Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This Moment

Yesterday, my friend Keiko guided me on a hike to some of the smaller shrines and temples in Kamakura, the ancient village turned artist community near where we live. We started at her house outside of town and meandered through the hills, stopping to visit various shrines and temples along the way. There may be no greater pleasure on earth than hiking through the woods on a perfectly crisp Fall day. When no one else is present, emerging from the dark wooded paths and tunnels, glimpsing the outline of a temple, it feels like you have happened upon a long lost treasure, hidden from modern day knowledge.

After hiking, we stopped in a small museum/tea shop. (Keiko was born and raised in Kamakura and is a resident expert of All Things Off The Beaten Path. I would have never found this place by myself. ) The museum only displayed a few pieces of antique pottery and calligraphy but one scroll caught my eye--a few simple brushstrokes illustrating a buddhist monk and some sublimely constructed kanji above it. Keiko stopped and told me its message: I am thankful for this moment.

Buddhists strive to live in the present. There is no guaranteed future and the past is...well, past.

What better time to ruminate about the moment than on this historic election night? Our past is definitely past and we cannot magically undo what has been done. Our future remains wildly unsure--will this articulate, passionate and inexperienced man lead us to better or, God forbid, worse times?

I don't know. But I do know something for certain about the present moment. I am thankful for free elections with record voter turnouts. I am thankful for governmental change with no violence or military intervention. I am thankful for the candidate we didn't elect, who was so utterly gracious and humble in defeat. And I am thankful that we dared elect a person who could only be brought to power in the United States of America. (I love Japan but there is no way in hell they would ever elect a man whose father was Chinese, mother was Japanese, who grew up in Korea and was born poor to boot. )

You don't get ahead by working harder in most countries in the world. You get ahead by being born ahead in the first place. Although I admire the beauty and wisdom of ancient cultures, their traditions have the tendency to create intricate, perfectly formed knots. Being a young nation, and free of the cultural restraints that sometimes hold back other nations of the world, we Americans are free to hope for a better life, whatever that means to each individual. With some hard work and determination, we are free to change what we deem changeable. Our knots are not so perfectly formed. Yet.

So today, I feel as if I have left the dark woods and am standing in front of all the great monuments of my own society...recently obscured by the mistakes of our past and the worries for our future. Today, our unique structures stand in plain view for all to see:

Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. The Audacity to Hope.

I am thankful for this moment.


Andrea said...

I think your post is better than the article.

I am thankful...for everything.

Martin said...

While I watched the election results come in, I had a flashback to the day when Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island. It was my freshman year and Dave Crider and I danced through the halls of Walker Tower in honor of all the little township children we had seen dance through the dusty roads of Soweto a thousand times before. People looked at us as if we were crazy and could not conceive of why we were so happy. Although I didn't dance through the streets of Chicago (home with the kids that night), I have been spontaneously brought to tears more times in the last 2 days than in the previous decade. I have always believed that 1968 was the most pivotal year in modern American history and that much of what we knew to be our promise as a nation was lost by the end of that summer. Our current crisis of culture/conscious began that summer, not 8 years ago as many have opined. Many aspects of our current national condition (culturally, psychologically, pathologically...) had their origins in that blisteringly hot summer and can be traced in a somewhat linear pattern. I have felt that Obama's campaign reminded me of Bobby Kennedy's from the outset and that the dream was alive once again. That dream was partially fulfilled on Tuesday night and we can begin the long days journey into overcoming the dark shadow that is legacy of 1968. I put Isabella to bed that night and sang the song "MLK" (U2) to her. She knows the words but does not yet understand them. I recorded Obama's victory speech and will show it to her when she's old enough. I, too am living in this moment but much as a river is in all times at once, the magnitude of this event has allowed me, if only momentarily, to stretch the limits of "now".

nancy b said...

I love that you brought up the image of the river. It reminds me of the quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus,"You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in.”

Neither the river nor the man is the same, a sentiment that you so beautifully evoked--one moment you are immersing yourself in a river of justice and hope as a college freshman and the next, you are stepping in as a father and husband. But this time, the river is deeper and wider because your mature understanding makes it so.

I am grateful that the moments keep coming. I hope that we, as a nation, continue to wade into the depths instead of standing on the banks, fearing the current originating from new waters flowing in.

We miss you Martin. Give our love to your beautiful family.