Finally, as of the weekend it seems (or perhaps I just didn’t notice it before, in the events of the last week), the trees are bursting out with green tips. The long and soggy winter has given way to a greener, more glorious spring, whereas last spring the grass, due to droughts, came up brown. The forsythia, dandelions, redbush, hyacinths, and daffodils are out and are waving in gentle spring breezes. The temperatures have wavered from 50-74 (F) or so, and the world seems a brighter, sunnier, sweeter place in spite of pollen counts vexing some folks and bad weather reports coming in from elsewhere. It’s possible now to sit by the water and watch the ripples and the current and dream of an impossibly beautiful summer still to come. And already this morning, there is on the news a report of a five-person shooting in Seattle and a shooting of undetermined number in North Carolina. This is on the heels of last week’s Boston Marathon bombings and shooting spree and God knows how many separate bombings and shootings and stabbings and slayings and injuries in the last year, some due to verifiable quarrels, some simply due to indescribable malice, others due to mental confusion, others due to doctrinal differences, and others (as seems to be emerging in the Boston bombings) due to apparently unknowable factors. For, though both of the Tsarnaev brothers were said to be devoutly religious Muslims, the outrage of their relatives and communities speaks I believe genuinely when it declares that they were not acting as sincere Muslims act, but were acting out on their own tick, motivated by unimaginable things even to their nearest family members. So here we sit, as a nation and a part of the world community, left with another question mark even more noticeable than that of 9/11 because that had an origin of easily determined cause (a particular radical group).
It may sound odd to quote Steve Biko at this juncture, from his own struggle for freedom and dignity, but I would like first to quote and then to explain my frame of reference: he said “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” He was abused and jailed and suffered for a cause, and it may seem odd to apply his remark to a whole nation, nay, a whole world enslaved by violence and mayhem, and to pilgrims from other countries “yearning to breathe free.” But who is it but the convenience store clerk, working the night shift, or the female student, trying to make her way home at night after a late class or library study, the enthusiastic people at a political rally supporting their candidate, or the happy crowds in full daylight enjoying a community spectacle and thinking to get away from chaos and heartbreak for a day’s communal fun, who stand the most to lose when martial law of the streets becomes the norm due to insane and unpredictable explosions and bullets? We all lose freedom and dignity and the right to keep open minds in that situation, because the caretakers of our nation have to treat us all as potential suspects in order not to miss a real miscreant through carelessness.
Our dilemma is a real one, experienced all over the world in this century, and becoming more and more what a frenzied and frustrated newscaster who was trying to follow up the scene in last week’s day of terror on Friday called it (when the second Boston Marathon bomber was finally cornered): he referred to our dilemma as “the new norm.” Is this the truth? Is terror and looking surreptitiously around oneself constantly in all directions instead of just looking both ways when crossing in traffic to become the new norm? Is reporting tittle-tattle on possibly innocent new neighbors with some “funny” foreign habits that are not ours to become the new norm? Is going through numerous checkpoints and security checks and barriers where we need to present identity cards the new norm? Guess what? In some parts of the world, it already is, and has been for quite some time. And maybe it’s time that we in the United States stopped flag-waving in a chauvinistic way and pretending that it can’t continue to happen here just because our individual right to bear guns and apparently kill each other at will is “secure” and instead raise our flag more reverentially and attempt to make realistic adjustments to our new conditions as long as they may last.
For, things change. They do, though we don’t always notice it right away. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but while a utopia is perhaps not likely, neither is a dystopia absolutely necessary. We are not the slaves of Fortune, but are instead the controllers of our own souls and hearts and minds, and we can choose to maintain freedom and dignity inside ourselves, in our own hearts and minds, not to forge forward without fear, but to inform ourselves with our fears, of our fears, and then to try to go ahead anyway, heads and hearts not high, but realistically levelled and eyes alert and aware. The human mechanism is a wonderful entity–you’ll notice I don’t say “thing”–capable of marvelous degrees of adaptation, and because we are not things and are reasonably and within limits self-directed at our best, we can choose to participate in our own enslavement by adverse conditions, or can fight free of the bonds of hysteria and cant, and can ask ourselves what more, under each set of requirements, we can do to keep free of feeling enslaved.
Now is the hour of our choice, a long-overdue choice according to some. We are now more than ever, as Plato said of himself, “citizens of the world,” and now as then, when the known world was a smaller place by far, we must act according to a different set of responsibilities, a mature set of responsibilities, acknowledging that there are those who perhaps for partially understandable reasons do not like us or fit in with our descriptions of ourselves, whether we label them agitators, lunatics, terrorists, or human ciphers. We must deal with the anomalous and abnormal in our midst, and must begin by accepting that even as “the old world, she goes on the same as she always did,” that “the world has [also] changed,” that now as never before there is more ferocious firepower and destructive power and wanton energy around to make our task a hard one. What we must ask ourselves is: will we, with Steve Biko, refuse to allow our inner beings to become oppressed when we cannot prevent the external being from suffering oppression, will we, as the world has with a resonant voice and Boston has with one unified voice decreed in our stead, be strong? I think that with respect and acknowledgement for all that was lost on that Monday in Boston and with the same respect for the sufferers and grievers in every like situation, my question answers itself.