Living today is often like finding out that I am in a real On The Beach–the last US submarine after the nuclear war has dropped me off on some formerly bustling sunbathing, volleyball playing, eating and drinking and beautiful body showing beach. The hissing of the silence is unnerving — did I hear a voice? was that a person just on the edge of my view? Now there’s just an empty everywhere, with traffic lights silently choreographing yellow-red-green-yellow-red… for traffic that no longer exists.
Where has the US of my father gone? How can something as bad as this be so quiet?
A while back a poem was making the rounds of blogs by the medieval German poet, Walther von der Vogelweide. Someone must have figured out my background and love for German Literature because without warning of any kind, links to it found their way here to Pane in the Tale.
It is a moving poem about losses in old age: Owê war sind verswunden, alliu mîniu jâr… Oh woe where have all my years disappeared to….. And indeed it does very eloquently express the woe and loss that the collapse of contact by outliving friends has caused.
- an older cousin, one of crucial importance to me in my youth mostly, and who has always occupied a bright place in my consciousness: gone. How can he be gone? It cannot be but is.
- the friend who died and who via a medium, who has no idea who I am, told his wife, tell Greg I miss our morning phone calls! He cannot be gone, he is too important.
- add Muffy, JJ, Steve, Butch, my first five German Shepherd companions,
- my parents, my uncles:
- my uncles who fought in World War Two. Wait a minute, didn’t I just the other day see the one who loved to play with me arrive in his summer khakis by train in downtown Detroit amidst a crowd erupting in tumultuous volcanic welcomes?
If it ended there, then OK Walther, you get the ring on the merry go round.
Today, however, it does not end there..
How can Trump stand where FDR stood, yes stood crippled, in the nation which came from far behind in 12/7/1941 to wind up last man standing at the end of WW2? How to adjust to the open and unhealing wound from the cutting bully behavior where civility and diplomacy always came to reside as mission critical competencies for 240 years?
Of our three foundational rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, life and liberty are cracked and happiness come to mean selfishness, greed. Was Jefferson wrong? Are we finally unworthy of the happiness derived from participation in the governance of ourselves?
Am I deluded in thinking myself a worthy member of a democratic state by expressing my opinions publicly? It would appear that 40% of our population thinks that we really need someone as President who “shakes things up, a disruptor”. How can we believe in that part of us who thought this country to be a unique experiment in equality–who felt that we were part of that?
How can we have the continued sense of safety and stability when the President has failed to catalyze a response of any positive sort to the largest physical threat humanity has experienced ever?
It is not just the failures that reduce us. His attacks which lame and dismanantle our democratic, republican institutions violate our trust in our President, and by easy extension, the political system and public values which put this incompetent world-hater into George Washingtons chair. We relied on those institutions. We invested ourselves, our trust, our expectations, our treasure, our safety in them.
Who are we then that this nation, which we thought was there for us, no longer is? How can we ever again think ourselves proud agents of an admired, successful state? After all, we elected him, not “they”. Who he is was as plain as the nose on your face or his perpetual sneering scowl.
Yet he won the Electoral College nod. Whatever currents of dysfunction and destruction carried him into office, they are ours now to stop in November and then, with the ardor of racing for survival, to correct .
And now the reports about fewer food choices begin to trickle in. It was predictable that food plants might have to close during lockdowns. It was predictable that we would need them open to eat. It was predictable that the one agency which could act across state lines, the Federal Government, would need to and could help keep it going till we could go back to work.
And who should have led that charge to protect food production, which never happened? That’s him, our DT, in the scowl shots above. What was he doing when the food reports came in? Dithering in temper tantrums about whether to hold briefings or not. He decided not to – -and could not keep that resolve for three days.
Who we are is in part a function of what level of needs we are working to satisfy — enter Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We have just had the rugs of self actualization, esteem, love and belonging as US citizens, and safety as people who need to eat yanked right out from under us.
This is not whining self pity. God does not like that: . It is not the poor-me’s. It is grieving the loss of the props of democracy and safe participation. . I am being pushed into protective thinking, pushed under by the waves of disorder as the river of consciousness is suddenly channeled over very stony rapids.
How then can I say that graphically?
Jump forward in time a few centuries in German-speaking Europe to the the 30 Years War (1618-1648) and Andreas Gryphius. In the horrid meat grinding, pestilent 30 years of war, he has to ask: was sind wir Menschen doch? – – well what are we humans then?
Was sind wir Menschen doch!
What are we humans then!
ein Wohnhaus grimmer Schmerzen
a home for ferocious kicks,
ein Ball des falschen Glücks
a ball of false luck
ein Irrlicht dieser Zeit
a fen-fire of this time
ein Schauplatz herber Angst
a theater of tart worry
besetzt mit scharfem Leid
cast with bitter burnt lime,
ein bald verschmelzter Schnee
a snow soon melted away
und argebrannte Kerzen.
and burnt out candle sticks.
Das Leben fleucht davon
Life is whisked away
wie ein Geschwätz und Scherzen
like idle chatter or some jest.
Die vor uns abgelegt
Who before us have laid down
des schwachen Leibes Kleid
the frail body’s cloak—
und in das Totenbuch
and in the obituary
der großen Sterblichkeit
of the great Croak
längst eingeschrieben sind,
long since had been registered:
sind uns aus Sinn und Herzen.
gone from mind and breast.
Gleich wie ein eitel Traum
Just like a vain-hoped dream
leicht aus der Acht hinfällt
easily fades to black
und wie ein Strom verschleußt
and rushes onward like a stream
den keine Macht aufhält
which no power can hold back,
so muß auch unser Nam, Lob,
thus must our name, praise
Ehr und Ruhm verschwinden.
honor and glory disappear.
Was itzund Athem holt
Whatever now draws breath
muß mit der Luft entfliehn
must expire with the air exhaled.
Was nach uns kommen wird
Whatever will come after us
wird uns ins Grab nachziehn
will pull us back into the grave’s jail.
Was sag’ ich? Wir vergehen
What am I saying? We fade away
wie Rauch vor starkem Wind.
like smoke before strong wind.
Who are we then? We are Americans who need to affirm all that Gryphius says, rid ourselves of the Trump Pestilence, and remember always: AMERICAN ends in I CAN.
Gryphius (born Greif) close witness of 30 Years War (1618-1648 much fought on German soil) plus plague, famine; ca. 67% of German population died during that time
Left strong impressions: Witness to burning and pillaging of town of Freystadt 1August 1632
Many of his images are events he saw and used also metaphorically-and can be read as metaphors for our time as well
Death was personal experience, not abstract: left his mood somewhat melancholic
Driven from hometown by war, made self an orphan but acquired excellent classical education
One of earliest poets to write in German instead of Latin
Must successful dramatist in German from 1616 to 18th century
Well educated man, named poet laureate by his wealthy patron; one of most important poets of German Baroque, improver of German as language of poetry
Time of political, social, economic upheaval & unbridled, seldom neither active nor almost active violence as status quo in certain of German principalities of Central Europe
Famous image of omnipresence of war: das vom Blut fette Schwert–the sword grown fat on blood
Asteroid 496 named Gryphia after him