Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The Sweets of San Francisco
I was walking this morning near the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury when a memorable sight caught my eye. She was probably 18 or 19, or perhaps in her early twenties, and looked like a Botticelli angel. Wearing no makeup and dressed plainly and modestly, as is appropriate for riding the city bus she waited to catch, she appeared completely unselfconscious. Her blonde hair hung loosely to her shoulders, framing the devastating good looks, of which she seemed blithely oblivious.
It occurred to me that that's what life used to be about. We can't live, as Viktor Frankl has pointed out, without meaning. But having determined a meaning -- love or money or what have you -- there is no guarantee that it will remain fixed as one's M.O. forever. Circumstances change, and we need to be flexible enough to change our approaches, and even our reasons for living, based on changing circumstances.
40 Years ago I was walking the streets of this same city, tortured by the thought that the authorities I had trusted, ranging all the way from immediate family to those in charge of running the country, had decided to pursue a criminal and pointless war in Southeast Asia, and at the same time had determined that I should be willing to lay down my life for this idiotic enterprise. The sense of betrayal I felt at the time was exceeded only by my disgust at the lewd hypocrisy and callous disregard for human life shown by those I had once looked up to and admired.
Now, four decades along and less inclined to take such things personally (possibly because I'm not asked to become personally involved, as before), I walk the same unchanging streets of this singular city, watching with interest but little emotion as the war machine which this country has become pours three trillion dollars and incalculable amounts of blood into the sands of Iraq.
The City, however, is spiritually disconnected from the dying and death-dealing empire in whose territory it is geographically located, and thus provides a good base from which to do the work that will lend meaning to my twilight years. This work will consist of doing whatever promotes the destruction and dismantling of the war machine, the beating of swords into plowshares, and the sabotaging of this monster called "globalism," which awards summer houses in the Hamptons to hedge fund managers while African children starve.
It's "game on," no holds barred, no quarter asked and none given. The need has never been greater, the prevalence of evil and degeneracy never more obvious, the assignment never clearer, the meaning never more unmistakable. And I have to belatedly agree with those who said, during the Vietnam War, that there are some things worth dying for.