Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Younger Than That Now

I tend to relate everything to music. There is a soundtrack playing in my head to events past, events present and events yet to come. Songs come and go, of course. Sometimes there is a song or piece of music that stays with us no matter how old it is or how long ago we heard it. It seems that there always something happening in our lives that make that particular song relevant, even if it is 20, 30, 40 years old or more.

Bob Dylan’s song My Back Pages speaks to me every time I listen to it. It doesn’t have to be the original version, either. I also really like the version recorded by The Byrds – Roger McGuinn’s jangly 12-string Rickenbacker does something wonderful for Dylan’s words. Together, they help me understand what it means to be younger than I used to be.

Crimson flames tied through my ears; Rollin’ high and mighty traps.
Pounced with fire on flaming roads; Using ideas as my maps.
I’ve spent most of my life following a road plotted on someone else’s map. Whether well-meaning or malevolent, there has always been someone who was telling me where I needed to go and when I needed to get there. I wasted a lot of time following their directions. Like an old man, I allowed myself to be led to points of view that were compatible with “the norm,” whatever that is. Because of that, it’s been a struggle for me to discover – and in some cases rediscover – the ideas that will allow me to create my own map. Charting my own course is a risky business, but I’m tired of plodding along a prearranged course for the nodding approval of those who haven’t a clue and don’t care about what’s important to me. It’s time to create a map of my own thoughts and ideas. Where will it lead? If I told you that I knew, I’d be lying. It could be like one of those medieval maps that sort of faded out after a certain distance and said “Here be Dragons!” So be it. Better dragons than “Here be Mediocrity!”

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

I’m younger than I used to be – in my mind. Physically, not so much. Still, it’s what’s inside our heads that counts. For me, it’s time to return to the attitude of questioning authority and to decide for myself what I’ll believe politically, socially, and theologically. There are some in the religious establishment that will take issue with that. They will allow me to believe what I want, as long as it’s what they believe. If I choose to be different, they will not welcome me into their circles. Again, so be it. I don’t want to be part of a circle that demands that kind of conformity.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth; “Rip down all hate,” I screamed.
Lies that life is black and white; Spoke from my skull I dreamed.

You’d think that in this, the Year of Our Lord 2012, we would be free of the repugnant prejudices that have plagued us practically forever. But no – we still decide someone’s worth based solely on things like race, gender, religion, politics or anything else we can find to separate us into “Us” and “Them.” We’ve become like the principal in that rerun I saw of the old Welcome Back, Kotter series. Mr. Woodman looks at Kotter and says, “There are two kinds of people, Kotter: Us and Them and they’re Them. Come to think of it, you’re Them too!”

Life is not simply black and white. It never will be. It never was. If anyone tells you that life is simple or that choices are easy, they are lying to you. We all have to navigate our way through varying shades of gray to find our way to wholeness. The way isn’t the same for everyone, no matter what we’re told. Sometimes I want to tell the world. Sometimes I want to scream it.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect.

So many people are talking about protecting so many abstract concepts that I find it hard to keep track. We have to protect our way of life against faceless, nameless threats from without or within. We have to protect ourselves against people who have different accents or different ideas about worship or a different way of life. What are we really protecting? Is it our own sense of superiority? Perhaps it’s our comfort in being a majority. Whatever it is, the political/religious pundits will make strident calls and appeal to our basest fears until they get what they want. Meantime, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten when those kinds of people wield power: the proverbial shaft.
Good and bad, I define these terms, quite clear, no doubt, somehow.

I have to decide for myself what I should do, what is good and bad in my life. There are plenty of guides out there. Some are trustworthy and many are not. Still, it’s my life and I will be held responsible for the choices I make. I don’t want to be led about and told what is good for me. I don’t want to be told what stand I should take or whom I should love. That was then. This is now.

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.