2020 Notes: This too…

Anam Thubten, a Tibetan meditation master, recently told a story that illustrates the Buddhist concept of “impermanence.” Long ago, a king gathered all the sages in his realm and asked them to tell him something that is always true. After conferring among themselves, the wise men and women returned and in just four words, told the king the one thing that is true in every possible circumstance: “This too shall pass.”

Sometimes that’s good news, but in 2020, it seldom is. This year, everyone has experienced loss and the fear of loss. Significant among the losses in this country is the loss of confidence in our future and in “the American way of life.” In a recent Gallup poll, only 13% of Americans expressed “satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S.”

That many???  I don’t personally know anyone in that 13%, and it’s hard to imagine who they are. Extremely rich? Comatose? Living with wolves? The rest of us may be split over which outcome in November will benefit the nation or destroy the remnants of American greatness, but for most of us, the sense of multiple crises is pervasive.

I’ve long had the sense that the arc of that greatness and its decline extends over many decades, but I’ve not been able to express it or find someone who could until now. I highly recommend an article which appeared on August 6 in Rolling Stone: The Unravelling of America, by Wade Davis. It’s a long article, but worth it.

Davis relates that six weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had captured 90% of the world’s rubber making capacity. To ramp up the war effort, the U.S. government called for a speed limit of 35 mph to extend the life of existing tires, and the nation complied! No one accused the government of overreach. No one complained that their freedom was compromised or suggested that mandating shared sacrifice during a crisis somehow violates the Constitution.

Perhaps that aspiration for greatness was best expressed by John Kennedy, when he said in his 1961 inaugural address, “Ask not what your country  can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That spirit probably started to die when Kennedy did, and Davis reviews, in heart-rending detail, some of the missteps that led us from then until now.

Wade Davis’s article concludes with the observation that when Trump said of the coronavirus, “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” he might as well have been speaking of the American Dream…

And yet, to start to imagine solutions to a problem, we must begin by trying to understand what the problem really is. It also helps to remember what the ancient king’s philosophers told him: this too shall pass. 

3 thoughts on “2020 Notes: This too…

  1. My daughter was completely distraught when Trump was elected, and I told her, “This is a great country. We can survive four years of his ineptitude.” Now I wonder if we can survive the next few months with him in Washington. That said, I read Heather Cox Richardson’s brilliant Letters from an American (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com) each day and hang on to the hope that enough people will vote to oust the bastard. Thanks for the link to the article. I look forward to reading it. Stay well, Morgan.

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    • Wade Davis is a Canadian academic with impressive credentials: “holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia.” In the article he shared a quip that he’s recently seen online saying that “living in Canada these days feels like having an apartment over a meth lab.”

      That said, at times like this I remember the title of an excellent history of the American Revolution, “Angel in the Whirlwind,” by Benton Bobrick. The title came from Thomas Paine. Noting the unlikely early victories of the rag-tag Continental army over the finest military in world, he wrote that, “Surely there must be an angel in this whirlwind.”

      There are so many incidents in American history that appear providential! Like the union private, marching along, who spotted three cigars by the side of the road, wrapped in a piece of paper. That paper turned out to be Lee’s battle plans for Antietam.

      So we can all hope that angel is still there! You stay well too!

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