Wading into Turbulent Waters

Black Lives Matter equality for all

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

-From the Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

My son asked me if I had heard about what Drew Brees said and I told him yes. He asked what my reaction was and I said I can understand his point of view and strong feelings and he’s entitled to express his opinion.

Drew Brees Black Lives Matter

He responded that a lot of people were upset about what he said and I replied that I can understand their points of view and strong feelings as well and they’re entitled to their opinion.

I then quoted a line by Bob Dylan from Tangled Up in Blue.

We always did feel the same We just saw it from a different point of viewClick To Tweet

What I’m hoping for is that all parties want an America that is inclusive and creates opportunities for those that want to work hard and grow to allow for upward mobility while also preserving what has made us a beacon of hope for the rest of the world and enabled us to attract the best and the brightest and those hoping to better their lives. The reality is that we have different personal histories and experiences and the system has clearly benefited some more than others and some much more. 

It’s not surprising that what offends Drew Brees others find his being offended offensive.  I imagine he feels like his success and nurturing is due to what the flag and national anthem represent while for others like Lebron James maybe it’s been an impediment or symbolizes a power imbalance that has created obstacles to advancement and dignity for large numbers of people who were dealt a bad hand due to the color of their skin. 

South Central Los Angeles – Ride Along

What do I know? I have my particular sets of experiences and biases so I only know what I know. I don’t have any particular insights with the exception of one very formidable experience. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit South Central Los Angeles and visit a priest who has been incredibly impactful in the community in terms of offering opportunities for ex-gang members as well as others. We then visited a police precinct, did a ride-along in gang-controlled areas, and visited a prison. I left that experience recognizing that there is a whole world within America that I have absolutely no ability to relate to or any connection with and I left there not very optimistic about change due to some very powerful embedded realities. The cops didn’t trust the gang intervention programs because they were convinced they were infiltrated by gang members working the system to gain resources. I couldn’t believe how much of the outside world was controlled by gang leaders in prison and how going to jail for too many black youths was considered a badge of honor. This is based on what the police told our group and after the presentation and ride along I was hard-pressed to see how I could take exception with what they had to say. 

The police officers I met seemed to me to be hardworking, caring people who were dealing with extremely challenging circumstances. During the ride around you could see how well organized the gangs were in terms of having lookouts for when the police were arriving and communicating that to others. It’s a battle and the police are up against a formidable foe. There appeared to be a tense understanding of what the red lines were that couldn’t be crossed but seemingly at any time, there could be a spark to ignite an inferno.

Being Jewish I could take a tough-love approach and say that we have had to face horrendous cruelty and discrimination and yet, somehow, we’ve persevered and prospered in spite of this. At the same time, our skin color is overwhelmingly white which of course conveys certain advantages, or conversely, has fewer disadvantages. I could moralize and say that part of the problem is a breakdown in the two-parent household, poor educational realities, a gang and prison culture that doesn’t serve the communities it dominates, but I didn’t grow up in that culture so I’m an outsider drawing conclusions without any real-world experience with the day to day challenges and struggles. I could also point to the financialization of our economy that has exacerbated inequality and generated outsized rewards to the well educated and investor/management classes far greater than it has for labor. We also have a class of people that know how to work the system politically to reap outsized benefits which some people label as “crony capitalism.” As William Black wrote, the best way to rob a bank is to own one. He’s not far off in his cynical thinking in some ways. There are no easy, one size fits all answers. It’s complex and I cannot pretend to offer any compelling solutions.  

All I know is my experience and it is vastly different than growing up black in urban America. I have tried to focus on making choices with the long-term in mind that would delay gratification today for better outcomes tomorrow. I was fortunate to grow up in circumstances that allowed me to think long-term because day to day survival was never in question. This long-term thinking led me to focus on education, self-improvement, surrounding myself with the right people, modeling my behavior after those I admire, adhering to values that can provide guardrails for me regarding the consequences of the decisions I make, trying to be needed versus being needy, do my best to make myself indispensable in my career, and be there for my kids so that I can do my small part to leave the world a little better than I found it. 

It has also helped that I have worked in a business that I feel does a lot of good for our society. We employ a large number of people in a business that provides flexible housing opportunities for thousands of people in professionally managed communities that are safe and well maintained. At the same time we help people take their hard-earned savings and store it in tangible assets like apartment communities and hopefully generate a competitive rate of return that can help them support their families, communities, and live more fulfilling, fun, and meaningful lives. 

I apologize for my pontificating as I usually don’t wade into these turbulent waters but I feel compelled to get my thoughts out because it helps me to gain more personal clarity about what is going on as well as leaves a personal record that I can refer back to during what is a tremendously important and potentially dangerous time in our country’s history. There is a palpable underlying dark current emanating throughout the country that Yeats’ stanza at the beginning so accurately depicts. Inertia says that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force. Powerful forces are acting on the status quo. 

The combination of the COVID-19 economic collapse and the killing of George Floyd unleashed an understandable fury of outrage, disbelief, and disgust. My daughter asked me if I would watch “I’m Not Your Negro” with her. It’s about the writer James Baldwin and I am sure glad I said yes. It’s a powerful documentary that I highly recommend. 

When I first started this blog I was going to call it Same As It Ever Was because at my core I don’t believe there is really much new under the sun. I decided not to because I thought it was too limiting and a bit too negative. I must admit I was quite shaken up when I saw this picture from the documentary that made me wonder if I should change the title of the blog back to it. This is a photo of a black woman being held down by white policemen with one with his knee on her throat. It gives me the chills given what was done to George Floyd.

photo of a black woman being held down by white policemen

It’s during times like these that I often turn to art to help me process what I’m feeling, thinking, and observing. I was doing some garage yoga/stretching last week to help work out my lower back which has been feeling the effects of some hard tennis matches (a good pain by the way). I put on a live version of the Grateful Dead song Days Between which was about 14 minutes in length. I wanted a song of that duration so I would stretch for a long, continuous period of time. It’s probably the last great Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition they wrote together before Jerry died in 1995. Phil Lesh, the bass player for the Grateful Dead, wrote the following in his autobiography Searching for the Sound, about Days Between that conveys some of what I’m feeling about our current times.

“Achingly nostalgic, ‘Days Between’ evokes the past. The music climbs laboriously out of shadows, growing and peaking with each verse, only to fall back each time in hopeless resignation. When Jerry sings the line ‘when all we ever wanted / was to learn and love and grow’ or ‘gave the best we had to give / how much we’ll never know,’ I am immediately transported decades back in time, to a beautiful spring morning with Jerry, Hunter, Barbara Meier, and Alan Trist—all of us goofing on the sheer exhilaration of being alive. I don’t know whether to weep with joy at the beauty of the vision or with sadness at the impassable chasm of time between the golden past and the often painful present.”

Here are the lyrics and after each stanza, I share my reaction to it given the times.

There were days

and there were days

and there were days between

Summer flies and August dies

the world grows dark and mean

Comes the shimmer of the moon

on black infested trees

the singing man is at his song

the holy on their knees

the reckless are out wrecking

the timid plead their pleas

No one knows much more of this

than anyone can see anyone can see

“The world grows dark and mean.”Click To Tweet

If that doesn’t sum up how I’m feeling now, then I don’t know what does. And when it turns to “the reckless are out wrecking the timid plead their pleas” it sure captures the protests turning to looting and violence and people feeling helpless and outraged watching it unfold and how it is sadly diluting the pain of a message that so many needed to express.

There were days

and there were days

and there were days besides

when phantom ships with phantom sails

set to sea on phantom tides

Comes the lightning of the sun

on bright unfocused eyes

the blue of yet another day

a springtime wet with sighs

a hopeful candle lingers

in the land of lullabies

where headless horsemen vanish

with wild and lonely cries lonely cries

In some ways, I feel like “phantom ships with phantom sails” is what many people are deeming to be a fake economy that prioritizes Wall Street, the investor class, and corporations over Main Street with unprecedented Federal Reserve intervention and backstopping so much of the financial world. I understand the criticisms. I’m not saying I totally agree but I get it completely.

There were days

and there were days

and there were days I know

when all we ever wanted

was to learn and love and grow

Once we grew into our shoes

we told them where to go

walked halfway around the world

on promise of the glow

stood upon a mountain top

walked barefoot in the snow

gave the best we had to give

how much we’ll never know we’ll never know

Innocence lost. A longing for what really matters and what makes us human. Loving, learning, growing, giving the best of us for something greater than ourselves so we can feel alive and our souls burning with purpose. It feels so out of reach right now for so many which is very sad for a country that is supposed to be a beacon of inclusive hope, growth, and prosperity.

There were days

and there were days

and there were days between

polished like a golden bowl

the finest ever seen

Hearts of Summer held in trust

still tender, young and green

left on shelves collecting dust

not knowing what they mean

valentines of flesh and blood

as soft as velveteen

hoping love would not forsake

the days that lie between lie between

Many of us hunger for a glorious past and dream about a heavenly future and what lies between is a hard reality that keeps reminding us that life is difficult and there is no avoiding pain, loss, and yearning. It is hard to persevere sometimes but that is what we are called to do. It is our job to do our part to help repair the world through our words and deeds. It’s not easy but, to quote Hillel, 

If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?Click To Tweet

Next week I intend to go completely in the opposite direction and talk about the importance of humor, especially during these challenging times.

Hang in there.

3 comments on “Wading into Turbulent Waters
  1. Andrea Sanders says:

    Excellent Monday read. Thank you.

  2. Mark Skowronski says:

    Probably your best monologue ever! Emotions and feelings are normally a mixture of contradictions and difficult to translate to specific words. You seemed to have hit the mark from a white, male, middle class upbringing perspective.

  3. Randy Wilson says:

    Gary, well written and well lyrics quoted. Dylan, the Dead and so many more (Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens my faves) were such prophets. Bring on the humor !

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