A curmudgeon's try for inner peace
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” So began Gerald R. Ford’s speech on assuming the presidency after the resignation of Richard M. Nixon in August of 1974.
This quote springs to mind as I absorb the defeat of Donald J. Trump. In retrospect for many of us with a persisting interest in American politics, the Nixon nightmare seems like a mild case of psychological dyspepsia compared to what we’ve gone through over the past few years. The Trump presidency has made emotional and political tumult an ongoing moral trauma for those of us who worry about such things.
As a boomer who over a lifetime has flirted with aspirations toward Zen detachment (and failed), all my efforts to meditate away the perceived threat to our most treasured democratic principles and institutions have proven futile. In the universe of politics, inner peace is sadly elusive.
I’ve always believed that a primary role of government is to seek remedies for the social ills that plague human societies. Many argue that this is foolish thinking — that the solutions to our failings, whether personal or political, must be left to divine intervention. Indeed, during my own hippie phase, I ardently believed that the ultimate solutions could come only from a generational “awakening.” I have not grown so cynical that I discount the possibility of a collective satori, but while I wait I feel I must put my money on the political realities of our erstwhile democracy.
In full disclosure, I’ve been an active Democrat since 1968. Prior to that, in 1964, I was an enthusiastic Goldwater kid — mainly because my favorite uncle was a rock-ribbed western Pennsylvania conservative. I eventually chose the Democrats because, since 1968, they established themselves as the party of civil rights and worker’s rights. Nonetheless, I’ve known and liked many Republicans, and I respect their arguments on a variety of issues. And I do believe, when my better angels are ascendant, that demonization of the other is demonization of the self.
I’m not anti-business or anti-money. I’ve always liked the feel and jingle of coins in my pocket. Money may not ensure inner peace, but it can sure cheer a person up. There was a time when a quarter meant five new packs of baseball cards. That’s all I needed for an hour of happiness. And those cards enabled me to develop excellent trade relations with my friends, which brought a kind of harmonic convergence to the anarchy of my childhood.
For me, the obstacles to inner peace are legion: a lifelong yearning for impossible things, an unquenchable Faustian thirst, a devilish irreverence, a brain that just won’t shut up. Socrates, being Socrates, wants to argue with Buddha. Of this duo, one asks too many questions; the other, perhaps, too few. Sometimes the diversions off-railing my efforts at nirvanic transcendence are not at all complex. Sometimes it is sex, the goat-footed lurker in the garden. What can I say?
But now that the election is all over but the shouting (and we know who the shouter is), I think I’m having a moment of serenity, and for me, a moment is good-enough news. I know that the political Ugly Show will go on, but today I feel a little more hopeful. And that hopefulness eases my chronic anxiety enough for me to feel something like an inner peace settling over the tired battleground that is my mind. I hope I can hang on to it. It’s intermission time. I think I’ll extend it, and linger for a while at the wine bar.
Richard Carey lives in Ashland, happily retired from all forms of gainful employment. He now spends his time scribbling poems and in sporadic meditation, among other aimless pursuits. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.