Less capable of living

By waiting you wait more. Every waiting day makes your life a little less. Every lonely day makes you a little smaller. Every day you put off your life makes you less capable of living it.
Ann Brashares, Sisterhood Everlasting

There is a museum in Toronto with an excellent collection of Asian art, much of it gathered over decades by members of the merchant class, people whose families made their fortunes in trading fur, timber, and spices with the Far East. While visiting the city for a conference, I had the opportunity late one afternoon to take a relatively quick turn through the museum. Because my time was short, I used an approach someone taught me 20 years earlier: Pick one thing you want to see in the museum and head directly toward it. Spend time with that thing, and when finished, wander back to the entrance at a leisurely pace, looking at anything that catches your attention.

Peach Bloom VaseOn this visit, I elected a room with the highest quality peach bloom and sang de beouf porcelains. That would have been enough to make the trip worthwhile, but as I headed back I happened upon an exhibit of Japanese augury tiles upon which were written characters in a language that was known for never having been spoken. Warlords heading into battle would toss these tiles, animal bones in reality, to be interpreted by shamans as portends of the outcome of the fighting. I was fascinated by a language that was never spoken. I was also fascinated by the notion of fierce warriors basically shooting craps to find out what they should do.

An especially meaningful aspect of the exhibit for me, however, was a station at which visitors could don white gauze gloves and reach through a pair of holes in the glass panel to pick up exact replicas of the tiles to toss them as a warlord might have done 300 years earlier. I got a kinesthetic sense of their moment in time. Tossing the die, maybe to die. I remember coming home to Paul a day or two later, telling him of the experience. I reported that after I tossed the tiles I felt as though I were leaping off a cliff with no clear notion of what was below. It was like my only real choice was to fly – an empty-handed leap into the void.

Yesterday on NPR, there was an interview with a former 2012 US Republican presidential candidate from Minnesota. He was asked if he might have been a stronger contender if he had been more aggressive earlier in the debates preceding the primaries and caucuses. I assume the reporter was drawing a line from him to Messrs. Rubio and Cruz and their debates with Mr. Trump. In other words, he was asking, “Have Rubio and Cruz waited too long to take off the gloves?”

It struck me that while the question was legitimate, its premise was off. Asking if the timing of aggression is too late, too early, or just right assumes that aggression is what is needed. Mr. Trump is pandering to the hostile resentment of poor and working class people whose brightest hopes for the future are at times more aligned with lotteries and casinos than with an economic system that screws them every single day, a system that disproportionately benefits the likes of Mr. Trump.

sang-de-boeuf_bottle_vaseIt strikes me as oddly cunning that the architects of government distrust benefit so powerfully from it while harnessing the rest of us to feel powerless. It is though we have been anesthetized to not feel our own muscles, amnesia of our power to form government. It is as though we have been waiting for someone to make things right, when in fact things are right now.

Political discourse, even heated discourse, is the stuff of democracy. But Mr. Trump is not engaged in that discourse. He is name-calling and lying. His opponents in his own party do not seem able to stop him, because they have in part fomented the very wave of populist outrage that he is riding to their convention. Pundits are wringing their hands that the Republican “elites” don’t know what to do. I disagree. They know what to do, but are unwilling to do it.

Kick him out of the party or embrace what you have wrought.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
Alice Walker

[This post is dedicated to Paula Penebaker and the other women leaders at YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin (Aylin, Holly, Jennifer, Martha, Norma, Shana, and their colleagues) who are making history every day.]

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