchildren in Colorado; 12 people died building a bonfire in Texas; six fire fighters died fighting a blaze in a warehouse in Massachusetts; six Marines and a Navy man fell to their death in a helicopter exercise off the coast of San Diego. Our insistently enlightened minds leap to "solve" such things, but their effect on our spirits has more to do with our helplessness. Helplessness brings us close to one another in silent acts of mourning, to weep for the life we share--with you as well.
These concerns may all sound like child's play to you, but somehow I doubt it. A hundred years isn't all that long, and your world must look a good deal like ours, if not in its devices and architecture, then in the small signs and gestures. A woman in Rhode Island wants to paint a flower. A man in Wyoming wants to catch a trout. He, somewhere, wants fame and love. She, somewhere, wants children or revenge. Everybody wants. What do you want? What should we want?
I wonder how far you have progressed. I wonder if you have learned to deal with the concept of God without turning faith into a weapon. I wonder if you have learned to control the anarchy of popular authority. I wonder if you have figured out how to make the best use of the past. Have you learned that traditions and institutions are not all bad? After a century of Freud, Marx and Einstein, we are pretty shatterproof these days, in terms of not being shocked by being all shook up. But in the words of one of our favorite songwriters, Carole King, "Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?" Maybe you have finally figured out how to live where we have always tried to live--safely between chaos and boredom.
Have you rediscovered a gentle, generous sense of humor? Have you recovered an appreciation of irony? Have you reacquired the ability to praise? So much of what passes for intellectual activity in our time is the carping of the jealous or the embittered. One of our poets, W.H. Auden, wrote an elegy to another, W.B. Yeats, in which he sought to "teach the free man how to praise." I hope you've learned.
People are generally more praiseworthy than we have been made out. That is a little secret of our age, perhaps of yours as well. Not all the people, all the time, but there is a tenderness, a loveliness that outlives our cruelty and stupidity. One can see it in an audience lost in a passage of Mahler's, or in a sudden, gaudy display of sunlight on a field. All the fear and self-absorption are wiped away, and in our blameless, dumb-struck faces lies the better story of the race. This too is who we are. This is who you are, whoever you are.
I see you looking back at us. You see us looking out at you. Because we can imagine one another, we constitute each other's dreams. Outside, the air is cold and deep. The moon hangs in a fingernail of light. The clouds conspire and retreat to reveal your stars and ours. Come. Walk with me in the chill still of the night.