Monday, April 23, 2018

From a Distance - #compassion #suffering #revolution

Earth from space

By Lisabet Sarai

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for....
~ Bette Midler, “From a Distance”

Just before I entered my senior year in high school, humans walked on the moon for the first time. With my long-time love of both science and science fiction, I was jubilant. The stars beckoned. Anything was possible.

Only months later, the Ohio National Guard fatally shot four Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam war.

Looking back, I cannot recall how I reconciled the elation and the horror stemming from these two events, though I know both affected me deeply.

We believed, back then, in the inevitable revolution. Things would never be the same. “The time’s they are a-changing,” Dylan sang, and we believed. We looked to a new world of love and peace, freedom and justice and moral responsibility. The Age of Aquarius.

Things didn’t quite turn out that way.

Well, the times did change. They always do. We impeached a president. We waited in long lines for rationed gas. We danced to Saturday Night Fever. We watched the stock market crash, rise and crash again.

Hijacked planes toppled the twin towers and claimed three thousand lives. Nightmare waves scoured the coasts of the Indian Ocean, killing two hundred thousand. Having finally quit the jungles of Vietnam, U.S. soldiers occupied the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

We elected a black man to the Oval Office—twice. We cloned sheep, transplanted hearts, sequenced our own DNA and that of our animal cousins. We haven’t walked on Mars yet, but our robots have. We know there’s certainly water on the Red Planet, and probably some form of life.

My siblings had kids, who grew up, graduated high school, went to college. My parents left the earth, after bountiful lives no one could call short. A dear friend succumbed to ovarian cancer at fifty two. Two of my former lovers committed suicide.

Technology followed the science fiction of my youth. Computers shrank to the size of match boxes. It became more and more difficult to distinguish fact from deliberate fabrication.

My spirituality is eclectic, but I do believe the Buddha’s teaching that everything is transient. Suffering derives from attachment, the attempt to resist changing circumstances.

Through the distance of six and a half decades, I find comfort in the constant cycles of change. No matter how horrible things appear right now, they’ll be different tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Of course this also means more hard times may be coming, but they will eventually fade away as well.

The only reality (again according to the Buddha), the key to breaking the chains of illusion, is compassion. That’s my focus now, in these latter days of my life. I am trying to release the hate and anger stirred up so effectively by today’s media. I don’t want to sweat the small stuff, but to do justice and love kindness and refrain from judgment if I can. I am trying, with mixed success, to be a center of peace, radiating to those around me.

Really, that seems to be the only option.

To quote Paul McCartney, another prophet from my youth:

And in the end
the love you take
is equal to the love
you make.


  1. What a beautiful post, Lisabet.

    Back in the capitalist dreams of the 80's, several of our friends adopted 5 and 10 year 'plans' for their financial future. They all went broke.

    Our best tack is to be prepared for the unexpected because if all we have are plans, we'll certainly be unprepared for reality.

    1. I don't know if we can actually prepare, even. Just adapt.

  2. I want that tee shirt that says, "I can't believe I'm still protesting this crap!" Like you, I thought that by the time I was an adult, things would be different. I had high hopes for my generation; actually those just older than me, since I missed all of the "fun" of the protests and sit-ins, though I read the books by the Chicago 7 and when Abbie Hoffman's title said, "Steal This Book," I did.

    Instead, the reality is like that old canard that says, "Show me a young man who isn't a liberal, and I'll show you a man with no heart. Show me an old man who isn't a conservative, and I'll show you a man with no brain." Sigh. Instead of getting more conservative as I've aged, the fire of progressive thought still burns brightly in my soul. My husband gave me a tee that says, "Liberal," which means in the evangelical town we live in, I've been stopped on the street by people who point to it, shake their head, and point to themselves saying, "Conservative." No, really? I'd never have guessed! I gave husband a shirt that says, "Knee-jerk Moderate," since he's always on the fence. Not me. I joke that I'm to the left of Bernie Sanders...but it's not really a joke.

    All of the things that are important to me: the ERA, abortion rights, environmental concerns and pollution, legal weed, Native Tribal rights, immigrants' rights, Medicare for all, toxic masculinity, NRA foolishness, etc...all of these things I thought for sure would have been settled by now. But the "old school" way of thinking is like an evil, undead zombie, that keeps reoccurring and struggling for power again.

    For some males, ie, white cis-men, and Muslim traditionalists, for example, the fear of their way of life disappearing makes them zealots in a holy war to eliminate progress. They don't see themselves as the evil that they are, trying to negate human rights for everyone except themselves and their narrow-minded views of the way things should be.

    As your picture shows, we are on a beautiful ball of mud and mostly water, that has a fragile ecosystem designed to encourage life. Instead, we fight over tiny parts of it, and despoil all of it, in our zeal to leave something behind that says "I was here." But if all you can leave behind is pollution and a foul taste in everyone's mouth, is that a good thing? Live and let live. Preach tolerance. Teach equality.

    Then, from a distance, our beautiful planet will be reflecting the beauty of its various lifeforms. Instead, we are so spiritually ugly that any aliens who might have stopped by, surely said, "Yikes! Let's get out of here before they hurt us, like they do to even their own kind!"

    1. Yes, we were very naive. However, I've learned that nothing is ever "settled". There's a constant see-saw back and forth, as Sacchi says. We win some, we lose some.

      My point is that I want to stop thinking in terms of us versus them. Stop putting people in categories with labels that mean I can hate, fear or be angry with them. Ultimately we are all in this together.

  3. Lisabet, what a beautiful post, and one that brought back so many memories. I vividly remember the Kent State shootings -- I grew up not far from there and saw the entire incident unfolding on live TV. I went to college a couple of years later at Ohio University (an ultra-liberal school) and the atmosphere of distrust toward anyone wearing a badge was still evident.

    I agree that there's just too much hate and anger in this era of fake news and intolerance. I retired last year after more than 25 years working with the disabled population, and seeing things now, I have to ask "Why can't we all just get along?"

    Here's hoping things get better as we move forward.

    1. Many things ARE better. Despite all the headlines about conflict around the world, there's actually less war going on now than in any time in the historic past. Hard to believe, but if you look at the data, that's what you see.

  4. It's like a see-saw. Things seem to get better from one perspective, like gay marriage, but look worse from someone else's perspective, and things are never so good all around to keep people from wanting a change. In the US midterm elections go against the party in power more often than not. We can hope, at least for a little while.

    1. Change is inevitable, so I guess we'll get it whether we want it or not.

  5. Time seems like the greatest distance of all, and you capture that so well here. It's wild to think about Kent State and the moon landing juxtaposed, but of course, it makes sense that they would be. Great post, Lisabet.

    1. I never thought I'd live beyond forty. It's a shock to me to have more than sixty years of life to look back on. Joy and sorrow, horror and wonder - it's all wheels withing wheels.


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