The Aging of Aquarius

 

As William F. Buckley, Jr. told the story, five days before his mother, Aloise Steiner Buckley, died

one week (had) gone by without her having said anything, though she clutched the hands of her children and grandchildren as they came to visit, came to say good-bye. (When her) nurse brought her from the bathroom to the armchair and — inflexible rule — put on her lipstick, and the touch of rouge, and the pearls, suddenly, and for the first time since the terminal descent began a fortnight earlier, she reached out for her mirror. With effort she raised it in front of her face, and then said, a teasing smile on her face as she turned to the nurse, “Isn’t it amazing that anyone so old can be so beautiful?”
The answer, clearly, was, Yes.  It was amazing that anyone could be so beautiful.

Aloise Steiner Buckley was one of the lucky ones. Gazing into life’s mirror is not always a reminder that we have become old and beautiful.  Sometimes, we see  only that we are becoming old.  The same mirror that reflects the image of a full and well-lived life also may reveal traces of youthful hopes and dreams  turned to ashes by the fires of raging reality.

Whatever the nature of the reflection in the mirror, there never is an undoing of what has been. In an often misunderstood statement from his Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner put these words into the mouth of Gavin Stevens: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past”.  Faulkner’s point is uncomfortable as it is true.  The past never simply disappears. It continues to live and resonate, shaping and determining the present in unexpected and unpredictable ways.

Today, watching the aging of a generation – my generation –  which struggled toward maturity during one of the most complex eras of our country’s history, I find it instructive to consider what happens when  the unprepared or immature are confronted by the possibility that their most cherished convictions and beliefs are unrealistic or even false.

In 1967, in the months leading up to San Francisco’s infamous “Summer of Love”, a significant part of the population had embraced expectations which were cosmically high and exceedingly unrealistic.  It was to be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, that time when peace would guide the planets and love would steer the stars, a time whose anthem embedded itself so deeply into my own psyche that it can come rushing back at the sound of a single distinctive chord.

Life, it seems, never is so simple. Events rarely are predictable as the planets; stars do fall. Obstacles loom up, the edge of the cliff appears, and the inattentive or unprepared tumble into the abyss. For a good portion of my generation, the fall over the edge of the 60’s cliff was hard and fast. “Let the sun shine in”, the 5th Dimension sang, but when the sunshine arrived, it came filtered through events that left the mind eclipsed and shadowed. True liberation, it seems, is not so easy to achieve.

Writing in the July 12, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Sean Wilentz remembers the ambiguities, contraditions and imminent crises of that Summer of Love.

“It’s New year’s eve, in San Francisco. Country Joe and the Fish play the final set at the Avalon Ballroom, ushering in 1967. That same night, Big Brother and the Holding Company, fronted by Janis Joplin, perform nearby in Golden Gate Park. Two weeks later, 20,000 people pack the park for the first Human Be-In, a foretaste of the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury. Timothy Leary, in a phrase of his own invention, tells the assembled tribe to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

The Age of Aquarius may have been dawning, but so was another, very different age.  While the music still was fading at the Avalon, Ronald Reagan stepped forward to take the oath of office as President.  Again, Mr. Wilentz:

“Even as the counterculture was helping to transform America into a nation of greater tolerance and freedom, the country was beginning a long-term political shift to the right. The Republican Party was back in force, swearing in forty-seven new congressmen–including a transplanted Connecticut Yankee from Texas named George H.W. Bush. Like Reagan, Bush had endorsed Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. Together, the two men would play a prominent role in the conservative resurgence that has reshaped America’s political landscape just as surely as the Summer of Love reshaped the cultural landscape.”

The point here is not the politics of it all, but the twin realities of turmoil and transformation.  As Wilentz notes,

“We should remember 1967 not as the time the nation turned on and tuned in but as the moment the United States began hurtling toward a nervous breakdown, riven by conflict that would change the country and the world forever. It was the beginning of an era of intense polarization – one in which, arguably, we are still living. More than a momentous year, 1967 was a seedbed for our own times.”

There is little doubt this nation is reaping what was sown in those tumultuous years, and it can be interesting to ponder what might have happened had the counterculture been more successful. Social critic Theodore Roszak, author of the 1968 exploration The Making of a Counterculture thinks he has the answer.  Quoted in the PBS Special The Summer of Love, Roszak says,

“(If the ideals of the Sixties had prevailed,) it would be a world where people lived gently on the planet without the sense that they have to exploit nature or make war upon nature in order to find basic security. It would be a simpler way of life, less urban, less consumption-oriented, and much more concerned about spiritual values, about companionship, friendship, community. Community was one of the great words of this period, getting together with other people, solving problems, enjoying one another’s company, sharing ideas, values, insights.”

Would I like to believe that? Yes. Do I believe that? No. Did I believe that, once? Yes, with every fiber of my being. But years have passed, and new convictions have formed. Good vibrations are not enough; there must be moral goodness for hope to endure. Simple, unconflicted companionship is not enough; a community or relationship unable to sustain complexity or conflict will not long endure. Psyches that remain fragile as flowers, tender and childlike, totally unengaged in struggles for maturity and understanding, always will be aghast and shocked that the world has its own ideas about what will or will not prevail.

As the Summer of Love began, it seemed absolutely clear that love, peace and joy were about to liberate and transform the world. By October 6, 1967, when the “Death of the Hippie” was declared with a symbolic funeral in San Francisco, it was even more clear that the transformative beauties of the Aquarian Age had been slightly delayed.  It might as well have been an entire movement left leaning up against the van at the side of the road, clutching its wilted flowers and tasting  the sharp, bitter disappointment of unmet expectations.  

Even more apparent is an underlying sorrow, a profound grief, a sense that on some unspeakable level life itself had betrayed her promises. The fact that expectations had been too high, too unrealistic, too far removed from the complexities of human life ever to have been achieved is somewhat beside the point. The piper no longer was playing, and the children and clowns were aimlessly drifting. The traveling road show was coming to an end, and heart-sick was not too strong a word to describe those who had succumbed to its allure.

The past, of course, cannot be changed. It only can be remembered, as those of us who lived it smile, speak a word of absolution over our own naiveté, and move on into the future.  The Age of Aquarius may have ended, but age has its wisdom.   The Summer of Love may be dissolving into the mists of time,  but still there is opportunity for a season of mature love, a time for true understanding and compassionate acceptance of the common humanity and common history which continue to resonate and shape our lives today.

Perhaps the time has come to look again into the unbroken mirror of reality and see that, however imperfect the image, there still is beauty to be found. As a generation, we had our moments. We were coddled, crazy, and conflicted. Sometimes we were utterly selfish and without regard for other human beings or the world in which we lived.  Nevertheless, as Aquarians continue to age, it still is possible to pick up the mirror, take a long, sober look into the face of another time and echo the conviction of one already gone:  “The answer is, Yes. It is amazing that a generation could be so beautiful.” 

 

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Published in: on September 27, 2009 at 1:18 am  Comments (22)  
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  1. In 1968 I graduated from Owosso High School, in Owosso, MI. The closest I would come to Haight Ashbury would be the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego where I reported for boot camp that August.

    Over the next four years I earned my world view thanks to being powerless and expendable—I was an enlisted Marine and as such dared not think of a future. I was trained to kill people in the name of Democracy and Freedom. For me, and many like me, 1968 was not a summer of love. At the time I had no idea what was going on in places like San Francisco.

    As it turned out I was never sent to Vietnam and I never had to kill anyone. However, as a Vietnam-era Marine I came to know that my government lied to me in many ways. After that I have never trusted authority and what I see happening today confirms that distrust.

    Today I sense among many of the young, those in their 20s, 30s, and even their 40s, a self-imposed ignorance and cynicism. They have no lack of information if they choose it, yet so many seem unable to find meaning and purpose beyond the pursuit of material possessions, entertainment, celebrity, power, status and money.

    I fear that what was lost with the age of Aquarius was the belief in the possibility of genuine peace and harmony. I hope I will be proven wrong.

    Mike,

    Powerless and expendable. Either of those could significantly shape a world view. Experienced together, they make cynicism and distrust seem a perfectly reasonable response. Through the decades, the old adage, “Never trust anyone over 30″ seems to have morphed into “Never trust anyone in government”. As one of my acquaintances says, “I begin by assuming the government is lying. Any evidence to the contrary is welcome.”

    I’m not sure I’m ready to accept that bald-faced lies are standard operating procedure, but in the end I’m not certain it matters. What we are told by officials in every level of government is shaped as much by polling data, focus groups and resident spinmeisters as it is by the facts. Criticism of bloggers by media who claim to be more “objective” is laughable. My own mother, who has given up her news-watching, says, “Why bother? It’s like watching Days of Our Lives. You can miss two weeks’ worth of episodes, tune back in and find them in exactly the same place you left them.”

    It’s that inability to move things along that bothers me. I’m not afraid that belief in the possibility of peace and harmony has been lost. I’m afraid that the leadership charged with helping to bring it to fruition is itself cynical and manipulative, and possibly even more naive than those who lived through that Aquarian age. Like you, I hope to be proven wrong.

    Linda

  2. All I know about aging is that I’m getting pretty damned sick and tired of shaving my father’s face each morning in the mirror.

    Richard,

    Ah, yes. It does happen. On my mother’s side of the family, the women begin to go gray with just a little streak that shows up early and hangs around for a while before the process really gets going. When my streak appeared, it was far more visible in fluorescent light. I didn’t really mind it, but for several years I tried to avoid looking in motel mirrors ;-)

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Linda

  3. Thank you for this piece – I read it through once, and immediately had to get up, walk away and chew on it.

    I returned for the re-read and then understood I walked because the truth and the clarity of your observations were so spot on, at least for me – it was like getting plunged in a tub of ice water. Finally, I had an understanding & PERSPECTIVE of what the heck happened – an explanation for the sorrow & disappointment of our social behaviors.

    But as I look in the mirror, tears rolling down my face – and see my generation…. there is some peace within.
    I have persevered in spite of the prevailing winds…. Both my sons walk with HOPE huge in their hearts, and they will continue the journey.

    surfmom,

    As trite as it sounds, one of the hardest life lessons I’ve had to learn is that avoiding reality never changes reality. The struggle to see clearly – even in retrospect – never is wasted. In truth, the passage of time and a little emotional distance may be necessary before real understanding is possible.

    In the meantime, as you so well know, we persevere. Bob Dylan was right – the times did change, and we changed, but here we are, with the same hope in our hearts that your sons carry. The best part is that we can share part of the journey with them, until we have to send them on alone.

    Linda

  4. How amazing, and hi, long time no see, don’t get on so much as I used to. :)

    How amazing, just yesterday I was watching the wizened ol’ face of “Ronnie” making his “evil empire” speech. I thought how much he was a counter swing to the 60s culture. My grandpops used to say the love generation lasted about 6 months then everyone started ripping each other off and [worse stuff] aye, aye. It is so that the Beatles were singing “love, love, love.” and falling in hate with each other.
    It is almost as though the human race is not quite geared for love yet-only the hope for it.

    Oh you got me all philosophical now. :)

    Totton linnet,

    I just was at your place the other day, looking again for “I Will Daughter You”. That’s one of the best ever. I didn’t realize how much I missed coming by and enjoying all that tongue-in-cheek and good writing you do.

    Your grandpops was right, I fear. Once upon a time my god-daughter was being chastised for sheer nastiness toward her baby brother and his toys. She gave her mom a wide-eyed, innocent look and said, “But it feels so GOOD to be mean”. And there you have it – the human condition in a five-year-old bundle of contradictory impulses. I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a lot of those five-year-olds running loose among us these days ;-)

    So nice to see you! I’ll leave more of a footprint next time I come by.

    Linda

  5. Hey Shores… a big-time BRAVA !!!

    Not to distract your crowd in the slightest way, I hope, I’d like to suggest that maybe after a read of the Sean Wilentz ‘Rolling Stone’ piece you link, some might care to take a look at Ted Kennedy’s 1984 commentary on the Reagan so-called ‘administration.’ The feeling of what
    Yogi Berra once famously described as ‘deja-vu all over again’ gets pretty powerful when looking back over the last eight years our country has gone through. Anyways, glad I’m still on the right [left] side of ‘the grass’ ;)

    Keep on with your fine work …

    Mike,

    Link-following is a fine pasttime, and what often keeps me up at night. One thing I do enjoy is reading primary sources from earlier years – it gives a flavor and understanding not always possible when I read people writing “about” a period. Thanks for pointing to the Kennedy piece.

    Dear Yogi – he had such a special way with words! His “deja-vu all over again” is a great way of pointing to the cycles of history, and the fact that recycling’s for political theories and social fads as well as for glass bottles.

    Always happy to have you stop by!

    Linda

  6. I’m a little younger, at the tail end of the generation you’re talking about.

    I’ve read a little about the Age of Aquarius, astrologically speaking, as it followed the Age of Pisces, interestingly the age of Christ. With the Age of Aquarius comes spiritual enlightenment, a new awareness, a consciousness beyond what came before. If you look at the end of the millennium that certainly happened, with the industrial revolution, the information explosion, and the coming together of religions as borders have been crossed around the world.

    The mid-sixties were like a solar flare of this age’s birth. Solar flares fade, but the star is still burning. I really believe there is greater awareness while at the same time there is trouble like we’ve never seen. We certainly have to wake up. Expectations may have been very high, followed by disappointment and failure. But I think we’re still evolving upward.

    But old? Oh man, I started having a hitch in my hip this week, walking like my mom when she was 70.

    Ruth,

    What an interesting way to put it – a “solar flare of this age’s birth”. The analogy is apt. It reminds me of watching a fireplace log suddenly shoot out a gaseous flame. Eventually the flame fades, but the fire still burns.

    I wonder at times whether the laws of physics apply to social change as well. When you pair greater awareness with increasing troubles, it certainly sounds like Newton’s Third Law of Motion: To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction. The difference, of course, is that physical laws are inviolable. Finding a way around that dynamic in human relationships is one of the biggest tasks of those committed to social change.

    I hope your hip’s gotten itself back in place by now. I’m always a little astonished and maybe even offended when my body does something like that to me. How dare it?, I wonder. Just because we’re older doesn’t mean our bodies should be – ummm – aging! ;-)

    Linda

  7. Linda – well done. I also grew up on the tail end of all this, but with two older brothers, and not that much older, I was exposed to it all. I was 15 in 1967 – so not quite old enough to head out on the road, but old enough (especially with brothers 17 and 19) to know what was going on. There was definitely a lot of mistrust towards the government, especially when it came to Vietnam. My mother always told my brothers that she would support them going to Canada to avoid the draft. All 3 of my brothers never were in the service – thanks to high draft numbers. My hubby, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. After avoiding the draft for a number of years, it all caught up with him. He was drafted at 23 and if he had graduated boot camp – he would have gone to Vietnam.

    As Mike said, he was trained to kill. Nixon signed a law in May/June of 1970 – that no more draftees would go to Vietnam. Hubby graduated boot camp in July. All the guys he trained with went. Many never came home. He was considered an ‘older man’ in boot camp – relatively speaking, as you think that most young men are drafted at age 18 and he was 23. He’d already spent some years away from home and in a foreign country, so he had some insights to the world.

    How did I get off on this tangent instead of the summer of love? That always happens to me. I’d still like to think that I try to believe that there is more good in this world than bad, but I do hesitate to say that I believe everything I hear. I get as involved as I can at my community level, and I do believe that change happens, sometimes one person at a time. I also strongly believe that you can’t complain about the way something is done, or run, if you don’t get involved. Sorry – rambling and I’m a bit tired today – it’s been a LOOOnnnng weekend.

    Karen,

    I don’t think you’re off topic at all. The summer of love took place in a time of war, and it’s impossible to understand one without the other. For a variety of reasons – including having no brothers or close friends who were drafted – I’m less able to write about that side of things. That’s why reminders like yours, and Mike’s, are so important.

    I do believe significant change never happens unless we’re willing to see reality for what it is, and commit to a process that may take far, far longer than we imagine. As you suggest, the victories may be “small”, in the sense of being local and individual, but they’re no less victories in the end. “Think globally, act locally” is more than a cute bumper sticker. It’s an acknowledgement that what happens in our individual worlds affects the world at large. Every bit of decency, every gesture of acceptance, every substitution of a smile for an impatient bit of snarkiness counts in the end.

    The best and most horrifying example of the need for involvement I can think of just now is the foolishness going on here in Texas with textbook standards for social studies. After a failed attempt to replace Christmas with Diwali, rather than simply adding Diwali, the State Board is continuing to consider eliminating from textbooks such folks as Carl Sagan, Colin Powell, Nathan Hale, Neil Armstrong, Eugene Debs, John Steinbeck and Mother Teresa. This is more than a Texas issue, as you know, since Texas and California textbooks help to set standards around the country. Since political appointees with particular political agendas are responsible for the recommendations, local political action is an appropriate response, and trust me – people ARE getting involved, even those of us without kids in school.

    Thanks so much for the thought-provoking post.

    Linda

  8. Linda, your post has the same epic and historic proportions as the movie Forest Gump… the account of a generation.

    During the 60’s I was just a grade school kid, but I knew all the words of these songs, and had admired the youthful dream of the time. I wasn’t a dreamer though, for I’ve known full well that harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust are attained not by the lining up of planets but that of people’s hearts and minds… and sometimes realistically, our agreeing to disagree, but on good terms. The ideals that the hippies longed for remain noble goals for us even today, although the routes may differ. You’re right in stressing that it’ll take much more solid and realistic steps of conscious efforts than just waiting for cosmic alignments.

    And I always believe that Beauty and Transcendence exist beyond materialism and physical appearance. Towards this end we should strive to seek and treasure whatever revelations we can behold, however minute they may be.

    Arti,

    It’s always amused me that I so much enjoy a song I so profoundly disagree with. If human history is controlled by planetary conjunctions and the course of the stars, then human action is irrelevant. On the other hand, if we set aside Jupiter and Mars for a moment and imagine that peace and love can guide planets and steer stars, human choices, decisions and attitudes become important to the course of history. No longer at the mercy of blind, external forces, we have a choice to let the sun shine in, or not, and it saddens me that so often the choice is for darkness.

    Something else piqued my curiosity tonight. I’ve always felt we were in deep agreement about so many things, and yet often there is “something” in your comments that seems different, unfamiliar. When you mentioned your belief that beauty and transcendence exist beyond materialism and physical appearance, I thought immediately: no, beauty and transcendence are mediated to us through the material world, they are embedded in the physical.

    I’m wondering now if this is the difference between Eastern and Western views of life popping up. Or, perhaps, Platonic thought confronting the doctrines of creation and incarnation. It’s terrifically interesting – one of these days we’ll have to chat about it.

    Your comments always are stimulating – thanks so much for stopping by and pushing the boundaries a bit.

    Linda

  9. Autumn truly is a good time for reflection, seasons being the greatest metaphors for life.

    When I read your essay on the aging of Aquarius it has a different meaning for me. The song I hear in my head has a chorus; “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”.

    I did not believe that people could change the world for better although I thought it was nice that a tiny group of people tried. In 1973 I was too young to be a hippy but apparently not too young to be a nilhilist. I had read Silent Spring, saw the news about how bombs were killing children in Belfast and heard about how American soldiers were killing children in Vietnam. I had met the KKK and it was my grandfather. By age ten I had faced down a Baptist preacher and told him “There is no God, only evil and you are part of it”.

    No, I never saw those times as a time of hope, but I really liked the music. It was only the music that made me think humanity had a sliver of a chance.
    Although the physical aspect of aging bothers me, it’s the emotional benefits that come as a blessing. Time has worn the sharp bitter edges off my heart. I can’t read the print in front of me without glasses now, yet I can see the beauty the world has to offer.

    Maybe now it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

    Nanette,

    That would be quite a title ~ “I Was a Teen-Aged Nihilist”. While you were facing down that preacher, I was hiding behind the curtains, terrified someone would make me say something outloud. Our circumstances were probably as different as the conclusions we drew about life, but I understand perfectly the “younging” process you talk about.

    We were among the lucky ones. Some hearts harden. Some become so fearful they never can connect – not with another person, not with another creature, not with the creation. But we escaped with the music, and the color, and a sense of freedom and possibility intact. We lived in the midst of it all like your friend the security-guard-turned-artist lived in the midst of his canvases, until we were ready to pick up our version of his brushes and begin.

    As someone once said, “Cue the music, indeed”.

    Linda

  10. Astrologically speaking, Linda, I am one who believes we’re in the Age of Aquarius NOW. Any typical age lasts 2,150 years, so we have a long time to “get it right” and heal ourselves. Aquarius has everything to do with the Brotherhood of Man, Friendship (phileo love), universal access to communication (Internet), etc. If we don’t figure out how to live together in peace on this Ball that has become so interconnected, we will quickly annihilate ourselves. The Internet will become more “regulated” and safe. Countries who fight the system will be forced by the rest of the world to cooperate. As after the Civil Rights movement, they may still hate in their hearts but they will have to “behave” or suffer the consequences.

    Yes, I’m sounding a bit idyllic, I know, but that’s what the Age of Aquarius is all about and I have to believe in it and not despair. It’s what keeps me going for my children and grandchildren, believing the body knows how to heal itself. There will be skirmish casualties, of course, but I believe the War can and will be won.

    Whenever we can hold up the collective mirror and say “How can we be so beautiful?” there is hope for our world. One person at a time!

    Ginnie,

    It’s been so interesting for me to hear from people who take the Age of Aquarius seriously. For me, it always was a lovely, poetic metaphor for that idyllic time you speak of, but nothing more. Astrology seems to me to fit into that same little corner where I keep my Aunt Ina and her Ouija board, or my friend who makes a run to the palm reader before planning her week. I’m fascinated by Stonehenge and was pretty excited the night Starhawk showed up for a full-moon gathering at an old sugar mill in the Virgin Islands, but…. even there, it’s the human element that intrigues me most.

    On the other hand, I also believe body and spirit know how to heal – if only they are given opportunity to do so. There are healing forces abroad in the world, too, but just as individuals who fall ill are told to rest, our world needs rest from time to time. We keep pushing it at our peril.

    Your ability to see beauty and maintain hope is inspiring – it shines through in your words as well as your photographs!

    Linda

  11. We were young and enthusiastically optimistic and thus naive and unrealistically hopeful.

    The dichotomy between tribalism and ubuntu has been present in humans at least as long as humans have been telling stories. Humanity has reached an age where tribalism may have no long term survival value anymore but tribalism won’t end within a generation. Older now and wiser from hard experience we can still admire the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in ourselves.

    LowerCal,

    I’d be interested in how you are defining tribalism, or whether you might consider tribalism different from tribal life. Having lived and worked in a traditional African tribal culture, I don’t see a clear-cut dichotomy between tribal life and ubuntu. If anything, ubuntu evolved as a modern attempt to capture and communicate the traditional values of tribal life: interconnectedness, interdependence, the importance of the ancestors, generosity and hospitality.

    Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both often referred to ubuntu as a “principle”. Ironically, that is the one point where I see a difference between ubuntu and tribal life. There is a West African proverb that says it beautifully – “The tribe is the river in which fish swim”. Unlike a principle which an individual can stand apart from and examine for merit, the tribe is an all-encompassing reality, as necessary and unnoticed as the air we breathe.

    When I went to the wiki and glanced through the examples, this one caught my eye. Nelson Mandela explained ubuntu by saying, “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu.” If that’s so, there isn’t a bit of difference between ubuntu and the West African tribal life I experienced. When we walked from one village to another, we carried our rice bowl and a spoon. It was assumed that a village would have no extra bowls or utensils, but it also was assumed they would be the ones putting the rice into the bowl. In the same way, it was assumed that palm wine would be tapped and offered, usually passed around a circle in a single cup while drummers or dancers offered a greeting.

    It makes me curious – is it possible that ubuntu was promoted as a way of inculcating values lost as tribal life eroded? And could expanding the understanding of “tribe” be a more fruitful approach to encouraging the values represented by ubuntu?

    In any event, your point is well taken. The time for radical individualism, absolute privatism and rampant narcissism is over. If we’re going to survive, we need a new way.

    Forgive the length, but I just remembered a funny story. When we evacuated for Hurricane Rita, we arrived in Nacogdoches after a 14 hour drive that takes 3 under normal circumstances. We had reservations at the LaQuinta, and rolled up about 4 a.m. As I walked up to the door, it swung open to reveal a man holding a tray of juice, coffee and soft drinks. Looking at me and not batting an eye he asked, “Are you Tribe Katrina, or Tribe Rita?”
    It made no real difference, and over the next week both tribes got along just fine.

    Always a pleasure to have you stop by and keep me up at night thinking about things ;-)

    Linda

  12. Oh Linda, you’re reading too deeply into my very inarticulate ramblings. No, I’m not into Eastern mysticism… far from it.

    Allow me to quote Blaise Pascal: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Materialism, drugs, any form of human achievement cannot fill such vacuum where only the Transcendent, God Himself, can fill. And from the Endnote of my Hedgehog review, quoting Eccl. 3:11, “He has set eternity in our hearts…”

    That’s why we would seek meaning beyond the material, permanence over temporal, and a moral anchor in this day of relativism. That ‘something’ may just be my very inarticulate way of uttering these convictions without appearing blatant and direct. Thank you for allowing me to explain and clarify.

    Arti,

    I never think of it as rambling. I think of it as the homing pigeon approach to meaning. We’ll just keep circling and circling until we find a spot to land!
    And you know that I always welcome blatant and direct ;-)

    As for inarticulate ~ well, of course. Look what we’re trying to talk about. I’m so glad you added this note, because it started me thinking about T.S. Eliot again, and the wonderful stanza from East Coker. I used to read it all the time but haven’t in a while. So, I’ll just be quiet and let Eliot do the talking:

    So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
    Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
    Trying to use words, and every attempt
    Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
    One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
    Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulateWith shabby equipment always deteriorating
    In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
    Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
    By strength and submission, has already been discovered
    Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
    To emulate—but there is no competition—
    There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
    And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
    That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
    For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

    Aren’t we blessed to be able to do this?

    Linda

  13. “Whatever the nature of the reflection in the mirror, there never is an undoing of what has been.”

    Linda,

    That can be a hard truth, but truth it is.

    I find myself frustrated with leaders who become entrenched in their party positions and refuse to budge no matter the facts. The most disturbing is the reality that their positions are often based on the latest polls instead of what could be right for the country. Another provocative post, Linda.

    Bella,

    I can’t help it – I keep seeing the image of the elderly couple you provided for us ;-) Now, that’s a reflection in the mirror!

    More seriously, I share your frustration. My cynicism regarding politicians has reached unhealthy levels, even as my admiration for the “hidden” leadership within communities grows. Teachers, scout leaders, parents, hospital volunteers, organizations serving the homeless or poverty-stricken without the help or hassles of government funding – they’re the glue holding a lot of our social structures together, but no glue holds forever.

    As long as politicians are primarily in the business of getting re-elected, and primarily concerned with power and status, even their loftiest rhetoric will ring hollow. How to hold them accountable is the question.

    Linda

  14. LowerCal,

    I’d be interested in how you are defining tribalism, or whether you might consider tribalism different from tribal life. ….

    There are two concepts labeled “tribalism”. I was using the the one where exclusion is as important as inclusion. From the wiki, “The other concept to which the word tribalism frequently refers is the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates oneself as a member of one group from the members of another.” and, “Many tribes refer to themselves with their language’s word for “people,” while referring to other, neighboring tribes with various epithets.”

    By that concept of tribalism you can have tribal division even within one nation based on which of your legs is shorter. ;^)

    I contrast that with Archbishop Desmond Tutu statement, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” which seems to recognize that all persons are of the same tribe.

    LowerCal,

    That’s helpful. Somehow I missed the focus on exclusion, which of course is key to the “ism” part of the concept. I had to laugh – even before I got to the short-legged ones, I was thinking about my Swedish grandmother and her friends, doing their needlework on the front porch and switching immediately to the Swedish language rather than English as soon as one of “those people” – the neighborhood Czechs and Slovaks – came walking up the sidewalk. Truth to tell, they probably would have done the same thing if the Norwegians had shown up!

    If only we could achieve that vision of the “human tribe”.

    Just a side note that occurred to me today. Much of the trouble in Africa arose from the imposition of geo-political boundaries over natural tribal groupings. The Kpelle people, for example, live in both Liberia and Guinea, although civil war spread them further. Their primary allegiance traditionally was to the tribe rather than that nation – the same has happened with other tribes and other countries. It’s interesting to ponder whether much of the hysteria over “one world government” is in fact rooted in a barely recognized tribalism.

    Thanks for the additional comment – it helped to dispel some of my mental fog ;-)

    Linda

  15. Linda, this post touches me in so many ways. There is the part of me that has been battling the disease that killed my father, disturbing me to the point that I have started counseling to get a handle on the fear this part of aging brings, the anxiety that comes with visions of the past.

    But I still believe in hope, in change. Sometimes my openness is naive, innocent, grounded in Pollyanna. And sometimes I wonder if I fall into a bit of a trap with that.

    So, when you wrote this: “The fact that expectations had been too high, too unrealistic, too far removed from the complexities of human life ever to have been achieved is somewhat beside the point. The piper no longer was playing, and the children and clowns were aimlessly drifting. The traveling road show was coming to an end, and heart-sick was not too strong a word to describe those who had succumbed to its allure.”

    I look at our political landscape and wonder if the expectations there were too unrealistic and removed to have been achieved. But I still can’t make myself believe that today’s traveling roadshow is coming to an end…”

    jeanie,

    The interplay of mind, body and spirit in the aging process is amazing to behold. I’ve been so blessed with good health I don’t think of myself as aging, at least until there’s that sudden stiffness, or I catch a glimpse of myself in a fluorescent-lighted mirror. But I feel the press of time, and sometimes wonder if the end will follow family patterns or be entirely unpredictable. What I am learning is that the desire for death can be as strong as the thirst for life, and when two people who embody such opposing forces are made to deal with one another on a daily basis, there’s no saying which suffers the most! (Thus endeth the latest update on the Mom-and-daughter saga…)

    Like you, I’ve always tended to be trusting, optimistic, slightly naive. But, I’ve always said I’d rather be open and trusting, and have that trust betrayed, than be closed, pinched-up and suspicious. I’ve had a few “learning experiences” along the way, and have developed a certain savvy and caution that serve me well today, but my basic outlook hasn’t changed.

    I do fear our politicians and our government have taken on the nature of the traveling road show. I remember those shows from my childhood – an amazing collection of hucksters, swindlers and three-card-monte experts who were more than willing to work their magic in the community. My dad used to take me to those carnivals. I loved to watch the tents go up, and I loved the glass bead necklaces, the cotton candy and the tiny bisque dolls. But at the end of the night, when he’d tease me by asking, “Would you like to stay here and travel with the show?” it terrified me. Somehow I sensed many of the “carni’s” lives could collapse as easily as their tents, and I preferred something a little more stable.

    When I look at what’s happening in Washington, in our financial institutions, in our foreign policy, I see nothing but a collection of pitched tents. My hope is that we can build something a little more stable before those tents collapse, too.

    Linda

  16. I’ve always had a feeling that you look upon age and aging differently than in my home country (Sweden).

    Here we retire at 65 in general and suddenly becomes senior citizens hoping for maybe ten years of free active life without obligations before getting crippled of old age and hopefully die before its too late.

    Forgive my harshness.

    I’ve always admired the way you seem to look upon age in the USA.

    There were once a pair of climbers getting stuck on a mountain due to bad weather some years ago. Unfortunately the helicopter coming to rescue them crashed on the mountain side. And one reporter questioned the age of one of the climbers if it really was suitable for a man of his age to climb like that. Like it had anything to do with the weather and the crash.

    Désirée,

    It’s true that the upper limits of active life as “seniors” have been increasing here over the past decades. I have many friends who still are working at 65, 70 and 75, and many others who at that age are traveling or pursuing other interests. We’ve been lucky here that better living conditions and good health care have made that possible.

    I’m very concerned that proposed changes in health care policy here will turn us into a country precisely like the one you describe. As I’ve watched the development of the proposed legislation, I’ve become more and more unhappy with the direction and more and more concerned that decent health care will not be available for me as I enter my last decades.

    I know my view of age is skewed because my own mother is still relatively healthy and living in her own home at 91 – but, at 62, I see no reason not to expect another twenty years of life. And, I intend to make use of it!

    That’s a wonderful and sad story about the climber – sad because of the crash, but even more sad because of the attitude of those who question the climbers’ right to pursue their dreams. There’s a saying I love: “The question is not whether there is life after death. The question is whether there is life before death”.

    Linda

  17. Recently I read an editorial piece that took a retrospective look at Woodstock through forty years of hindsight. The writer was satisfied that the verdict of history was in, and that the Woodstock generation had been tried and found wanting.

    Now it seems to me that the world needs the message of Woodstock more than ever. The human population has doubled during my lifetime. (Doesn’t that bother anyone but me?) Meanwhile the fabric of life that supports that crowd is fraying. (I might have lived happily for ten lifetimes without hearing the phrase “fishing down the food chain”.) It’s perfectly clear, even in foresight, that we can’t go on as we are.

    Something has to change. The easiest thing to change is… your mind.

    Ah, sorry, I just realized that I’m likely preaching to the choir here. I have been mulling this message since I read the aforementioned article. This sort of rant would be more properly posted on that author’s blog, if I can find it again, than yours, dear lady.

    Yes, I’m a frustrated flower child. I came late to the party — I was only starting high school following the Summer of Love — but at that impressionable age I bought into the program. It was necessarily a long distance connection filtered through the media. I mean, I did not immediately abandon my mundane existence to fly away to San Francisco, but I heard the siren call, and it changed me.

    Not always for the better, I will admit. It has been a long, strange trip. So much of what has happened to the Woodstock generation runs counter to the counterculture. That does not invalidate the dream, however. The dream partakes of the sublime. The problem is not with the dream, but with people who deride it. We’re going to need that dream, going forward, as a cynosure. Without it we’re lost.

    Bogon,

    There are a lot of us who crank up the volume just a bit to sing along with Jerry about that “long, strange trip”. You certainly didn’t have to be riding the Magic Bus with Ken Kesey to emerge from the ’60s and ’70s feeling a bit disoriented. One of the most delicious bits of irony I’ve found is that the slogan of Air America, the covert CIA carrier during the Vietnam years, was “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime”. There were a lot of folks flying with that slogan during those years, and a lot of them crashed.

    On the other hand, in the midst of the exhaustion of war, the most cynical of politics and the horrors of assasination, the dream itself lived on. It also was tempered by life, re-shaped by history and necessity. As a friend once said, “The decades since the sixties have taught me that love has a cost, and sometimes you have to go to war for what you believe.” That’s a nice restatement of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote ~ “A sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.”

    It’s easy to become sentimental about our past – particularly a past as colorful and eventful as our Aquarian age. But as you suggest, engaging the mind as well as the emotions may be necessary before the dream can take on substance. That’s a lesson for the hope-and-change crowd as well as the aging hippies among us. My own hope is that they take it to heart, too.

    Thanks for stopping by – such fun to ponder your comment!

    Linda

  18. I just came back to read your response to my comment, Linda, and had to laugh. You may have heard from Ruth at one time or another that our maternal grandfather, Sidney Bennett (http://www.answers.com/topic/sidney-kimball-bennett), was a prominent astrologer in our country back in the early 20th century. We never met him because grandma divorced him when Mom was a young girl.

    Growing up in a preacher’s home, it became very clear to us 8 kids that we should never touch astrology with a 10-foot pole! We didn’t. BUT, following my own divorce in 1990, and through a series of circumstances, I had the good fortune to open up that part of my heritage and have been studying it ever since. It’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever studied! It’s a parallel to Bible study: you start with an ancient text or an ancient mathematical formula, neither of which is disputable. But how you interpret either one can make or break the “system.”

    My main “hobby” with astrology is doing natal charts based on the birth data of an individual (date, time and place of birth). What comes up in the chart, based on where the 10 planets fall at that precise moment in time, is a personality composite that encompasses all the best of any personality tests I have ever seen. It’s not about predicting the future. It’s more about understanding why we do things the way we do…and how we can strengthen our strengths and try to minimize our weaknesses…and/or change a course of action. It’s about choices we can make on what is there. I remember telling Ruth years ago about her son Peter and that I saw music all over his chart, as well as long-distance travel. She told me later that when he started to be interested in guitar, it was easier for her and Don to let him go at it because of what I had told her.

    I guess I don’t need to tell you that this is NOT hocus-pocus for me. I love it and feel like I have only seen the tip of the iceberg. It’s almost as fun for me as photography. :D

    BTW, another parallel for me is massage therapy. When I started school in 1990 to become a LMT, I found out that there were similar feelings out there as with reactions to astrology. Massage therapy was about 10 years behind chiropractic here in the States, and it was in the throes of acceptance. But today, both are widely accepted therapies, even by insurance companies. This is the way of Eastern modalities for healing…taking time to find their way into our Western thinking. That’s another reason why this is the Age of Aquarius to me: the world is becoming more accepting of the things we’re not used to, accepting each other’s way of thinking, seeing religions as one (which was anathema to me growing up!), understanding humanitarian ways of approaching our neighbors and loving them as ourselves.

    Most fascinating! Didn’t know I’d get carried away, did you! :D

    Ginnie,

    What an absolutely fascinating glimpse into your history, as well as into another side of “star-science”, as a friend calls it. For you to say it’s almost as much fun as photography is quite a statement!

    I’ve done some reading about the life of your grandfather, including changes in his approach to his astrological work. I rather enjoyed the fact that, at the end, he just dissolved into the ether, with no real information about his death. Do you ever look up at the stars and wonder if he’s there? Or does the family know what happened to him?

    It’s interesting to ponder astrology as a matter of text-interpretation. The Bible, the Constitution and the stars – who knew? I can only imagine the complexities involved – is there such a thing as a “strict constructionist” of the stars, or a planetary fundamentalist? ;-)

    I’m still not certain about that “written in the stars” business, or understanding human behavior from the “outside in”. On the other hand, anything that aids us in understand why we do what we do, and helps us make better choices in the future is all good!

    What is clear to me is that there’s a direct link between all this and the new post I just put up, about censorship. Banning books isn’t good, but neither is the banning of unusual, unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas. Watching those new ideas and new ways of being take root and grow can be fascinating stuff – as another reader said, we need all of the voices if we are to hear what it means to be human.

    Thanks for giving me some really interesting hours of reading!

    Linda

  19. Like you I would like to believe that a community or a philosophy can change the world, and like you I have my doubts that it can.

    That said, there’s no question that the world is a better place for having had hippies in it – not something you can say about merchant bankers!

    Jeannine,

    On the other hand, a community or philosophy certainly can change an individual, and when enough individuals begin to change, society shifts.
    I don’t know any more about modern physics than I do about merchant banking, but I love the idea of particles and waves. It makes sense to me that the dynamic would hold true on a human level, too. I don’t know what Heisenberg would think.

    As for those merchant bankers and their ilk (is “ilk” always negative?) ~ just a deep sigh, here. I just can’t even go there, as my very occasional public rants on the subject tend to be unattractive ;-)

    What I do know is that some of those hippies are still around. They just blend into the scenery a bit more than in the 60s.

    Linda

  20. Another song of that era is the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” which, of course, is from Ecclesiastes (To everything there is a season)even though Pete Seeger wrote the song. And I think about the season of Green. The first Earth Day was in 1970 and only now are we embracing its precepts in a big way. The cynic in me thinks if gas were 99 cents a gallon, we’d still be as brown as ever.

    And along with hippies were the anti-war protesters, in ways the polar opposite. Strivers, college students, “elites” if you will. And nearly all, hippies and protesters, were Baby Boomers. When I consider what Boomers have accomplished, in terms of changing the nation, I’m afraid all I come up with is they (we) made it acceptable to wear jeans past college age. We really are the Me Generation and that’s frightfully disappointing.

    ellaella,

    Cynicism? Oh, surely not! But as far as the gas is concerned, I fear you’re right. The only green many of my friends care about, after all, folds up and fits in a wallet.

    I’ve never thought of hippies and anti-war protesters as being polar opposites, perhaps because in my environment the two groups were so closely melded, particularly through the music. Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays bridged the gap rather nicely – and in those days, at least in Iowa, both groups drew heavily on the songs of the labor movement. As time passed the divisions became starker, of course. Some preferred to drop out completely, while others engaged – not so different from today.

    I am curious about the generation coming up now. I read some blogs written by 20-somethings, and hear occasional flashes of contempt for the cocaine-obscene profit-narcissism-is-beautiful crowd. Maybe change is like the tide – comes in, recedes and then comes in again, a little farther up the shore. We can only hope.

    Awfully glad to see you out and about – hope all is going smoothly as one of your smoothies!

    Linda

  21. Thank you for your kind reply.

    I didn’t mean to make it a health care issue. Because it had nothing to do with factual health. It was rather a matter of differences in attitude. If you turn 65 and suddenly consider yourself old, then it’s something wrong, I think.

    Désirée,

    Oh, my. We’re so obsessed here with the current legislative debate on health care I guess many of us see everything through that lens!

    Attitude is something else entirely, both individually and societally. Certainly I know 40 year olds who creep around as though they’re on their “last leg”. On the other hand, I know many now over 70 who still are working, cruising, pursuing their passions to create or learn new skills. Recently I heard someone refer to those over 55 as the “elderly”. At 62, I just laughed!

    But it’s also true that the health care available here makes it possible for folks to do all these things with a confidence not always possible in the past. And attitudes have changed – people assume that they’ll have twenty years after retirement for other pursuits OR that they can continue working into their 70s and 80s if they choose to do so.

    Maybe part of it’s that we have Florida, Arizona and Texas – nice, warm places for retired people to move to. I suspect even southern Sweden isn’t so kind in the winter!

    Linda

  22. I really enjoyed reading your article, keep on creating such interesting stuff!


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