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America

January 7, 2021

In 1976 I was 21, and visited DC. A beautiful woman’s father was a congressman, and he invited me to visit him. In another era the young woman and I might have married, and I deeply loved her family.

So I went to the Capitol.

No line, no frisk, not even a walk thru sensor. It was before the first attacks on the Trade Towers, 9-11, or any of the conflicts after the Vietnam War, which was winding down to a sad end of waste and death.

We met, it was starry-eyes by me, her father was a virtual hero to me. I was a mess, unsure of much beyond my place as a student in a crazy place, with wonderful people, like his daughter. I had a phantom family I rarely talked to, who really were sure that I was “fine.” In all the pre-boomer parenting ways I was feral, and nothing bad happened, despite some terrific dangers.

But that afternoon in DC was a moment before now and after then. 1968 was a full melt-down. Riots everywhere, every male was liable to join 500,000 others getting killed half way around the world for no understood cause. Richard Nixon had won a landslide, then, about to be impeached, left in a place of shame that may be impossible now.

Tiny numbers of anyone but white males, like me and my friend’s father, had little chance to do anything but watch. University cost $6,000 a year, all in. There were 7 TV stations in the biggest of cities and most people still had black and white sets. The Republicans were lucky to have 40% of either house in Congress, and never a majority.

And the empty Rotunda was beautiful.

Light streaming in thru the halo of clerestory dome-wrapping windows. It was a bit dusty, a bit dated, but it was a place that you knew had looked, smelled and sounded like it did in 1976 for the last century.

Now, huge additions have been made to keep out any but the screened, scheduled, scanned, and safe visitors. And yesterday the worst in us overwhelmed even this security simply to project themselves as angry into a place that was intended to focus hope in our ability to control.

But control was not there for women and any but the white men who were the residents of the Capitol in 1976. Control was not there for the millions of those drafted into fighting a war against those who might, or might not, threaten our country.

It was a calm moment of extreme denial.

Forget about politics, even race, or justice. Instead think of us. We all have enormous capacity to love, protect, give. But each of us hates, too. Each of us can be deeply angry and sore afraid, We are, now and every day, in denial of the worst fears in the hope of our faith that our lives matter.

But our worst fears cannot be denied. We act against those we fear, and people we trust to keep us safe are humans and kill people. People are judged by veneers and simply denied meaning other than “enemy.” We are humans, not our hopes.

We only have our being to guide beyond our intellect. Our being, our insane complexity of composition should let us know that the miracle of our existence is a full unmerited gift. But we, all of us, feel that we are owed more than existence. And we are.

We are each owed love.

But the humans do not always offer that. Because it is scary to be open to risk.

Instead, we create safe places, where we can feel that we are not threatened. Even though each of us has what threatens us already within us. We make places like the 1976 Capitol, where a century of System meant safety for a white male to visit another white male.

But we cannot escape our humanity. Richard Nixon played the stage of President very well, but he was deeply scared, angry and, well, the worst in us. And the mob that rioted the Capitol into the 21st Century yesterday is the worst in us too.

It is easy to hate. I hate something every day. It is hard to understand, or just to try to understand a thing that we are not. That understanding has a faith that what I am is not everything.

But in 1976, in the Capitol Dome, I felt in the presence of something much greater than me. That was shattered yesterday.

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