I’ve been seeing Dr. King’s photos on the cover of magazines for a couple weeks now but hadn’t had the spare few minutes to read on until a couple days ago. I will at least be able to consider the monumental anniversary of today, here in front of my computer, before continuing on with the many tasks of my life. There are two things that feel relevant to me and I realize that the connection is going to seem kind of random. The main question for me, a person who has always considered the civil rights movement an inspiringly magical time in our country’s history, is where are we now on the journey? I just read our president’s speech and was happy to be reminded how grateful that I am to have him as our president on every day, but especially today. He manages to inspire while bringing everything to bear. He manages to respect us with honesty so that we are empowered to participate. He said it his way, now I’ll say it mine here in this little corner of cyberspace. Just to add my voice to the chorus.
These days our passive meditation mode of choice is Glee. When it comes to movies and TV shows, I am very good at suspending disbelief and just plain being gullible: it helps me to really experience the show fully. So I have an easy time with Glee and I’m duly moved with the issues that the show raises. Lately I’ve been remembering times in my life when I had a vision that was real-life musical theater and how the reality fell short because I don’t have a full cast at my disposal. This part of me really ought to get a job at Glee (imagine making mini-musicals day in and day out – a dream come true for me), but it’s just a small part of me, not enough to build a career on.
I love to dance and sing, and I love to do these things in regular life, not bathed in lights that separate me from the other people in the room, rather in the company of the people I see regularly and know, for the joy that it brings us. Sadly, most people don’t seem to realize the benefits of such activities. And so I rarely sing or dance with others (except now my son has got the idea – maybe all hope is not lost). I think that this lack of communal singing and dancing is a major problem with our society. Major. Singing and dancing together are such basic and wholesome ways for us to nurture and heal our spirits collectively, and yet we seem to be completely ignorant to the opportunity that is always there. Honestly, it really frustrates me, but again, it’s one of my minor skills in life so mostly the singing and dancing me sits and waits, dormant.
When I think of where we are with respect to racism and segregation, I have mixed feelings. Some of us do not even think that there is still work to be done. I do believe that we have much to do, but that the work is of a closer more personal nature. I was not alive during the civil rights movement and I know precious little about it. But I have this sense that the many many people involved saw a real reason to bring themselves fully to the movement, and that with so much life force pushing the river, the world was compelled to change.
I cannot help but compare my ideas of the civil rights movement with how we handle similar aspects of our social life today. Imagine if every citizen of this country took classes about citizenship and appreciated the gravity of the responsibility, imagine if everybody actually voted! Imagine if we all had a community to call upon – and to really depend upon – in the face of every hardship. Imagine if we were so convinced of an idea’s importance, or of a basic human value that we were willing to put ourselves on the line for it – body, mind, and soul. Citizenship is just important today as ever, hardships are an inevitability of life, community and change are a basic human realities. And yet, on a collective level, we are at a loss of how to live these things. In that loss, we are not facing ourselves and the realities of our lives. When I hear of children wielding guns and being killed and other despicable acts of violence, I am reminded of how we are falling short. It is obvious, and yet we are collectively numb to it.
Joe Pilates made the point: “As civilization advances, the need for prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals should steadily decrease.” He speaks of a basic measure of our collective advancement. In spite of all that makes me think that we are stagnant, we are moving forward. These days the work is on a smaller scale and it’s more inward. These days progress is still being made, even with all the negative talk that we people are so prone to. These days the noble acts are more mundane, but they are just as important. This is what privilege looks like. This is what a maturing citizenry looks like. Our laws and our social framework are improved, but the work on ourselves as individuals and on the small community scale needs constant attention and is ripe for improvement.
In my romanticization of the civil rights movement, I think of the music shared in protest. I think of the people together standing up or sitting down. While the dangers were real, the collective will that stood up to those risks was powerful and enduring, and that shines through in the music. Now in our more privileged and semi-matured state we do not feel the same drive to face adversity. We have reached that point where the challenges are subtle enough or where we are numbed enough that we are not willing to risk our whole selves to overcome them. But maybe that is not what is wrong, rather it is what is. As much as I look back longingly for a time when the struggle was clear and the response was a simple choice, maybe there is no way in these days to have such a situation repeated. Maybe retrospect makes it romantic and straightforward. We are here now because of what happened then. Let us honor where we are, face our reality with honesty and respect and do our best to continually make improvements. Then the spirit of what those many people did has not been dampened by fifty years, rather it has grown stronger and matured into what we are now.
In season two of Glee, Rachel couldn’t figure out how to write a song until she really allowed herself to feel her heartbreak over Finn and channel that emotion into her creation. We are by our very nature creative. We are by our very nature suffering. It is a matter of linking the two, of opening the dam of privilege that is holding our experiences back from ourselves. In this next stage of collective growth, privilege may be our most formidable foe, but I have faith in our hearts to lead us forward. Every person has heart and soul, every person has the drive to create and to contribute. If we respect that truth and commit ourselves collectively to honoring it in how we relate to each other we will begin to move in step with the flow of our advancement that is continually carrying us forward no matter which way we are facing.
Clearly the civil rights movement was not about singing, but just as the songs helped the protesters to endure, now they can do something similar for us. Songs can transport us to a soulful place, they can remind us of what is most important and dear to us. Maybe now the songs can take us back to ourselves. To help us remember how much heart and soul we humans live with. To help us remember how rich life is when we allow the continuous flow of our creativity.
There’s some real common sense to the Zimbabwean saying. We could do well to lend our voices to song and our feet to dance a little more often. After all, who couldn’t use a little more glee? Come one, you know you want to….