26 July 2009

A more-than-American freedom

"And their voices repeat
Words ancient and sweet
A rune once I knew,
But, alas, now forget,
A rune known of old
Which, alas, I forget. -"
- Walter de la Mare

". . . Stand ye in the ways, and see,
and ask for the old paths, where is the good way,
and walk therein;
and ye shall find rest for your souls.
But they said, We will not walk therein . . ."
- Jeremiah 6: 16

"Old." "Rest." "Walk." Not exactly the sort of words that seem to have a lot of traction these days. But who knows? For some time now we've been living in a most aggressively new and laborious and driving Age. And I don't think even the best ministrations of Barack & Co are likely to change that. Assuming, of course, they even want to.

And yet don't we all reach a point where we've driven - both ourselves and others - as far as we can, and for a change have to walk? Where we've worked ourselves as long and hard as we can - only to find rest forced on us? Where we've pursued the Almighty New and Young and Restless to what seemed like the outer limits of human consciousness - only to get the nagging, creeping feeling we've been there before? And that it really didn't work out so well then either?

Except that now we're so different, aren't we? So much smarter than some musty old history or literature or legend or faith? So much better at getting ahead, and still coming out on top, than any Hitler or Napoleon, any Macbeth or Julius Caesar, any King Herod or King Ahab?

Then again, America has always been a passionate lover of the new, and of opportunity. And what now lies in front of us - at least when some of the ideological smoke clears, and the screaming dies down - may be an unprecedentedly new opportunity. An opportunity to seek a kind of freedom that may be unfamiliar to many of us. Or maybe just sorely neglected. Not the usual freedom to be a first-class prick. Rather, the freedom to see, and know, and understand the prick in all of us. And most urgently, to know that first-class prickliness will no more work for us moderns - that we can no more "get away with" it, or be made happy in it - than it worked for the blackest-dyed villain in the world's oldest fairy-tale.

A sort of Cinderella-pushed-into-the-corner-by-the-fire kind of freedom. But somehow also, I think, a freedom that will prove to be both older, and bigger, and deeper, and more satisfying - and more holy - than anything a "husky, brawling, big-shouldered" America ever offered to its most ambitious immigrants.

A despised, Cinderella kind of freedom. Let's pray we don't pick the wrong Prince.

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