I hate to sound like my friend Ben, who tended to prattle on and on until the whole of the Continental Congress would fall asleep. But I have always been troubled by his notion that an empty bag cannot stand upright. I never understood if he was speaking of mankind in general or picking on some of his old Whigs and stockings cronies. Needless to say, he was from a time prior to the wondrous days of Whole Foods and paper bags that need nothing to maintain their upright position like soldiers awaiting the call to service. In fact, when you get them home you have to consciously collapse them and tuck them on the side of the refrigerator or they just get kicked around or filled with stray cats.
In my life, like Ben’s, I have known many a windbag so full of himself that he (or sometimes she) could stand upright and pontificate allll damn day, to their own fulfillment. Despite the fullness of air, there is so little substance they should topple beneath the weight of their own dissipation, which would prove Ben’s point in collapse. Still, they manage an upright stance or caricature. Just watch CNN and all that goes on in Washington and you would know Ben had no sense of his own reality; or of the reality he was about to create.
This leads me inevitably to one of his other adages – the used key is always bright. While I am certain Ben was truly discussing those brass keys he was so fond of attaching to kites and how the mere perpetual use would keep them shiny, I wonder if he really thought about the world that might follow him and his collective patriot friends. Today, whether in our nation’s capitol or almost anywhere around the country where two or more POLS gather together, those flabbergassers so often interviewed and well-used by the media are far from our brightest and best (as one young president sought). More often, they appear to be dimwits and dullards who can only speak in 30-second repetitive sound bites, perfect for communal consumption. Interviewers are complicit in this dulling of the American intellectual knife, pandering to the lowest denominator and providing nothing challenging for a sharp mind or education above the third grade. They ask expected questions with little follow up or thought for engaging the public in important dialog. There is no likeness to Diogenes, who with lamp in hand set out to seek real truth, not intellectual Pablum. In this regard the used keys are often not bright, at all.
I often find myself at the end of a cycle of stories or at the close of the Good Morning Fox Today show believing Ben hit the mark when he noted lost time is never found again. I have days, weeks, months, maybe even years given over to time wasted in the act of search but never quite found. I had a Civics teacher in high school, probably the last time such things were taught, who believed we all have a duty to seek truth or the best compromise, which will move us closer to (capital T) TRUTH. That value is poorly served in our world today so many hundreds of years beyond Ben’s comprehension. Our Sisiphusian endeavors are thwarted not only by the mountain prescribed to us to push the rock up, but all the false trails posted by others leading back to the bottom.
Besides, whatever one’s affiliation, or non-, it seems his quip about penny saved, penny earned should be altered now to penny saved – penny sucked up for campaign contributions. I gave in support of an independent candidate, in a moment of silly hope, only to have my email perpetually filled with requests to save the campaign of someone I know nothing about and who will never represent me. “Better give money to run the other guy out of town or destroy his agenda. Provide spare change to save the program someone else wants to eliminate. Give, so some web address can fund some other campaign or cause. Or, just give us a “tip” so we can continue our important work of harassing you for your pennies earned.” Clearly, the fervor of efforts to consume my income for their benefit (whoever they might be) begs Ben’s snippet about eating to live not living to eat. To me, I feel eaten not for nutritional benefit, for there is no community health improvement from the consumption, but just to satisfy a perpetual craving to chow down. Believe me, the invitations to be the meal are multiple and daily.
I am Ben’s gloved cat and have no mouse to my name. I have tried staying above the fray, without success. A short news clip, a pontification from some politician, a too frequent and repeated tweet sends my internal agita through all the stages of mourning – anger, sadness, guilt, depression, but never quite achieving calm. In the whirlwind of such political depravity, I am clearly not weather wise, so perhaps I am more like Ben than I am wont to admit and left to be otherwise.
I do wish I could stitch this time back together or connect it more closely to the values of Ben and his cohort. We live in such divisive times; shattered by partisanship and animus it is hard to recognize our foundational thread. If Ben’s friend Betsy were stitching the first flag today, what would it look like? Could it even hold together? We are a society now defined by our divisions, not shaped by mutual goals. In this regard we must appear to ourselves and others as a threadbare nation with little notion of how to reclaim our legacy. We keep thinking or laboring under the illusion that what those forefathers created so long ago will brings us through the current morass. But I think those primary and lofty values have been re-envisioned and re-interpreted in so many warped ways, it would be hard to find the TRUTH of them.
For me, I would love to see a move to a true independent’s day. In this, I think Ben and the boys spelled it wrong; it should have been a Declaration of Independents, which could provide a path forward with less party over nation and more clarity about the largess left us by Ben and the boys.