I don’t think anyone would describe me as a traditionalist. While I came from a perfectly solid, four-square 1950s American upbringing, as we headed into the space-race 1960s with great energy and hope, we ran into some serious snags. It happened to a lot of families: part cause and part effect of the uprising of young people that anymore is what “the Sixties” brings to peoples’ minds. Without meaning to lay blame, I’ll just say that I was very early launched onto a trajectory that led out of my Midwestern Christian nuclear family, across some interesting landscapes, and has left me here on the west coast, living relatively simply with two dogs and a cockatiel. Not the household reality that I was reared for.
This morning my reality includes waking up fighting back a cold, with a lot to be done today and a lot on my mind, and not much of it very clear or easy. Since I could, I decided to stay in bed a little longer, let my body rest, try to shake out my head.
I took up my phone and punched in the morning news and lay in bed listening to it, which can either help me drop back to sleep for a couple hours more, or if not, provide a little advance warning of whatever is going on outside of my bedroom. Europe tracking extremists after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, anti-Muslim sentiments rising in Germany; Syria, and Boko Haram, the US Presidential Elections of 2016. There is a piece about the Academy Awards nominations, another about an opera singer who has lost weight and written a memoir.
And then sports: the Seattle Seahawks, preparing for a playoff this weekend. I smile. Coming away on the ferry last night, from the Space Needle to the stadium the city skyline was washed in blue and green. There were blue and green donuts in the faculty office yesterday at work. There are blue and green lights in the doorways of two homes down by the post office in the little town where I live.
And the Colts, bless them—probably doomed against the Patriots, but who knows? I remember when they were from Baltimore. I remember Johnny Unitas. I have been delighted to have the Colts relocate to my home state, so even though I am the most minimal of football followers, I rouse for this segment of news, the excitement and happy energy in the announcers’ voices an early bulwark against the impending threat of laundry and paper grading, local skies shrouded in filmy light and hazy rain.
Checking the phone I see the next few news items don’t look like a good way to start my morning, but I’m not feeling like there is any particularly good way to start my morning, and that presents its own existential problem. I cast about in my mind, examine my soul, wonder why. It is too early in the day for this, but here I am.
I turn off the news on the phone and go out to the kitchen to feed the dogs and myself, and as often is the case, I discover a thread of music turning around in my head—a couple of lines have drifted up on some synapse of the broadest sort of association: “It’s getting to the point/where I’m no fun anymore….”
Just this week a friend in his forties was making fun of me again because I still prefer compact disks to digitizing my music, but I am pleased now to put my oatmeal on the burner and go to the CD collection in my hallway. I congratulate myself because I know I will find Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and that because it’s a CD, its sound quality will be better than I can probably even detect. The disk goes into the CD changer and I turn it up a little more than the normal setting—and the guitar chords of “Suite for Judy Blue Eyes” come darting out like a troup of actors in a Medieval morality play: vivid and familiar characters, breathing in front of me, promoting inspiration, a path and belief.
It’s been so long since I’ve heard this CD that this morning I am detached enough to simply listen, happily drifting through the harmonies and lyrics about values of love and the intensity of the young moment. Its own sweet hippy dogma.
2014 was challenging in a lot of ways and I am looking forward to what’s coming in this year. But as with the NFL playoffs, so much of todays’ excitement and confidence will be obsolete pretty quick. And it’s never certain what will trigger large, serious global issues: there’s plenty of genuine political tragedy on the planet right now, but the killing of twelve people at a sophomoric satire magazine has focused at least two continents, and I’m old enough and agnostic enough to believe that it’s important to pay attention to it.
As I grow older I have more and more respect for the pull of routine and convention, the benefits and good reasons for the forms of a traditional society. I can see the wonderfully restorative quality in an annual return of rituals and events, the meaning inherent in a life transitioning from being young, to parent, to grandparent. I see in my friends the many things that these roles can balance out, sustain, and effect. Do I regret not having such a family? As I grow older I am also more and more convinced that I was different from the beginning, and it would have been much easier for everyone involved if we’d all accepted that as soon as it started to be noticeable. So, no.
This morning it would be helpful to have the structure of a traditional life, standard religious faith and practice. I don’t. What I do have is music. I have warmth and surprise from animals, appreciation and devotion to the natural world. I have friends to laugh with when I will ring them up later, on that magical phone. I do have a very deep appreciation of the moment.
At the end of this CD I tacked on a few extra takes from later albums that I loved, and now comes the opening of “After the Gold Rush:” which brings immediate, involuntary tears to my eyes, over forty years later. Some of it is the young tremolo of Neil Young’s voice, the song’s mythical concern about the environment. It is also that this particular song drops me out of any present moment into immediate time travel: a dark basement bedroom with a couple of girlfriends, all of us too wired to sleep, very late on a full moon night, or morning. Whoever was still awake was talking and joking. But I lay there staring out the basement window at the moon. I was frightened about decisions I’d made, worried I’d turned my back on the wrong person and what that would mean. I was fifteen years old and feeling tremendously empty.
Convention provides security and confidence to go on. Faith is a blessing, no matter how it’s specifically defined. Regardless, I wouldn’t change my life even now, in my small house that needs cleaning, with its stacks of papers on the counter and books on the dining room table–all these years beyond the promise and creative hope blasting out of these earnest, really quite young voices.
Be Sure to Hide the Roaches.