Last week’s post about cloud gazing was entitled “From the Other Side of a Cloud“. The title refers back to one of my favorite songs, “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, a Canadian singer/songwriter/artist.
A little back story: During a plane ride, Mitchell was reading Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow, and came across the section where the protagonist is looking at clouds from the window, just as Mitchell was doing at that moment. She explained, “I dreamed down at the clouds, and thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them…” she continues to muse that she now “dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no generation of men has done.”
And from that coincidence came one of the loveliest pieces of music from the Sixties. As I listen to those lyrics, it never fails to take me back to my college days, when “the times they were a changin’ “. It brings to mind the many folk singers who became the real poet/philosophers of their age. They sang about freedom and disillusionments and articulated their thoughts of a better world for us and the generations to follow.
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down and still somehow
it’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all.”
The ’60’s and 70’s were tumultuous times here in the US and we had sore need of those singers/poets/philosophers; Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Tom Rush and so many more who had a dramatic effect on stirring young people to think about our times and how we could not only dream but work toward a better world.
And things did change. From those songs came the sit-ins, the demonstrations, the outright demands for the end of a war and the enactment of laws giving freedoms much too long in coming. We could use those poets right now, I think, because I sometimes feel we’re going back from where we came. I’m overwhelmed lately by the realization that as a people, we seem to have learned nothing from our past mistakes.
This weekend, Elie Wiesel was laid to rest. A Holocaust survivor, he became a wiser human being, a champion for human rights, and as President Barack Obama reminded us, “The Conscience of the World.” He fully understood how the evil within one person can be toxic and spread to many. He wanted us to take this lesson and never forget. Weisel believed we all have a responsibility to respond to that evil. In his own words:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
And what does that mean for all of us on this July 4th, 2016? At the bare minimum, it means we need to cultivate our understanding of right and wrong and our feeling of empathy for other human beings. That means when we see someone being wronged, being hurt, we have a duty to step up and say or do something. It means we don’t let anyone stand alone to be victimized. We do the right thing because we know in our hearts what the right thing is.
In the larger scheme of things, it means we must be careful in the people we choose to lead us. We look back and learn from our own mistakes and those of others. We don’t repeat those mistakes. We learn from history. We raise our voices. We apply the lessons we’ve learned to today’s situations..
So, we have lost a voice, a conscience, now when we could most use it. A good man who understood the ugliness of evil and its toxic effects on others. But Weisel didn’t let that evil consume him. He looked back at it and moved forward to make a difference. His novel, Night, will endure and be read long after he’s gone from this world. It will continue on just as the songs of the poet/philosophers. We read his words and listen to their lyrics, bringing us back to a time when we hoped the future would be a better place for us and our children. We can’t afford to be captives of indifference. In our hearts, we’ve seen it all before and we know better.