It is already Tuesday. November 14. Clarice would have turned 102 yesterday had she lived so long. She had a good run, living until aged 94 and 1/2. She would have been the first to acknowledge that she lived so long was both miracle and curse. After all there comes a day when the ones who have already gone far outnumber the few still with you. There is something about November. On this date in 1851 Hermann Melville’s book Moby Dick was published – all 695 pages! Someone may have already suggested this, that Ishmael was Melville’s own alter ego, and the one who begins the story this way:
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”
The words, November in my soul, caught my attention. Certainly a truth for this human. There IS something about this time of year that lends itself to long lists, names of the remembered dead from the year just past or even from years ago. The list trails onto page 2 and beyond. A good friend of mine used to remind me that the Church Triumphant dwarfs the ones sitting in the pews of a Sunday morning. Another truth.
The earth is carrying all the dead, ALL things once alive and no more in their active form. The earth is carrying all the living – ALL no matter what form life takes. The alive, including elected legislators, appointed officials, the violent and the peaceful, the warmongers and the peacemakers, the family member you hope will not show up at the Thanksgiving meal. I would be lying if I did not tell you there are times I’d like to see a giant hand swoop down from a cloudless sky, grab these folks voting for guns everywhere in anyone’s hands, and watch the Hand carry them far away. Of course they would still be underfoot so to speak. If no longer in the flesh, in the sickness of their thoughts, the shortsightedness of their eyes, the distinct lack of imagination, and therefore of faith. They’d love to tell you how faithful they truly are. Go to church every Sunday. Stand up on the floor of the Senate and tell you, dear person, that you will be safer with a gun in your house, in your hand. Their goal appears to be a gun in every hand regardless of what that means.
I was out collecting signatures for the ballot initiative that may make it to the 2018 ballot in Michigan – an initiative that if it passed would change the way districts are drawn for the purposes of election of state representatives and senators as well as Federal representatives. When I begin the conversation with a potential signer I tend to ask, “Would you like to have fairer elections in Michigan?” Sometimes there is a look of total understanding. And a signature is close behind. Sometimes the person looks at me totally perplexed. “What do you mean?” Then you explain how districts get drawn, you show them a little primer on the whole thing and remind them that in 2020 the districts will be drawn again. If we have a citizen led commission we may find we have more competitive districts with fresh candidates with good ideas who have a chance to help the state recover from some questionable public policy choices over the last 30+years.
Here’s my beef: no matter who I vote for, they may not be interested in listening to me, my concerns, or the concerns of numbers of us working together to make Michigan a better place to live for all of us. When candidates are elected by a political caucus and money from all over the map, why would they listen to me who, though paying their salary through the taxes I pay, cannot give them the thousands they need to run for office? Too many of us are in this situation. Our vote either does not count because of the way districts are drawn, or, the person elected has no ear for our concerns especially if they do not match up with the caucus crib sheet that elected folks seem to memorize.
No matter the dubious nature of the bill at hand, if the caucus has the rationale, the legislator rarely thinks intentionally about the outcome of their vote should the bill pass. Are these folks zombies? The living dead? Theologically, that may be closer to the truth.
November raises such thoughts as I go about the work of living day to day in a state driven mad by some ideological mindset seduced by fear, shaken by anger at anyone who has the audacity to have a thought about social righteousness and totally resistant to the notion that we all are living on this earth and will do much better at that work if we’re not killing one another with guns, rotten water, dirty food, and lousy pay scales.
So it is November. I am listening to In the Bleak Mid-Winter coming to me over the radio station I’m streaming. It is no longer November 14. Several Tuesdays have come and gone. Even Thanksgiving has come and gone. It is December 2. It is evening. The moon will be completely full tomorrow, but to my untrained eye it is full tonight. Warm for this time of year. Last year there was snow and temperatures in the teens. Well all of that will come eventually. The family have come and gone with a stop at the Thanksgiving table, many smiles, and silent prayers for Goodness to stay by us despite the darkness of these days in the human enterprise, despite our part in the whole lousy mess.
Hope lives in the music – as in the lovely Christina Rossetti poem which John Rutter set to music. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. No one has said it better I believe. So let me accompany Christina and John along the darkened path toward light.