Saturday, July 10, 2010
A Period of Calculated Waiting
No two ways about it: we are definitely in a time now of what the I Ching calls a period of "calculated waiting." In my previous post I referred to the oil spill and the war in Afghanistan as "America's bleeding ulcers," but that description applies equally to the state of the economy, which is precariously poised for collapse like a house of cards--unless by some miracle it doesn't. (Just as an aside, it remains shocking to me that, in every parsing of the economic statistics for growth, unemployment, and jobs creation that is offered by pundits and the president alike, not one single person ever mentions the horrendous economic impact presented by the oil spill, which has the potential, after all, to totally derail whatever measly economic gains have been accrued so far.)
Maybe it's because everyone but me is in thrall to the philosophy that "success starts with positive thoughts," I don't know. Only time will tell how these various scenarios play themselves out in the end. Personally, I confront them all with a mind infused with a dread of what's to come--which is, of course, exactly what the I Ching advises should NOT be done during a necessary period of calculated waiting. It was for this reason that I was prompted, when the spill first happened, to read Anne Frank's Diary, which I had never read, I thought I needed some serious mentoring in how to live with dread. I wanted to see how a 13-year-old girl managed to survive being stalked by death, and to deal with her fear of the Nazis, who might, as she put it, come at any time "in the middle of the night to take us away,"
Anne Frank was only 12 years old when her family first went into hiding in 1941, in the upstairs annex at the back of an office building in Amsterdam. The family of four imprisoned themselves, eventually to be joined by four others, and remained hidden there for two years, until the morning of August 4, 1944 when the SS and members of the Security Police (who had probably been tipped off) showed up at the door and arrested them all. The beleaguered Anne ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where she died, probably of typhus, in an epidemic that had broken out in the camp, shortly before it was liberated by Bristish troops on April 12, 1945. The others had been shipped to different camps, and the only survivor was Anne's father, Otto, who, after his release, spent the next 30 years disseminating the publication of his daughter's journal.
I must say that I was totally unprepared for the majesty of Anne Frank's writing skills, the stunning maturity of her emotions, and the wisdom and courage with which she confronted her destiny. I still cannot get over how extraordinary this book is. If you only read it once when you were 12 years old in school, I cannot recommend it highly enough as an object lesson for our own terrible times--in which many people, for the first time, are unexpectedly and seriously frightened of the future. I can only imagine, for instance, through Anne Frank's eyes, what some people living on the Gulf coast must be feeling right now as they wait for the oil to invade and further upend their lives. In what follows, I want to share some of the most poignant passages from her book. They are more than worth the time it will take to read them, I promise. From Anne Frank's Diary:
"Our only diversions are reading, studying, and listening to the radio...Yesterday was my unlucky day. I pricked my right thumb with the blunt end of a big needle. As a result Margot [Anne's younger sister] had to peel potatoes for me. And writing was awkward. Then I bumped into the cupboard door so hard it nearly knocked me over, and was scolded for making such a racket. They wouldn't let me run water to bathe my forehead so now I'm walking around with a giant lump over my right eye. To make matters worse, the little toe on my right foot got stuck in the vacuum cleaner...Relationships here in the Annex are getting worse all the time.
"We don't dare open our mouths at mealtime...because no matter what we say, someone is bound to resent it or take it the wrong way...I've been taking valerian every day to fight the anxiety and depression, but it doesn't stop me from being even more miserable the next day. A good hearty laugh would help more than ten valerian drops, but we've almost forgotten how to laugh...All the bickering, tears, and nervous tension have become such a stress and strain that I fall into my bed at night crying and thanking my lucky stars that I have half an hour to myself...My nerves often get the better of me, especially on Sundays; that's when I really feel miserable. The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don't hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld.
"Everyone is subject to moods and fearfulness...The war is going to go on despite our quarrels and our longing for freedom and fresh air, so we should try to make the best of our stay here...I'm preaching, but I also believe that if I live here much longer, I'll turn into a dried-up old beanstalk. And all I really want is to be an honest-to-goodness teenager!
"Just imagine how interesting iit would be if I were to publish a novel about the Secret Annex...ten years after the war people would find it very amusing to read how we lived, what we ate, and what we talked about in hiding...When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But...will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?,,,I know what I want, I have a goal, I have opinions, a religion and love. If only I can be myself, I'll be satisfied. I know that I'm a woman, a woman with inner strength and a great deal of courage! If God lets me live, I'll go out into the world and work for mankind! I know that courage and happiness are needed first!
"Vegetables are still very hard to come by. This afternoon we had rotten boiled lettuce. Ordinary lettuce, spinach and boiled lettuce, that's all there is. Add to that rotten potatoes, and you have a meal fit for a king!...I've asked myself again and again whether it wouldn't have been better if we hadn't gone into hiding, if we were dead now and didn't have to go through this misery, especially so that the others could be spared the burden [refers to the small band of helpers who brought them provisions in secret so they could stay alive]. But we all shrink from this thought. We still love life...and we keep hoping, hoping for...everything. Let something happen soon, even an air raid. Nothing can be more crushing than this anxiety. Let the end come, however, cruel; at least then we'll know whether we are to be the victors or the vanquished."
And so, in our own lingering, unfinished stories of calculated waiting--the oil spill, an unwinnable war, the threat of financial collapse--we, too, are haunted by precisely the same question: are we to be the victors or the vanquished? Will we succeed in overcoming these formidable obtacles or will they destroy us? Right now all we do know is that we are having to live under a cloud of sickening uncertainty.