Forty-three years ago today, during what was already a volatile decade, the fragile calm of our union was rocked by the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Violent protests erupted across the country. For months, communities and families were divided by questions. Who did it? Was the government behind it? And later, could James Earl Ray really have planned his escape alone? Was there a conspiracy, and how deep did it go? Two months after King’s death, the nation was stunned again by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Again, questions and outrage and indignation spread like wildfire. I wasn’t born yet. I didn’t come along until summer of 1972, but I can imagine ’68 was a year most folks just wanted to go away. Just four and a half years after President Kennedy’s murder and three years after America “officially” entered the Vietnam “conflict,” it must have seemed an awful, turbulent Spring and Summer in a decade already filled with violence and disillusion.
That all seems a running theme with society, doesn’t it? Violence against people–whether individual or group–has been happening since before we even had a way to write down the Who Did What To Who. It would seem part of having our big giant brains also means having big giant drama. Like the weather, peace is relative and shifting. In some parts of the globe, past, present and future, peace is always attached to that other word that goes with April…tenuous. Same holds true for families. Sometimes relationships, whether local, global, national or personal…are just tenuous. In flux. Uncertain.
But look as us! Look at how we just keep going! How we keep making babies and starting businesses and getting married and starting over! For all our millennia of big giant drama, we seem to have almost as much big giant optimism. Or maybe stubbornness is more accurate. Or ego. Or, less generously, big giant stupidity. Maybe the human race is collectively just a big giant nincompoop? Just poopin’ in the sandbox and eatin’ dirt and waiting for the day when the alien computer overlords come back to clean up the mess we made of our playhouse….
I’m no expert on either aliens or artificial intelligence, but I’m willing to concede none of those options are entirely outside the realm of possibility. I’m a Leo, though, and a fire sign. So I choose to go with the Big Giant Optimists scenario. I think that’s entirely more in line with Mother Nature, whom I hold a sight more influential than alien computers.
The crises of the 1960s are barely even the icing on the cake that is the History of Mankind. Seriously. Hardly even the bulk of the sugar, actually. And I do find myself marveling at how we can maintain our collective optimism in the face of so much accumulated upheaval. I think it’s because we are the sum of our parts, and for all the accumulated upheaval we are also afforded accumulated certainties. In a big vague picture, we can be certain somewhere the sun is shining, even if we don’t see it or feel it. We can be certain of gravity. We can be certain we need nourishment, rest and companionship. How that breaks down in smaller more specific pictures is where things begin to get exciting, and where I think we can ferret out how it is we’ve been so good at continuing forward in spite of challenge and upheaval.
Example: Husband enjoys rituals. He relies on them for breaks in, and refuge from, monotony and instability. This is crucial for him right now because he’s still adjusting to his Pops’ death in ’06; he still has a ways to go from the Man Vs. Curb incident from ’09; and now the shift in our lives from my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis last year. It’s been quite a bit to absorb in five years, but somehow Husband just keeps puttin’ his head down and pushing forward. He keeps a wicked sense of humor and sarcasm. He does not dwell. But, he DOES need his rituals to make those things possible. He needs his certainties. For him, that’s having a book to read on the train. It’s having music or the radio or a movie going in the apartment every waking moment. It’s having an organized cooking and family meal experience for him and me every Sunday that we can make it happen. He makes Strangozzi* and home-made sauce…a labor of love…with a laptop blaring one thing or another from the end of his pasta and bread table. Whatever else has happened in the last 6-1/2 days, he’s certain he’s going to have that time alone with flour and water and some vegetables and music. It’s soothing for him, and afterwards he can go back to making me laugh about hamster ovaries and mushy cotton eyes and all the other things that make our partnership and circumstances silly and individual to us.
I’ve been thinking about that lately, and how it must be things like these–unique for each person and family–that have kept us somehow rolling on when it seems the wheels our our societies have surely come off. Governments rise and fall, loved ones come and go, our Big Giant Dramas mushroom and recede. But…we each of us have our certainties. Things we trust will keep us opening our eyes and lungs and brains, even in the most obnoxious storms. For Husband it’s music and Sunday in the kitchen. For someone else it could be thirty minutes with a tackle box and fishing pole. It could be a morning run, or a call to worship, or the sweet wet cold of a puppy’s nose in the palm of a hand. It could be a rooster, or a coo from a baby monitor, or the break of surf against rocks.
Whatever the certainties are, I think we need to celebrate them. If you think you don’t have one, stop moving for just a second and take a hard inventory. I’m betting you do, and maybe just take it/them for granted. If you find you really don’t have one or any, make one happen. Consider it an investment in your sanity. Consider it a contribution to keeping your little portion of society on the path forward. Consider the sanctity of certainty in an uncertain world.
And then keep going forward.
*Here are a couple links for Strangozzi. You can play with your favorite sauces and see what you like best.
Our next incarnation will be a carbonara, I think.