Monday, January 19, 2009

People coming together

I have included this video by Illbebackcall, hoping that no one in the world misses seeing and hearing this song at the pre-inauguration ceremonies. In his life and songs, Pete Seeger carries the history of the Movement - all the movements for freedom and unity. I loved him up there in his flannel shirt and hand-knit cap. He was one guy who didn't buy new clothes for the ceremony, God bless him.

I believe in song. That, eating together, sledding, adopting orphaned animals and children . . . these and so many other actions seem so much more useful than thinking.

That isn't what they taught me in school. The academic tradition I labored my way through assumed serious, hard thinking was the very highest human activity. Oh, the philosophy we had to read, all of us back in the day, though I imagine core curricula are looser now. And I did read it and underline things and write papers about ideas. Yet all I remember now is the occasional soundbite, like "I think, therefore I am." (Descartes; I looked it up.) But I've known people who could no longer think; yet still existed. I'm sure I'm missing the subtleties of the argument.

Actually, this whole opening up of communication that is the internet, this giving the air waves to the people, suits me, and a lot of other people, too. We've taken to blogging, then miniblogging, as on twitter and Facebook. We post pictures of our dogs and babies, share our art. I know there's a lot of debate online, in fact, it's as ugly as a grade-school playground sometimes, and no big guy to step in and call time out. I avoid that stuff. I am less and less interested in debate. Ideas separate people.

Ideas, views, beliefs, convictions - all can separate people. I was reminded of this yesterday as we watched the stunning ceremonies in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In the midst of the finale, everyone singing, I imagined my father shaking his head, getting up to leave the room, saying, "I never thought I'd live to see a (obscenity deleted) in the White House." He didn't live to see it, just as well. Yet, while he was proud to be a racist, he and my mother were good friends with an Indian immigrant couple, very dark brown people. The woman wore a sari. That was different. I assume my father didn't share his convictions with them.

The same odd division between mental constructs and actions is true of another favorite elderly relative (who is still alive). He can come out with the kind of racist talk that turns you cold. Yet, he had a long friendship with "a black fellow" who worked with him. This human being was different, you see, than that abstraction in the man's mind. Human beings are.

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