Today, for me, that song would have been 'Bullet the Blue Sky'. Kind of dark, yes. Although it didn't *feel* like that kind of a day - it was really pretty average and non-dramatic - this song kept popping into my mind throughout the day.
As I was walking downtown during my lunch break, the unmistakable sound of an airplane came out of nowhere. Along with several other people, I looked up. Instead of one plane flying low like I expected, there were two fighter jets streaking across the sky.
"In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum. Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome."
A little later in my walk I encountered a man walking toward me, talking on his phone. His side of the conversation was, "I was in L.A. last week. They want to, uh, pitch the pilot in the next 6 weeks." This is not something one hears in Portland, well, ever, so of course I had to check his appearance more intently in order to fill out a story in my mind for what I'd heard. He was attractive, in his 30s, tall and slender - though not too slender - with a haircut that's been in and out of style for men for decades: the long on top, short below look. Trousers and a jacket, but not a matching suit. The kind of outfit that would have touched on trendy in the 1980s-1990s and would have been worn by someone who sailed on Saturdays and played tennis on Sundays. It didn't make much sense to me given his age. He walked and talked with confidence, and yet... I couldn't put my finger on it, but I got the impression he was trying too hard. A person not as comfortable at salesmanship as he wishes he were. A person on the edge of success who is at that stage in life where if he doesn't get into the middle of success soon, he never will.
"This guy comes up to me, his face red like the rose on a thornbush, like all the colors of a royal flush. And he's peeling off those dollar bills, slapping 'em down."
As the day bled into evening, I ran some errands while my daughter was at soccer practice. I headed back to the park to pick her up, turned a corner, and was confronted with the most amazing sunset: bright pink with yellow-orange flashed across the sky behind a layer of clouds. It was riotously, violently gorgeous. Inspiring while also a little frightening in its vividness.
"Across the field, see the sky ripped open, see the rain through the gaping wound. Pounding the women and children. And we run. Into the arms of America."
I don't know, maybe this song came to me more because it's one of those that - if you're really paying attention - makes you confront what *America* means. That question of what America means now, what it has meant, and what it should mean in the future, has been on my mind a lot in the midst of the worldwide financial turmoil that's followed the credit crisis. We have one hell of an underbelly. Things are far from perfect. And yet, this country is so powerful even with those imperfections our underbelly has the ability to put much of the rest of the world in shadow.
I've said before that I believe that World War I, the forces that caused it, the people and countries in power who continued it, were the hinge upon which the 20th century turned. The issues of World War I were so large that it took World War II, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and others to even approach any true resolutions. Similarly, I see the forces at work that bred an atmosphere predicating 9/11 along with the world's bungled response to those forces as the hinge moment of the 21st century. Extreme differences in the distribution of wealth, and thus the distribution of power, can't help but be a petri dish that provides a perfect atmosphere for resentments to grow and multiply.
So, as I said, I've been thinking about the idea of America and what the ideals of America should be. I don't believe the ideals of America should include giving unquestioned power to an individual or very small group of individuals, but we've certainly slipped on that one since 9/11. We've faced crises before, but it seems as though these most recent years have been the toughest because they've struck at the heart of what it means to govern via democracy. It feels as though we're at an era that echoes what Rome went through and I'm concerned that the next thing we know we'll have a modern version of Nero fiddling while the city burns.
"Outside it's America. America."
We're at a collective moment where we need to take a hard and honest look at what we do wrong and what we do right. If we don't, it'll be time to rosen up the bow. There is still a vast foundation underneath us that can support returning to a truer democratic structure, but we have to choose to utilize it.