A place where story and song make race and recrimination obsolete

A place where story and song make race and recrimination obsoleteAs a skinny guy only 178cm tall I was never much of a horse physically, but I did have enough pop to beat up my kid brothers, which I did until they got powerful and I went off to college juuuuust in time. In college, I kept thinking that power had to do with bodies, and that girls were impressed with muscles, and that burliness led to success, and it took forever for me to realise that this was a lie, and that women were really after hearts they could trust.

Plus I started noticing that often the men and women who were most influential, most startling, most amazing—most powerful, really—were, by pretty much every definition of powerful, powerless.

They were skinny penniless guys like Christ and Gandhi, or cheerful brilliant cripples like Franklin Roosevelt and Flannery O’Connor, or stubborn dignified folks like Rosa Parks or Michael Long, or unknown geeky guys with courage coming out of their ears—like the guy who was carrying his grocery bags home one June day in Beijing in 1989, and suddenly had just about enough of army tanks rolling by to smash kids in Tiananmen Square, and he jumped into the street and made 18 tanks stop and he changed the world, didn’t he? And isn’t it cool, almost 20 years later, that no-one knows who he is?

And aren’t there a million acts of incredible power and poetry like that every day?

Like the firefighters who ran up inside the World Trade Centre towers instead of running away, which by all sense, reason and logic they should have. And the teenage boys who patrol terrified but intent through the murk and blood of Baghdad for us. And the million business owners who scratch and kick and wrestle to stay in business because they know that if their companies fail, whole families and clans and towns will suffer.

I think about power all the time as a dad, too. In the old days, when my children were tiny and squirming and peeing on the floor like puppies, I was king, I made the rules, I fed and wiped and bathed. I thundered, I was the last word. (Well, the second-to-last word; as my daughter noted wryly when quite small, “Mom is the boss and you are the second boss.”)

But now that hormone hurricanes have swept through the house and my kids are suddenly supercilious teenagers, I have only the power to persuade, to suggest, to remonstrate, to hint, to remind. It took me a while to shift gears from boss to bemused. Power is a tool, but tools at rest are only sculptures, lovely and useless.

Listen, I know what you are thinking: what does all this have to do with me and my job and my life? And I reply: I am only reminding you of what you already know in your heart. You spent years finding and focusing your skills and talents and energies, and now you have a career, you’re supporting a family, you employ a lot of people maybe, you give away gobs of cash for good causes, but sometimes deep down at night you wonder if there’s some way to do more to really change things, you know?

A place where story and song make race and recrimination obsoleteTo really hammer hunger and poverty, and the shiver of fear that haunts families without insurance or next month’s rent or much more in the pantry than pasta, to stitch a world where your kids won’t be afraid of murderers in Afghani caves or fouled water or joblessness. I wonder too, late at night, and I wrack my brains, and I conclude that for me it’s stories, my job is to collect and tell stories and try to connect people along electric holy lines.

I don’t know much, but I know this: my country, for all its muddle and burly selfishness, is still an absolutely extraordinary national idea that could change the world, and your country, for all its wrangle and bumble, might be a new kind of national idea altogether, a verb of a country, an idea that’s never been tried, a place where story and song make race and recrimination obsolete.

The two places where the Celtic diaspora and native energies might fuse into a New New World—what if together we were the arrow of a new kind of living? What if America and Australia led the way past mere power to a planetary peace that surpasseth understanding?

No politician or poet from the Old World will lead us there. It will be someone from the new lands—someone like you, who creates ideas, who articulates and defends and shares them in the public market, who mills ideas into food and education and healing for thousands of people, who understands that power only matters, finally, when it is a verb. It will be someone like you, who finally has had just about enough of greed and lies crushing possibility, and jumps into history, and changes everything forever.



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