As I approach my main meditation place, I’m shocked to see a young woman performing fallatio on a young man in a hammock. Dismayed, I walk upstream to an alternate site. I pass a woman on a bench trying to save a black widow spider. You can’t make this stuff up.
The woman saving the black widow looks haggard beyond her years. Are you sure it’s a black widow, and why are you trying to save it, I ask?
“Yes, it had a nest in the saddlebag of my bike, and I know black widows,” she replies a little too emphatically.”
Chico was a city of about 100,000, which increased by a quarter larger overnight after the fire that incinerated the nearby mountain community of Paradise. But it’s still a small town in every sense of the phrase.
Though we hadn’t met, the woman recognized me. She’s the wife of a leading activist and former city planner who I dialogued with twice. And she has a few underhanded words for me.
“You started meditative dialogues in town, but my husband wasn’t allowed to talk.”
You weren’t there, and that’s not true, I reply. John spoke quite a bit. Afterward he said he didn’t want to engage in “just talk,” even though he was so out of balance between the contemplative and activist dimensions that he got a brain bleed staying up four nights in a row without sleep at the Democratic Convention as a local delegate for Bernie Sanders.
After the ‘Camp Fire,’ I called this fellow and a couple other leading activists in town seeking help in organizing a protest against Trump’s photo-op in Paradise. But personal concerns ruled, as they still do.
Despite having a college (Chico State) here, Butte County is a conservative agricultural county. Though California went for Hillary by 62 to 33%, Trump took Butte County by 48 to 44%.
The activist ‘leaders’ begged off any sign of solidarity with fire victims and protest against Trump’s climate change views, self-servingly saying they were helping friends and neighbors who had lost their homes.
So there was just one woman on the Skyway when Trump’s motorcade sped by, carrying a sign that read, “We Need Compassion, Not Criticism.” Fifty meters away, a small mob of MAGA-hat wearing, horn-blowing Trumpians cheered America’s latter-day Mussolini as he passed.
“I’m sorry you were disappointed and destroyed in Chico,” the woman disingenuously said.
I respond, activists in Chico have been a disappointment, but I’m not destroyed. I’ve started meditative dialogues with the monks at the Trappist abbey north of town. Please don’t make it personal.
“Can I ask you something? Where do you get your fire from?”
Humans have started the Sixth Extinction. You’re trying to save a black widow spider that had made its nest in your saddlebag. We need to think bigger.
“So you took the fire personally that destroyed Paradise, and now you’re taking personally man’s destruction of the earth,” she snootily replies.
Unable to suppress a flash of anger, I retort, that’s bullshit. The personal is the problem, and the over-emphasis on the personal in this country is what has snuffed out the fire in activists like you and your husband.
As Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk, writer, mystic, poet and social activist, wrote on January 1, 1962: “Of all the countries that are sick, America is perhaps the most grievously afflicted…truly we have entered the ‘post-Christian era’ with a vengeance. Whether we are destroyed, or whether we survive, the future is awful to contemplate.”
As the Trump Administration tries to provoke Iran into a war, and Iran complies with its own provocations, the threat of nuclear war, for which Merton was so rightly concerned in 1962, seems both distant and imminent in May of 2019.
“There is a true war-madness, an illness of the mind and spirit that is spreading with furious contagion all over the world,” Merton wrote over a half century ago.
Nationalism (which means primarily identifying as an American, or any other tribalistic thing) has fallen onto the ash heap of history, where it belongs. We will either emotionally see ourselves as human beings first and last now, or we will retreat into Trumpian caves and enclaves.
War is inevitable from such a mindset. And it will make Iraq and Afghanistan look like the misbegotten police actions they were and continue to be.
One cannot understand America today without having a working understanding of evil. And the goal, as well as the best conductor of evil is not anger, but deadness.
The kind of deadness that prompts an old woman to maliciously ask, “Where do you get your fire from?”