Sunday, February 7, 2016

About the Future

Tuesdays in the Chapel


Middle age refers more
to landscape than to time:
it’s as if you’d reached
the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,
so you know without a doubt
that it has an end—
not that it will have,
but that it does have,
if only in outline—
so for the first time
you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,
the horizon in the distance—
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty
of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: you can’t help
but admire it from afar,
especially now, while it’s simple
to re-enter whenever you choose,
lying down in your life,
waking up to it
just as you always have—
except that the details resonate
by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you
define the landscape,
remind you that it won’t go on
like this forever.

Our theme for the coming term is envisioning what we wish for our world, our school, our lives. It is a coldly calculated effort to get us all to think reflectively about what we want in the months ahead.
So I am compelled to do the same and confess that it is not so easy a task. Memory and hope are often tied very closely and what I remember over the arc of my life is troubling.  I have a cynical strand in my make-up that rises up when I think of what I will wish for and it is caused by the high hopes that have marked moments in my life to date.

Let me illustrate. In the aftermath of the civil rights movement it seemed as if corners had been turned and gradually our nation was making good on its promises of equality for all our citizens. As someone grounded in the Christian faith I thought it noteworthy that finally religious commitments had forced change in the body politic. What ever else it was the civil rights movement was a triumph of Judeo-Christian values or so it seemed.

Rather quickly the ability to participate in the political process seemed to have been assured. The media began to look like America in ways that would have been impossible a few years earlier. Stereotypes gave way to real people of color. Sanford and Son gave way to the Jeffersons and then the Huxtables.

Some of you will have seen the column in the NYT on the 1st by Rachel L. Swarns “Trying to Separate Cliff Huxtable from Bill Cosby”.  Swarns explores what Cosby meant to America in the 1980s when he was called “America’s Dad” the article is worth a look and I can tell you that our family did gather each week to enjoy the experiences of America’s family.

The push back illustrated by voter ID efforts clearly shaped by political agendas call into question  the depth of our efforts to secure democracy. The all white Oscar nominations, while at one level a shallow measure of our commitment to equality, seem part and parcel of an effort by some Americans to take back their nation by which they mean the entitlements of a threatened and frightened Anglo majority. And Black Lives Matter has forced us face our willingness to buy security by turning a blind eye to wrongs committed on our behalf.

I have tools for understanding what happened to Bill Cosby. The deadly rise of hubris, lust and the abuse of power do not know a color line. Judeo Christian thought prepares us for the failures of the sometime righteous. And we are complicit in his sins.  For too long we have winked at notions that boys will be boys and we forget that boys can grow up to be crude and exploitive men.  And I wonder as well about other stars who have walked the same path as Cosby and who have not been called out. We have had our share of sordid politicians; other Bills come to mind and I am aware of similar scandals in England. It may be that here righteousness is only served when there is another agenda in the mix

So I am discouraged by our failure of political will and the fall of individuals I would have preferred to be unsullied, but I am also aware of those we honor who overcame the foibles of the flesh. Memory calls to us of our failures, hope sets before us our dreams. And I still dream with hope for the future that it will turn out as I dream.  Let me conclude with the words of Frost:

Thanks, Robert Frost by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought.
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute