Grow a pearl
A musical memory
My brother was in town this weekend and I drove out to Oberlin Sunday with the windows down and Apple Music’s Earth Wind and Fire’s Essentials cranked up like I was eighteen again.
“September” starts to fade and “That’s the Way of the World” begins.
I smile and become Venus Flytrap and talk over the intro in my best late night DJ voice stopping at the first post when Verdine’s bass signals the horns are about to come in.
I think back to 1975 when the song was released - I know I couldn’t imagine the future. It never occurred to me that some day our years would begin with 20 not 19.
I was a junior in high school, by the turn of the century I’d be my parents’ age. Who can imagine that?
But 2000 is now further behind me than the number of years I’d lived in when this song was released in 1975.
As the song says, “Future pass, they disappear.”
“Daniel,” you say, “are you ok? Are you having a stroke? You’re not really making much sense.”
I’m not having a stroke but I’m having difficulty making sense of all this.
Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
And the right has learned that you can’t remember the past if you can’t find it.
Many of my left-leaning friends point to obvious lies by a congressman or senator about anything from climate change to COVID. They think it’s so stupid of the person to say something that is so clearly and demonstrably false.
But it becomes the truth as “Future pass, they disappear.”
Rewriting the record in real time is one leg of the stool.
Charlottesville was not that long ago.
White supremacists marched with tiki torches chanting racist and anti-semitic statements.
We almost forget that the seeds of the movement was a reaction to Confederate statues being taken down after a white supremacist walked into a church in Charleston and killed nine black members of the church.
Repositioning Charlottesville in real time, the president gave his famous assessment referring to “very fine people on both sides.”
Clearly and demonstrably false. But the record gets rewritten and the truth, “they disappear.”
Banning books, the teaching of uncomfortable truths, the right to protest and assemble, and even the right to vote - they are some of the other legs of the stool being knocked out one by one.
We don’t start life that way.
Earth, Wind, and Fire sing, “Child is born with a heart of gold.”
But something happens.
The integrated classrooms of elementary school split into self-segregated tables in the lunch room by middle school.
“Way of the world makes his heart grow cold.”
You’re walking towards a door and you see someone with their arms full. They’re heading to that same door. Do you walk a little faster to get there first to hold the door open for them and usher them in ahead of you?
That’s how I was raised.
We always used to.
Now I see people pretending not to see each other not even giving the door a push after they go through to make it easier for the other person to make it through.
Pretending not to see the person or not seeing the person?
“Daniel,” you ask, “how could they not see?”
They see but it doesn’t register.
So many don’t see the humans or the humanity around them. They grow isolated and angry. They don’t see other people as people - they see them as the reason for some ill-defined grievance.
What could be less radical than the assertion that, “We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day”.
And yet these words, when they were delivered by Malcolm in 1964 were seen as radical and everyone focused on the end of that sentence: “which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
“By any means necessary”.
These words that were designed to inspire the acquisition and enshrinement of rights for all of us could easily describe what we’re seeing being used to take them away.
Make it harder to vote. Untax the rich. Pack the courts. The Supreme Court has two seats stolen and a 5-4 court committed to protecting your rights becomes a 6-3 court devoted to restricting them.
The democrats point to Lindsay Graham’s promise that he would hold a republican president to the same standard as a democratic president and not allow them to appoint a justice this close to the end of his (‘cause it’s always “his”) term.
They point to Mitch McConnell explaining why Merrick Garland couldn’t get a hearing but Amy Coney Barrett could and cry out about the hypocrisy.
They point to what Supreme Court nominees said during confirmation about Roe being settled law - a precedent on a precedent - as they prepare to undo it.
The GOP has become the party of Malcolm X’s “By any means necessary”. Not to ensure our rights but to strip them.
It always comes to that moment where you understand the way of the world and you ask, “so what are you going to do about it?”
Earth Wind and Fire tells us, to look way down in our heart and soul and find that peace of mind.
“Plant a flower and grow a pearl.”
It’s hard not to look at the Buffalo shootings this past weekend and not see many more like it in our future.
The shooter scouted the location, had a clear objective, returned to the scene, and killed ten people.
He didn’t see those around him as human beings. He didn’t see himself and his loved ones in the eyes of people he killed.
I don’t know how we change that.
I know that my “by any means” doesn’t include carrying a gun.
I watched the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan forty years ago. My senior year of college. No one was better protected than the president of the United States and that wasn’t enough to prevent a determined gun man for getting his shots off.
Carrying a gun might be right for you, but I’d be more likely to injure myself or someone I love than to protect myself.
I’ll look for flowers I can plant.
My first will be messages to Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos asking them to highlight the books that others are trying to ban.
It’s like biking instead of driving or reduce my consumption of meat. It’s not going to make much of a difference. Not that one flower in the middle of a field.
But maybe I’ll plant another. Maybe someone will plant one nearby. And maybe once people see a garden they’ll stop and remember the things they used to love as a child.
Before the way of the world made their heart cold.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 112. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe