The End of the Old and The Beginning of the New
One of my favorite New York Times columnists has a new job. Roger Cohen is leaving column-writing to head the Paris bureau of the paper. His words of good-bye made me choke up this morning. I’m sad to see him go. His columns have touched me like no others.
“This, dear readers, is goodbye, my last column for The New York Times. I have tried to defend the causes I believe in — freedom, decency, pluralism, the importance of dissent in an open society, above all. Uniformity of thought is the death of thought. It paves the road to hell.”
It is just such a demand that hangs as an albatross over our country right now, the threatening Sword of Damocles known as uniformity.
If there is one thing that could defeat the American Experiment, that demand to be uniform is it.
Zeroes and ones, anyone? Data mining, anyone? Algorithms, anyone?
Mr. Cohen writes, “Having spent my infancy in South Africa, grown up and been educated in England, and then, after a peripatetic life as a foreign correspondent, found my home in New York (the place that took me in), I have been concerned with belonging.
“It could scarcely be otherwise. From Lithuania to Johannesburg, from South Africa to Israel and Britain, from London to New York, my family has been on the move since the 1890s. Trees have roots. Jews have legs. Displacement is hard. A new land is also the loss of the old.”
Mr. Cohen is about to lose his old land — New York — to inhabit a new land — Paris. I wish him well. Just as he is concerned with belonging, so, deep down, is every American.
The poignance of his words struck a chord in me this morning. Americans, too, are losing an old land, or I hope we are. Letters to the Editor this morning say otherwise. They claim that the division that has characterized the Trump Slump is alive and well and living all over this country, and further, that it’s not going away any time soon.
They say that the differences between rural and urban are too great to be reconciled, that differences between educated and unschooled are too great, that those who are “woke” look down on those who are not.
In the past couple weeks, I’ve written over and over again of doing things on a small scale, right where we are, with those we know, right now.
Sure, we can lament those differences, but at base, at bottom line, at net-net, I agree with Mr. Cohen: “Racism is a close cousin to nationalism, as America has been reminded. They both depend on scapegoating or persecuting ‘the other’; on the idea, as Kipling put it, that: ‘All nice people, like us, are We, and everyone else is They.’
“There is no place, on this small interconnected vulnerable depleted planet, for the ideologies that took tens of millions of lives in the 20th century. So, dear readers, fight on for an American democracy freed at last of racism, for a borderless federal Europe, and for a sustainable world.”
I disagree with his urge to fight on. I think fighting is what got us where we are in the first place. Maybe better or more kindly said, Live on. And more, live on with a new and improved vision for a new and improved land of the free and home of the brave and the planet she lives on.
I think there is a purpose to making broad strokes first. Those broad strokes link us in our similarity. We’re all human. We all want the same things, essentially: safe, warm or cool shelter, food, clothing, clean air and water, meaningful work and relationships. And the occasional bite of chocolate.
Mr. Cohen again, “It’s the voyage that counts, they say, but so does the ever-flickering destination, that promised land where the unquenchable quest of every human being to be free and live with dignity is honored and safeguarded in perpetuity.”
There’s the broad stroke, Beloved.
Freedom. Dignity. Honor. For all of us.
What we argue about is how to get to those lofty goals on a practical level.
It’s a little like that old joke: A tourist approaches a New Yorker and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The New Yorker answers, “Practice.”
We get to practice freedom, dignity, and honor of all beings, Beloved. Practice …, as I’m sure you know, makes perfect. Well, maybe not perfect, but we can, perhaps, get away with perfecting … how’s that?
Decades ago an old friend of mine and I added another line to the Carnegie Hall joke. “And what do you learn from prac- …? The other would interrupt, “Timing.”
Yes, timing, Beloved. The end of the old land, the end of an administration, the end of a spell of outrage cast over much of our beloved country could inspire us to practice what we know are our similarities, the things we all want.
And perhaps that ending is the perfect time to turn our faces to a new land of possibility, a new land of hope, a new land of opportunity for all of us instead of some of us.
Just like Mr. Cohen’s leave-taking for Paris, I wish us all Bon voyage.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.