Last week I found myself immersed in a very provocative conversation with a friend about trust. She described herself as being in an existential crisis, or maybe a mid-life crisis, she wasn't sure, but was finding herself hardly able to trust anyone, to the point of mild alarm.
Immediately I felt that inner synaptic flutter that usually signals: "Resonance. Pay attention. Yes, you recognize exactly what she is going through." Once the subject of trust had been put out on the table, I knew the crisis she'd named belonged to me as well.
In the old days, it might have been called a "crisis of faith," but this was not quite the same thing. Much more brutal in its scope and grandeur, this was not just a private event, occurring in someone's individual psyche. Suddenly and clearly I could see an entire morphic field, in which the patterned integrity of the world was systematically and perhaps irrevocably unraveling, like threads in a fabric. From the reliability of the weather to the raping of the Constitution, from melting ice caps to terrorist conspiracies to the moral bankruptcy of the U.S. government, we'd have to be blind not to see "It's not working." The center cannot hold.
Something prompts me to check out William Butler Yeats' prophetic poem in my copy of "The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart." The lines I am looking for are from "The Second Coming":
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned..."
Trust, the very innocence of it, is the ground note we cannot do without--trust, above all, in the viability of the future. But this is the twenty-first century, and trust is disappearing as surely as the Carolina coastlines. The question of how to live in the world without that reassurance of trust, in conditions where we are not dressed up, not pretty, not smashing at the screen, not hyper-vigilantly scanning the horizon for the next catastrophe about to strike-- all of these things I sensed were contributing to the dissonance my friend was feeling between her own private ordeal and public events. We are all spending a lot of energy trying not to see what is staring us in the face, trying not to feel the horror of what is happening. Things will eventually be okay. They always are.
Another friend in Australia sends me lines from Rumi:
"You may make a jewelry flower
out of gold and rubies and emeralds,
but it will have no fragrance."
That's it, I think. Moments of conscience and decency are like fragrance. Truth is fragrance. And they are disappearing. Life goes on as before, but the soul is in a state of emergency. This is the misfortune of living in the twilit carnival and surreal fakery that is America now, of swimming in the chloroform of deceit and lies. I am sitting on my front porch as I write this, and a fox appears. It stares at me for a few seconds, then runs off into the woods. I go down to the end of the driveway and get the newspaper. The lead story says Blacksburg has been put on notice that litigation may be filed claiming negligence by the town and its employees in the matter of the Virginia Tech massacre last spring. Families of the victims have congregated under the umbrella of a certain lawyer and are considering plans to sue. In our current litigious society, money is to be made even from the tragedy of unwarranted death.
Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Turkey is considering a cross-border offensive into Iraq against Kurdish rebels. The U.S. is adamantly opposed. Referring to us, the furious Prime Minister of Turkey responds: "Did they seek permission from anyone when they came from a distance of 10,000 kilometers and hit Iraq? We do not need anyone else's advice." Another world leader takes his cues from GWB.
I return to the anthology, wanting to check out another poem on the page next to Yeats'. Some lines by David Ignatow had previously caught my eye; I wanted to look at them again:
"...Your eyes will waver
and turn away but turn back to witness
the unprecedented, the incredible,
for you are there
and your part will be to remain calm."
My part is to remain calm: it's the ultimate message about how to be a human being. I am ready to stop there, and to type, despite the pointlessness of it all. I write and write, but it seems like words, my own and others', hit the ground as dust, with no impact, no traction. I turn on the computer to type, checking the email first. A painter living in Roanoke, Bill Rutherfoord, has sent me these few consoling words. They come with the force of an oracular coup:
"Civilizations in decline always contain a remnant of the faithful, and that appears to be our position at the moment. As systemic evil spreads globally, we should identify it, and speak about it. That's what we do."
"Heckuva job, Brownie," I tell him, "but I'm trying anyway." Question is, how much truth can we bear?