Stranger in a Strange Land
Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death. ~Albert Camus (Nobel speech, 1957)
Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. ~President Lyndon B. Johnson (Thanksgiving Day speech, 1963)
The huge Barnes & Noble, a staple of my neighborhood and one of the anchors and few big bookstores left in Manhattan, has closed its doors after 21 years. This follows a pattern of many other longtime rocks and havens in my ‘hood: the diner, a dry cleaner, two grocery stores, the nail salon, even my super — most of which had been there two decades or more. So many other businesses have vacated the premises over these past several years, only to make way for yet another bank, chain drugstore or fancy condominiums I’m not sure who can afford. Yes, this has been the trend of the Big Apple as it changes and mall-ifies, and people, including some of my friends, if they stay in the area, have been fleeing to greener, and/or less expansive pastures in places like Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, New Jersey or Westchester (forget Brooklyn at this point!)
I have gone through some pretty major life changes over the past couple of years, and these disappearing touchstones of “home” have compounded and affirmed the sensation of being reincarnated in the same body, and feeling like I’ve moved without actually having moved. The surroundings are familiar but feel different; sometimes it’s like being in one of those dreams where everything is a bit topsy-turvy.
Oh yes, and then there is the political landscape … . Never before in the history of this country (need to fact-check, but am pretty sure) have we participated in and witnessed the slow dismantling, unraveling and unhinging of our government, culture and citizens at large, mutating into an almost unrecognizable caricature of our former selves. It’s been a rude awakening for many in this nation that racism indeed still exists, and that being born a certain color can in fact determine whether you live or die in even the most benign of situations; that gun violence and extreme masculinity, rampant impropriety, dinosaur consciousness and medieval principles are coming out of the shadows and are alive and well, kicking and screaming, trying to hold on for dear life as the future marches on at an ever-increasing pace.
And in this digital landscape — where things are warped, exaggerated and regurgitated ad nauseam — we must be careful of how we relate to life, to become mindful of when we are living more online than off. What are we doing? We must be hyper-aware of and ever vigilant about when we are letting outside influences, the manipulation of media and/or external distractions affect our ability to think for ourselves and control our most precious resources of time and energy. We must be the producers of our own plots and storylines in which we are the writers, directors and stars.
The advent of virtual reality and its widespread use in a variety of circumstances will confuse our brains even more in distinguishing time and place, and what is real or not. But remember, you also create your own virtual reality, for example, when you are thinking of something that has already happened, your brain cannot tell the difference between present and past, hence you re-experience those memories and emotions as you replay them over and over. And because those experiences were more than likely the negative ones, you are constantly re-injuring yourself, causing unnecessary suffering and a skewed perception of your actual current state of being.
As the saying goes, like death and taxes, change is one of three things that are certain in life. But more recently we have been living through big upheavals and endings, not just of chapters, but of eras. Therefore, now more than ever, letting go of the past is one of the most important things you can do in order to adjust to and situate yourself in this new uncharted territory. You must liberate yourself from the chains of the past and be fully present as to what your reality is today — whether you chose it, or like it or not — before you can start to build, create and expand within this newfound orientation.
Who do you want to be as we move forward in this new era? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to live? Are you at least living in your own body? Can you get so comfortable in your own skin and inner being that you could be plopped down in the middle of Mars and still feel “at home”? It’s important to spend a little time pondering these questions and sowing the seeds of their eventual harvest that will come days, months and years from now.
Just as we are all going through an accelerated evolution as individuals, so is our country and the world, which is why so much upheaval and chaos abound; gotta clean out the junk in the basement and attic and do some demolishing before you can remodel … . And just like that process, we can remember, incorporate and/or hold on to the good and let go of the bad.
It’s time to get back to the essentials of why and how our country was created: what we stand for, who our founding fathers intended us to be and what they hoped we could accomplish as a nation. In so doing, we must recognize that a nation is comprised of people, and therefore it is people who are entrusted with doing the right thing, making big decisions, coming up with solutions to problems, and then allocating the appropriate resources to take care of and protect its citizens — which is the sole purpose of government.
No doubt we need to change as a country, but what is the thoughtful approach to that process? It’s not a shocking headline, clever meme, funny GIF, or a superficial spouting of patriotism; there is real work to be done, real structural changes that must happen, and most importantly, a genuine cultural shift and unification that needs to coalesce. But how do we do so without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? In other words, how can we help the country reincarnate in its own body, its own basic framework, while recognizing, mitigating and/or eliminating the inconsistencies of our past declarations, deeds and demonstrations so that we grow wiser and stronger?
Yes we should all vote, but there is more we can do, which may or may not involve running for elected office. We all have a part to play in restoring dignity to our democracy and society at large, and in preventing ourselves from imploding. We have more power when we acknowledge and assume responsibility for our own lives, and the part we play in improving them for those around us, because we are all in this together. That may require us to take time away from Facebook or bingeing on the latest Netflix series, or at least learning to use them in a productive, balanced and constructive way …
And so my fellow Americans, my plea to you today as we rapidly enter this new era is to express yourself as positively as possible and develop your fullest potential, which will indirectly, or perhaps even directly, develop and express this country’s potential, and set our course, and that of the world, in the right direction, lest we will very soon be dealing with even Stranger Things.
Not sure what star or stripe you have to contribute to this terra incognita? Give me buzz, I’ll help you find, inhabit and make your true Home on the Range the best it can be, so that collectively we can make Our House a very, very fine house.
(Originally published on www.kristinaleonardi.com on October 5, 2016)
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