Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fear Or ...

           So I was driving down to my parents’ house in Cape May on Friday, and I had a lot on my mind. First of all, I kept hearing this one guy’s voice in my head. He’s from New York, like I am, but he’s running for president, and he had given a convention speech the night before, which I had heard in part. It kind of freaked me out, because there was so much darkness in his words. He was saying in his speech that “our very way of life” is threatened in America, and that the person he’s running against leaves a legacy of “death, destruction and weakness.” He said these are very difficult days in America, and that we need to take care of our country first. The thing that upset me the most was when he told America, “I am your voice.” I have never lived under a dictator, but when I study them, they usually say things like that, tapping into our fears and convincing us that they know what we need.

            I was wondering what drew people to this guy and his rhetoric of fear and passion. I was wondering if this was the message I’d keep hearing in the days and months ahead. I had music playing on my iPod, and was paying tribute to the late Prince by listening to his tunes. In between songs about little red Corvettes, raspberry berets and purple rain, I listened to the lyrics from the song 7, which is the closest Prince every got to predicting the future when he released it almost 25 years ago. “I saw an angel come down unto me,” he sang. “In her hand she holds the very key / Words of compassion, words of peace.” In his Book of Revelation-type lyrics, Prince sings of a world in which “the young” are “so educated they never grow old.” He even sings of “a voice of many colors” singing a song “that’s so bold.” Well, I thought, that’s a different person with different ideas than the one I’d heard the night before. But I kind of like this vision of a world where compassion and combined voices lead the way, better than I like the sound of footsteps approaching.

            I arrived in Cape May and went down to the beach the next day. Every day, there are teenagers on the beach who sell umbrellas and beach chairs, then pick them up at the end of the afternoon. I’d noticed that the chair seller on our stretch of the beach had a tattoo on his upper chest. I stopped him and asked what the tattoo said. He read it to me: “Fear is nothing more than a mental monster you have created, a negative stream of consciousness.” I looked that up later, and saw that it comes from Robin Sharma, a Canadian writer. This young man, dragging umbrellas and chairs through the soft sand, seemed to have already arrived at a very different way of looking at fear than those words I heard on Thursday night. In fact, he’s so confident in these words that he wears them on his tanned torso.

            As I lay on the beach, I read a book by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, titled Fire Shut Up in My Bones. In terms of coming-of-age memoirs, they don’t get much better. I read about Blow’s attempts to find inner peace after a childhood incident left him violated and afraid. Earlier in the week, the author’s most recent Times column had spoken of the recent violence against civilians and police with the words, “It’s not either/or, but both/and.” As someone who has lived through tragedy, Blow is well-suited to help guide our country out of the struggles we face. He chooses to do so through words of love.

            After arriving back from the beach, I gathered up my dog and took her for an early-evening walk. Around the corner, I saw several yellow and orange pieces of paper tied to a tree with pieces of string. As I walked closer, I saw a sign in front of the tree, identifying it as a “Poet-Tree,” and inviting passersby to take one. My dog and I stood in front of the tree for a while, reading poems, many of them about nature, lots of them by Robert Frost and Mary Oliver. I took a poem from Oliver titled Wild Geese, whose beautiful lines speak of shared pain, shared progress, and shared tomorrows. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.”

            There are strong words of fear in America today. But wherever my wheels and feet seem to take me, I keep hearing reassuring words of grace. There’s a lot to talk about at those presidential conventions – our country has as much room for improvement as any. But we had a president once who said something about fear, something many have echoed in the 83 years since he said it. And it remains as true as the morning sun: The only thing we have to fear, my friends, is fear itself. The rest is today’s challenge, tomorrow’s triumph, and the music of life. 


Karen Ann said...

Wow, beautiful. Perfect, rings so true. I'm going to share a passage on facebook, with credit to you... I hope you don't mind.

Karen Ann said...
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Warren Hynes said...

Thanks so much, Karen!