There is madness in America.
I don’t really know how to write about this. Watching from far away, I found the noise and the lunacy and the fire and the fury not quite real. My brain could not compute or calibrate. Who were these people, and what were they doing, and what did they want? (Reporters did ask them; they could not come up with coherent answers. They spoke, or yelled, in fragments. ‘The big steal!’ they said. ‘This is our house,’ they insisted. And then they fell back on the old, old chestnut: ‘We want our country back.’)
At first, there was a faintly, horribly comic air about it. One of the marchers (or stormers or protestors or whatever they were) was caught on video, complaining about having been sprayed with mace on her way to break in to the Capitol. She spoke with such an amazed air of entitlement, as if she expected the police to throw open the door and escort her into the building. ‘This is the revolution,’ she said, in a plaintive, baffled voice, as if she had been expecting party balloons and dancing in the street.
I felt myself entering into a theatre of the absurd, as the furious Right played out all the things of which they accuse the intemperate Left. (Mostly that strange entitlement, an unrepentant anarchy, and a ridiculous dose of snowflakery.)
Then Robert Moore did some proper, brave, old-school reporting from the heart of the mob, and it wasn’t funny any more. It wasn’t funny at all. People died and people got hurt and American democracy seemed to be shivering and shuddering, gazing into the abyss of its own contradictions.
I thought of Yeats:
‘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.’
Friends sent messages from across the Atlantic Ocean, their words full of incomprehension and despair. I wrote entirely inadequate words back. I imagined how I would feel if this were happening in Westminster. We have had our political turmoils here over the last four years, as Brexit seemed to split the nation, but nothing like this. Not that pure, untrammelled rage; not that wholesale departure from truth; not the same sense of smashing up the social contract. Not quite.
I always loved America. I loved that it was a country founded on an idea, the self-evident truths of all humans being created equal, endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It may not always have lived up to those lofty ambitions, but I like that it had them. You’ve got to have something to aim at.
I loved that it gave us jazz, and Scott Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker, and New York, New York, and the movies. I loved that when I went there, it was like being in the movies.
And now there is chaos and I don’t know what to say about that. There is a sense of mourning, and a feeling of shock, and an enduring hope that the centre will, after all, hold.
Back in Scotland, the sun shines on the frosty land and the silence of lockdown continues. I do my work and speak to a new client and continue my absurd hunt for beautiful things. I find today’s beautiful thing quite by chance. I look something up, and that leads me to another something, and then I find a little story about Leonard Cohen, and it returns me to happiness and hope.
It’s from a rather brilliant article in the Rolling Stone written by Paul Nelson, and it’s six lines of sheer loveliness.
‘When I first met Leonard Cohen, he was telling a good friend of mine that his mother was seriously ill. My friend, whose father had recently died, was so moved by Cohen’s mesmerizing familial compassion that she quietly began to cry. Seeing this, Cohen jumped up, left the room and quickly returned with his famous blue raincoat. “Please cry on this,” he said. “It soaks up the tears.” And you wonder why I like Leonard Cohen.’
I’ve loved Leonard Cohen since I was a little girl and my brother brought one of his albums home from school and made the whole family listen to it. I was six, and that love affair never died. Cohen got me through all my own heartbreaks by being so brutally, tenderly honest about his own. He wrote lyrics that were sheer poetry. He sang as if he were the last man left on earth. When I was a confused teenager, I sometimes felt he was the only person in the world who truly understood me.
That famous blue raincoat came with me through all my trials and tribulations; it’s one of the very few songs that I know completely by heart. I can sing it from beginning to end without a lapse in memory. (The red mare knows it almost as well as I do, because I regale her with it when we ride into the hills.)
And I’m so glad I know that story now. I feel vastly reassured by the fact that Cohen was as wonderful a man in life as he was in his songs. That’s beauty, right there, and I’m hanging on to it for all I am worth.
7 thoughts on “7th January, 2021. Anarchy and Famous Blue Raincoats.”
I am almost 66. I was a protester when I was young, finding my voice with various groups who were outraged by the Vietnam War, the discrimination of women, and people of color, and the injustice against farmworkers who supplied us with our food. Lots of people to rally for. Always a peaceful protest, though we were full of energy! I learned the peacefulness from Cesar Chavez, a man who was both fierce and gentle. I was a protester, but never part of a mob. Never disrespectful of our country and what we stand for. I believe, and believed then that there was always something or someone to fight for. What happened in the Capitol was horrible and so very disrespectful. And that awful mob was initiated by the President of the United States! Unthinkable, unconscionable! He is an embarrassment to our country. I am sorrowful and saddened. I am thankful that we will soon have a leader who reflects the values and dignity of our great diverse population and will proudly represent and lead the country we love with respect and fairness. Thank you for your lovely writing. It always makes me smile.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What an incredible thing to write, and what beautiful memories. I know a little of Chavez, and he always seemed to me an inspiring leader. I hope, and believe, your great country will come back to dignity and fairness. Thank you for your fascinating story.
I had hoped you’d write about what happened in America yesterday. Ours is a huge country, and I have been to LA on the west coast in my 52 years, but have never been to New York, or Washington DC. Seeing those places before I die is on my bucket list. People like me, who live in rural communities, a ten hour drive from the nearest metropolitan area, feel disenfranchised from the rest of the country. When you look at the political map, you can see the division between more and less populated areas. Our political machine is corrupt, fighting each other for domination…pandering to the masses of their voters that keep them in power. They aren’t doing the right thing. The ideals of our forefathers are used as sound bites to appeal to the masses, but there are few honest politicians who practice what they preach. These are crazy times, and I find the direction we are headed frightening. I have lost faith in the system. The idealism of our inception is and was a lie; nothing but pretty words. America needs to remake itself before it’s too late. 😥
LikeLiked by 1 person
Dear Carol – So sorry I missed this comment. Funnily enough, I’ve been thinking of this very subject this week. I think a lot of the political systems are broken in the modern industrialised nations. People feel left behind and are losing faith. We are in a frightful mess here with Brexit and a government who doesn’t seem to care much about anyone. I am hoping eventually enough people will cry enough and a change will come.
Government always has and always will be corrupt. It doesn’t matter if it is this guy or that guy in the office – the idea that a handful of men can rule other men is a farce. They can’t do the right thing for you and the right thing for everyone else at the same time. It just doesn’t work. It’s a system created by a couple of men (39 I think), many of whom believed it was ok to own other people. Start from there. They thought it was ok to own people. It’s ok to not have faith in such a system. Have faith in yourself and your family. Have faith that you know what is best for you. Have faith that you will not devolve into some sort of thief or murderer if there is no guy in a suit in a building 1100 miles from you telling you how to live your live. I have faith in you. You can do it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
From an American fan, I appreciate your concern. We are quite shocked as well.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in” Leonard Cohen
We have some work to do over here. With love, Varada
LikeLiked by 1 person
Beautiful. Thank you.