Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Decline of Civilization, Part III

Cry,Cry,Cry--"Shades of Grey" (mp3)
Creedence Clearwater Revival--"It's Just A Thought" (mp3)

What kind of people are we if we can't say who we are? Or were?

In chapel today, we had an alumnus from Kenya speak, a man who has started a rural school in that country where he provides a free quality education to students who would have had no opportunity for any education. It is a noble mission, a life's work more authentic than what I do sitting here behind this desk.

His talk was largely a retelling of his life's story. And while much of what he said was highly complimentary of his time here, he also talked about his own lost years--when he descended into drinking, smoking, using marijuana and LSD, when he lost a scholarship, when he didn't have a home, when he had thoughts of suicide amidst the lethargy.

It was refreshing to hear someone talk like that, especially as we enter this final phase of a bitter presidential compaign, when an admission of any unsavory aspect of one's past could prove to be very costly. Take Obama for example. Already, he's had to disavow a religious leader who has to have been important to him, but who is too much of a truth-teller and who has no idea how to present the truth like anything other than the blast of a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. So, he's gone, as if he never existed, though you can bet his name will be coming up in the next four weeks. Similarly, Obama has been tied to a 60's radical, and now Republicans are trying to make that into a "palling around with terrorists" situation.

Do you ever ponder the unsavory characters of your past? I had several friends who dealt drugs in college, including one who earned the moniker of "The Whippet King" for his business selling small cannisters of nitrous oxide to fellow college students. Where is that guy now? Do his employers know? Would they scorn him if they did know, or is he in a corporation somewhere where they could smile fondly on his entrepreneurial beginnings? I had three friends who committed suicide (not all at once--I wasn't a cult leader!). How would that stand against me in a political campign? I can see the TV ad now: "This guy is so toxic everyone around him dies or wants to. Vote for me instead. All of my friends are still alive."

The fact is that to get a full picture of any of us, we have to be able to see the whole history. It isn't all pretty. And it isn't all planned.

I can't even imagine what, growing up, a person who was mapping out a political career where he would be able to skirt any controversy or regret would have been like. Oh, wait, yes, I can. He would have been the guy who never bought any of his own pot but smoked others' stashes freely, but never in a large group. He would have been the one with the bland record collection who bought Boston when they hit it big, Frampton Comes Alive! when everyone had it, Bruce Springsteen because the college was in Philadelphia. He would have never given you an honest opinion about anyone who was pissing you off, and he probably didn't wear blue jeans to class.

And nowadays, I suppose he can offer plausible denial of everything he ever might have been.

But that's where the problem is. Who wants to deny things that they once did? Not me. I'll tell you whatever you want to know. Where's the growth, where's the honesty, where's the catharsis in hiding the past? You start thinking that way, and you end up not only denying what you did, but what your family did, what your city did, and, even, what your country did. And then you are lost, perhaps irrevocably lost, as lost as an uncivilized people whose past has been destroyed, unrecorded, or deemed too dangerous for anyone to know.

"Shades of Grey," a Robert Earl Keen cover, comes from Cry Cry Cry's only cd. "It's Just A Thought" can be found on Chronicles: Creedence Clearwater Revivals' Greatest Hits, Volume II. Both are available at Itunes.


John said...

what's the cool modern painting at the end of your post?

Bob said...

I googled "the past" under images and all of these are among what came up. I don't know if it makes you think of the past, but I agree that it's cool.

Daytimerush said...

I wondered the same thing about the painting. Love the colors. (Like your thoughts too, Bob)