When I was 17 I asked a heretical question in America: What is all this wealth for? I grew up in Michigan when Detroit was still the car king of the world. Americans had just walked on the moon, and good jobs were still plentiful, even in auto factories.
Young people then had more room to explore their future, though we had fewer choices than young people have, or seem to have now. The Vietnam War took every young man who didn’t have a college deferment, or multi-million-dollar daddies with doctors testifying they couldn’t serve because of bone spurs.
After my first year in college, the government threw every young man into the bin for the draft. The number you drew by your birth date determined your life. If your number was below 150, you went to ‘Nam, to Canada, or to prison (unless you had a doctor that was willing to give you a phony medical deferment).
I met a fellow my age a few years back, with a birthday only a few days after mine. He drew a low number; I drew a high one, 279, a number you never forget.
After an agonizing few weeks before his induction date, this fellow drove to Canada, which at the time was governed by Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father and a much more formidable intellect and politician.
Pierre voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War, and was hated by Nixon. He said that young men fleeing the draft (“draft dodgers”) were welcome in Canada.
So, this fellow drove to the border. The Canadian border guard asked him, “What is your purpose in coming to Canada?”
“To escape the draft,” the young man bravely or foolishly (or both) said. The border guard gave him a long look, and replied, “Welcome to Canada.” That’s unimaginable these days.
The Vietnam War defined my generation, as 9.11 and the utterly misguided “global war on terror” shaped Millennials.
Besides needlessly killing hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the deaths, mutilations and trauma to American soldiers, the evil legacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration was to enshrine perpetual war.
Barack Obama, after lamely attempting to revoke the “global war on terror” at the beginning of his presidency, quietly caved into America’s growing militarism. Now Trump will have tanks on the Mall and warplanes overhead on the 4th of July. The message: Resistance is futile!
During this relative interregnum before this evil administration starts a much bigger war, people who still give a damn urgently need to affirm their priorities in life.
Despite many mistakes, wrong turns and dead ends, the core decisions (actually life orientations) I made while still a teenager remain valid, and perhaps increasingly viable.
Two things were most important to me then and remain so today, nearly half a century later—the search for the truth, and the experiencing of the numinous.
Within months at the same age of announcing that I was leaving the Catholic Church of my strict upbringing (Mass six days a week, five before parochial school and on Sunday), I had a “mystical experience” that changed the course of my life.
The illusion of the separate observer was at the heart of an explosion of insight. From then on, albeit with some floundering, wasted years, the inner life has had the highest priority.
Living the busy-busy life in a dead culture is to make oneself inwardly dead as well. Emotional renewal, insights for one’s relationships and work, and compassion flow from stillness and emptiness. There is immanence, as perpetual creation and permeating love within and beyond the universe.
Admittedly, “the life of the mind,” as philosophy, has vied for primacy at times. As has, in recent years, the work of igniting the revolution in consciousness essential to change the disastrous course of humankind.
But I never fell for the immense wastage of time and resources that characterizes life in America. How much is unnecessary stuff, and more importantly, wasted time? Probably 75-80%, not counting our grotesquely bloated military. And that’s being generous.
The great paradox of living is that doing nothing but being still and empty is the most important thing in life. Right action flows from complete inaction. Love flows from stillness of being, not the busyness of becoming.
Setting aside time and space each day to do nothing but question and observe with passionate intent and attention is has become vital. To be anonymous is essential. Can one be anonymous and do great things? I’m still working on that one…