Thoughts After to 2016 US Presidential Campaign & Election
I have always liked history and the study of cultures and societies. When I was in high school I took a course entitled Modern Western Civilization. The description for which promised (if I remember correctly) to cover “ … the development of our civilization from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia, all the way until late last Tuesday.” I felt thoroughly enriched by the sweeping arch of thousands of years flowing through to feed and inform my experience in modern time. I know now that the course was deficient in many key areas, but its basic understanding of how we, as a culture, got here still serves me today.
And ever since I took that course, I have lived with the feeling that something about us is dying.
I don’t mean this from a nationalist, isolationist or supremacist (of any kind) way. I don’t mean that something “great” is being lost or is fading into a new, emerging path that dishonours the founders of our culture. Perhaps the Mod Wes Civ course I took in high school made it possible for me to see that our culture wasn’t founded by a handful of pioneers and explorers from Europe only a few hundred years ago. Our culture is a sweeping epic of conquering, acquisition and assimilation that folds countless nations, belief systems and entire empires – not to mention a multitude of other species and ecosystems, into its foundations.
And I have lived for decades with the feeling that this way of being in the world – this way of perceiving and understanding ourselves and our role on this planet, may be coming to an end.
For much of my adolescence and adulthood I have focused, not on what is dying, but on what could be birthed. I considered myself one of many “spiritual midwives” to the world. All the pain and devastation we see are labour pains. Labour is a messy, painful and even dangerous process. What is being born is worth the effort and faith. A world of kindness, love and peace. That is what is possible. There are many who still perceive our current cultural journey in this light. I will not argue with them, but lately I have begun to wonder if our tendency to focus on what is possible might be part of the patterns that are dying.
We crave progress and enrichment. We seek ways to improve and develop. Rarely do we see a pain and sit with it honestly. Seldom do we calmly hold space for what is wrong – what is hurting, and give it all the room it needs to speak and share. Giving ourselves all the time we need to learn a language that does it justice.
I saw this pattern play out in my own life with my experience of chronic illness. Always focused on what could be, I lived in a state of inspired optimism. I can honestly say that I have seen many benefits to my health as a result, but I am no longer certain that seeking improvement – placing my faith in what could be, was the only or best way to receive them. In fact, I am quite certain now that had I learned to grieve I would have gained all of the same benefits (possibly more) while not necessarily engendering the same suffering, for myself and others in my life.
So now I focus on what is dying, not what might be born. Not a midwife to the world, but a practitioner of grief. I stand as a witness at the death bed of a civilization, thousands of years old. Will it die before I do? I don’t know. But I know that if someone I love is dying, my job is to support that process. It is not for me to turn my back any more than it is to move aggressively either to hasten or postpone the moment of death. While the (admittedly, rather small) anarchist part of me may cry for the place to be burned to the ground so that we can start over, the peacemaker in me knows I have a greater obligation.
I am obligated to sit with the pain, honestly. I am obligated to hold a caring and supportive space for it, while it speaks and shares about its needs. I am obligated to testify and witness. To listen until I can learn a language that does it justice. And I am obligated to honour the dying as it happens. That is what grief is. Grief honours the ending and the letting go, while still holding faith with life. Grief honours the ending and the letting go as an act of holding faith with life.
Something ancient is dying. A way being in the world that perceives itself as the centre of what’s happening here in this world. A way of being that understands this world through the lens of supremacy, acquisition, mastery and power. There is much about this way of life that I cherish and appreciate. Much about it that I benefit from. And the suffering is too high a cost to pay for the comforts our culture promises. It is not sustainable. It’s had a good run, thousands of years. But its time is ending. Something deep within the heart of our civilization is dying. It is the good and natural thing.
Today I grieve.