Yesterday I overheard V. singing an old favourite hymn to herself as she was doing something in the house, I think it was originally a Methodist hymn written by Charles Wesley:
Both lines have, from time to time, given me to ponder. The idea that this morning is like the first is somehow reassuring. I see an endless rehearsal of pleasant mornings as glorious as that first morning, which, we may presume, God had the wherewithal to fully appreciate. After all, He saw that it was good.
I am not sure Adam and Eve would have had the necessary experience to appreciate such mornings fully. They were very much taken with each other, and if that does not technically prevent or disqualify them from appreciating beautiful mornings, the fact that they had been born young adults most probably does.
That the song of the blackbird is anything like the song of the first bird is hard to believe but maybe I shouldn’t be so miserable and evolutionary about it.
Every morning as I cycle from my house there is a blackbird on the ridge of a house down the road, lustily making its Messiaenic sentences; telling us no doubt, that morning has broken. Wednesday evening, however, I found out that more is afoot. I had gone for a walk later than usual, at about ten in the evening, and soon noticed I was witness to a conspiracy of blackbirds, all of them together forming a potentially infinite network of calls and responses; each of them, as far as I could see, sitting on the ridge of ‘their’ roof, facing the street and each making their complicated melodious sentences in turn and then, presumably, listening for others to respond. I must have counted ten of them sitting like that, but no doubt there were more.
I pictured the virtual threads of this fishnet fabric of sound creeping over Holland with the opening and closing of each day, like Mexican wave starting in Vladivostok and moving over Siberia to Scandinavia and Germany, on to Holland, England, France and beyond to the edge of the Atlantic, every day, again and again from February, passing on their secrets or simply telling each other the time of day, to July, when for some reason they all fall quiet. The idea was probably a little far-fetched. Conspiracies are strange things, they exist in the head.
Yesterday a sad boy of 21, filled with hate, entered a church in Charleston and shot down nine people. They were probably quite ordinary people, with their faults, getting on with overcomplicated lives. They were probably guilty of much, but they must have been good too, weak probably, here and there, full of their own troubles, but getting on with things. Now they are hopelessly dead, their lives taken away by someone filled with conspiratorial ideas about blackbirds. Their families and friends bereft, sad and no doubt angry, full of feelings of revenge and perhaps… hate.
Others in the congregation will be thankful that they have been passed over but feel shaken and strangely guilty about what has happened, and certainly frightened and brave. Perhaps many knew the dead people well. ‘America’ is shocked. We are all shocked. It is a horrible thing.
The boy had been given a gun by his parents on his twenty-first birthday. I wonder how they feel. Apparently the boy had been showing signs of mental agitation (what boy of 21 doesn’t?) but also of intense hatred against black people, wearing the insignia of South African Apartheid.
What moves parents to give their troubled child a gun? Perhaps they could not conceive of what was to happen. Perhaps they did not care at the time, glad to keep him off their backs. Perhaps they truly believe that guns can do good. Who knows? I cannot imagine they supported him in his quest to ‘save America’ by killing people.
That is what he wanted to do, he wanted to save America from a conspiracy of blacks threatening to take over, but he couldn’t save America from himself.
Perhaps some people see him as a hero. What makes people like this believe that they are doing good? How is it that they cannot see that they, and not the people they hurt, are the problem? Horribleness is produced by those who do horrible things, for whatever reason. It is that simple. Do horrible things and you make a horrible place. People need to get on with their lives as best as they can, violence and hate doesn’t help. Perhaps a boy of 21 should be forgiven, a young adult knows nothing, although at 21 we should be able to expect him to have been handed the requisite tools for a shot at the good life. He was, instead, given a gun.
The television made mention of the fact that, according to the police, there are thousands of reported incidents of racial hatred in the United States on a yearly basis, at least 22 per day. It is, I think, not very interesting to ask the question why this is so. I don’t think the reason is all that helpful here. It comes down to what we may, under any circumstance, safely call stupidity, ignorance, narrow mindedness, misdirected resentment and any other such way of being that get us to get in our own way.
All this can be dealt with during a careful upbringing involving the whole community, but is difficult to eradicate from self-feeding groups of burgeoning idealists with a little intellectual baggage allowed to get on with things, ignored and even encouraged by parents and others through misadventure. Some young people are tempted by countercultures applying the pressures of ideological homogenisation on eagerly social minds, hungry for conspiracy and cause. But even among well-brought up children privileged with loving but clear parents and an engaged community, there are, occasionally, hopeless cases of sadness. But these exceptions do not free us from the obligation to keep and husband our environment.
Racial hatred is easier than racial understanding. Distrust of that which is other and obviously different lies deeply embedded in our psychological make-up, our tribal cultures and in some indirect way even in our genes. To call it natural is to mistake the nature of the natural. Such things are a product of selection, sure, and that is completely natural. But that does not make it either necessary or desirable in any society. It takes upbringing and discussion to overcome our evolutionary past and the prejudices that seep in during one’s exposure to life, thought and difference.
Anyway, whatever… Things like this will continue to happen; they will increase in number and intensity no doubt; will be exported to other minds brooding with hate and fear of conspiracy. There is no conspiracy, only stupidity. The blacks will sing: 'And we shall overcome,' each time, and shout out 'Halleluiah!' And they will overcome and move on. They have to. And we shall all wake up the next morning to the twisted, enigmatic and wonderful call of the blackbird. Or not.
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