Ritual

25 02 2008

My son makes myths. I told him about the bunny in the moon and he told me the bunny leapt into the sky before the earth was born, curled up and now reflects the sun. He also makes rituals. Periodically he asks for candles and arranges stones and plastic animals around the room. Then three of us, Devlin, Sage and I make wishes for animals (may all animals live in piece, may Muta be happy, may animals not kill each other, etc.) into our folded hands and blow out the candles, sending the wishes up to what my son conceives of as God. Willie typically begs out of participation and I expect, at least right now, Sage is most interested in blowing out candles. But for Devlin, this is an important ritual—he seems to have started to develop his own particular spiritual practice in response to his awareness of suffering.

Now, I should say, that this ritual is not conceived by Devlin out of thin air. I am guilty of exposing him to forms of rituals. Our yoga studio uses ritual regularly and very effectively. Also, to cope with the loss of a very special cat, I instituted an evening candle lighting for a month. But what is interesting to me is how he has absorbed these forms of ritual and created his own idea of the spiritual. Neither Willie nor I have ever told him that there is a God/god/gods—Willie generally tells him there is not one, in fact (a subject for another place is how this might be reinforcing Devlin’s spiritual tendencies…); I generally try to give him an anthropologists view of mythos/religion (having minored in anthropology in college I at least have a rough sense of the lingo and the logical approach). For Devlin right now, however, the idea of a god is important because it helps him navigate the waters of suffering that is our inheritance on this planet.

Philosophers, anthropologists and historians see in religion our species grappling with the existential dilemma inherent in self-awareness and recognition of death. Similarly, others have suggested that religious (or spiritual) behavior arises out of compassion and a need for connection. As Barbara J. King suggests the origins of religion are present in our closest relatives, the other great apes and as I watch Devlin’s generation of a myth of the world all his own, I see the youth of our species painting the walls of caves.

Ultimately, I am afraid of religion. I have, in different periods of my life, tried to dive into it—to accept it, to become faithful because that seems so much easier than to believe in a life without tether. However, for me it is not possible—I cannot avoid the obvious use of religion as a grab for power and the inherent hierarchies in even in religions seeming to be egalitarian across the board—they all come down to human as all to the exclusion of everything else. However, to my mind, the fact that Devlin is developing creative ways for to grapple with the existence of suffering and the desire for connection are, is a positive thing—and maybe he’ll find something that I haven’t. If nothing else, I enjoy the stories.

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A Tearful Interlude at Our Local Caucus

12 02 2008

We went to our democratic caucus Saturday. Here in Washington, for whatever reason, the Democrats choose to have 100% of their delegates chosen by caucus. Whether or not that disenfranchises voters is under debate (it does) but last weekends caucus’ were blessed with record turnout, as everyone with an ear to the news knows. I think there are two reasons for this (or rather three, if you prefer this sort of numbering),1. strong candidates that give followers a reason for enthusiasm and 2. the beautiful vista of a White House free of George W. Bush.

So, in our house, there is a buzz of excitement (when my husband and I have enough energy to buzz, sleep is still a premium) over the elections, despite the fact that, this year, they are drawn out and excessively expensive (it seems best not to think of the money trickling down the drain as though the faucet were leaking). Filled with more enthusiasm than we usually muster for community activities (Willie and I are hopelessly uncomfortable with community)we tramped up (or rather drove, as we were running late as usual) the hill to the school, Willie the kids and I. The kids were somewhat less enthusiastic than we were—they had been having fun and did not want to leave the house. But leave we did, and we arrived at our son’s school where the first thing we saw was a line starting to circle around the building. Our neighbors across the street with the adorable little white dog were there (sans dog) and so was the man in the little hat that Willie had noticed driving in the car in front of us with the bumpersticker if you aren’t appalled then you aren’t paying attention. We also saw some entrepreneurial individuals selling hot chocolate and hot apple cider at a stand pasted with Hillary Clinton ephemera.

Inside, there was general confusion as people tried to figure out their precinct number and find the location within the school that housed the table holding the sheets upon which we could sign in and state the candidate we supported. Then we milled a bit until a DNC official took the mic and tried to get us to quiet down and say the pledge and listen to instructions.
And here is the weird part. Sort of the point of this piece—it has taken me awhile to get here and you might notice I am being slow about telling you, even now. But, to my surprise and embarrassment (although nobody noticed, not even Willie, who, when I told him later, made fun of me, ha ha) I started to tear up, at the pledge, at the enormous turnout at the sight of friends and neighbors, at the sight of my children. Democracy in action I told myself, grasping onto a bit of pablum to put feelings into words (however inaccurate). My tears dried quickly and I spent the rest of the time dry eyed, leaving early because the children had had it and anyway, I wasn’t changing my candidate even if the other side had beautifully crafted and elegantly formed talking points (which, as a friend told me later, they didn’t).

Willie and I went over the caucus at home, especially the fact that they ran out of the official forms for filling out candidate preference despite knowing that all other caucuses had had record turnouts, and the closeness of the delegate count between the candidates was likely to lead to a record turnout in Washington. They had also run out of name tag stickers early on and Willie was overjoyed to see people with their names scrawled on tape that was placed across their chests. Willie was disappointed Mike Gravel had no support as he has a secret desire for a Gravel/Rumsfeld ticket—one he guarantees will bring real change.

Willie was surprised when I told him I teared up—delighted as well since it gave him fodder for amusing little sallies into humor at my expense. I, however, keep thinking about my tearing up—democracy in action? But the caucuses were decidedly not that. According to one estimate 1 million fewer people attend the caucuses than vote in primaries in Washington. The caucuses restrict a political voice to people who can make it midday on Saturday (those that do not work, do not have to tend ailing relatives, that can bring their children, that are not ailing themselves). I do not think my reaction was to democracy in action.

Instead, I think my reaction is a symptom of the lifting of the psychological trauma that the Bush administration as been for me. Because it has truly been a traumatic eight years, not just for myself, but for millions of us who believe our eyes have been opened to the truly weak foundation upon which our perceived freedom rests. We learned our votes were not safe, that fear and lies could constrict the power of government to a few power hungry people so lacking in vision that they have been willing to trade our peace, our economic security, our standing in the world, our honor, and our land earth seas and skies for a pitiful handful of coins. We have learned what we predicted would be bad is only that much worse, that what we thought would be unfortunate would be horrible. We have learned that we have little power to protect our children’s future if the machine in the White House decides to run over them. We have also learned that our only strength is a local strength. And if we are lucky we will find out and make circles of safety in our own small regions, battling against a national trend in the other direction.

It was an interesting sensation to recognize this—that the certain end of the Bush administration (at least if you do not believe the murmur that something will happen to allow him to suspend the election because of a state of emergency) is something akin to the lifting of trauma. He will be gone and someone else will inherit the wreckage of a country that he and his government leave in their wake. Does it matter who? Yes, it matters a great deal. More than I realized before these years of W. I hope, however, it does not matter as much as it did with Bush. Because psychologically I cannot take another four, eight, twelve years of the sort of political machinations the Bush Administration has engaged in. Even with the support of the Daily Show and Colbert, I will not be able to take it. And this was the other thing that made me tear up. I am not the only one—all of us will need a period of recovery, a time to take care of ourselves and our little patch of earth—we’ll need Jon Stewart and Colbert, Doonsbury and Rumsfeld’s words written down as poetic pieces of nonsense to cleanse ourselves of these past eight horrible years.