Monday, May 20, 2019
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Time’s Angel, or A Birthday Letter to Myself

We live our public holidays by the Gregorian calendar, but what of our private holidays? I decided to create my own, happening to coincide with a birthday, but also an occasion to push the pause and reset buttons on this blog of mine that commenced about a year ago as a ‘gift’ from our daughter and her high-tech husband. I am grateful to them for sending me off on this new voyage of discovery and self-discovery, although at times of controversy I become aware that silence might have served me better, as I am grateful to my other wonderful children for teaching me so much about love and live. It has brought me into contact with tender, wise, and joyful persons from around the world.

For those loyal folks who have followed my posts even periodically, they realized that the blog has sometimes also provoked anger and even venomous hostility, especially on the part of those who disapprove of my UN role as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, a role that has led me to be harshly critical of Israel’s policies and supportive of Palestinian struggles for their rights under international law. As someone reluctantly present in public spaces, this atmosphere of insult and injury has made me nostalgic for the serenity of the ivory tower life widely thought attainable in the groves of academe. I would like to retreat at this stage of my life, but it is unseemly to do so as a result of pressures mounted from without, while the Palestinian ordeal persists. Although tempted, I will not use this occasion for the dreary work of responding to my critics beyond saying that I have tried throughout my work at the UN and elsewhere to be truthful without hiding my affinities and identifications with those who are struggling to survive in dignity in the face of oppressive circumstances. In this regard, my debt to the Palestinians is far greater than theirs to me as I have so often been inspired by their courage and steadfastness, and benefitted by their warmth and good spirits.

Overall, doing a blog reminds us of the art of amateurship (affirming the French root meaning of ‘lover of’), almost lost in our age caught between the mind of the specialist and the nihilistic effects of various cynical brands of postmodernism. The specialist impact on language exhibited by its impoverishment of the word ‘amateur’ to mean dabbler, or superficial idler who should never be taken seriously, and of the nihilist postmodern success in discrediting all forms of belief in a better tomorrow. I find great pleasure in exploring unfamiliar terrain, and feel an exhilarating permission to be foolish on occasion, something that is woefully lacking in universities where it is almost always prudent to be silent and sullen (except when endorsing the views of administrators or right-wing alumni) than to appear engaged and enthusiastic. So for me, when not commenting on the injustices that persist before my eyes, I feel that the blogosphere is basically an arena of exploration and community, especially when a flourishing friendship is bestowed as a form of cyber-grace, the digitized religiosity of this new century. Doing a blog regularly is somewhat akin to keeping a public journal of observations, opinions, and ideas, although for me not a substitute for a private and uninhibited enclave of recollected wrongs and satisfactions, attractions and repulsions, confessions and indictments. 
Lifting my gaze from these essentially personal concerns, I find a vivid resonances at this moment of reflection in the great opening lines of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming:
                        Turning and turning in the widening gyre
                        The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
                        Things fall apart; the center 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.
I meant ‘resonance’ not ‘agreement,’ at least not altogether. I find that during this past year it has been ‘the best’ that have been ‘full of passionate intensity’ as in the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. These have been remarkable unanticipated challenges directed at overcoming the injustices and abuses of a variety of established orders, whether or not their still unsettled outcomes are successful in the worldly sense of bringing enduring gains for those involved. What matters now is this mass demonstration of a will to dignity exhibited in so courageously and admirably at Tahrir Square and in many, many other sites of struggle, a magnificent display of the resilient human spirit, which I view as partly expressed by its organic attachment to nonviolent struggle as being in Yeats’ sense the essence of an uplifting ‘ceremony of innocence.’ Yes, ‘the center cannot hold,’ but that might, if true, be welcomed rather than lamented as it is the center that is mainly responsible for ‘the blood-dimmed tide’ that has been ‘loosed upon the world.’ Instead of (re)constructing centers, especially governmental centers, more responsive to our needs and desires, maybe we should think more about revitalizing peripheries or finding ways to dispense with or at least all centers of hard power for a while.

Dumbing down for a few self-indulgent lines, I never imagined that I could keep my blog afloat in the over-populated blogosphere, and maybe I can’t, and maybe I didn’t, but there was a steady enough stream of positive feedback to keep me going, to make me feel that sharing my reflections on the passing global scene was something more than a narcissistic diversion for an ageing academic who decided to keep working because unfit for the comforts of a rocking chair on the final porch of life. I was also too much of a logistical coward to explore national parks in a systematic way or book tedious ocean cruises to nowhere in particular. I did manage to initiate two satisfying diversions during the past twelve months: solitary I-Pad chess, especially on long overseas trips and nurturing neighborhood birds with good food and attentive adoration, and I continue my search for beautiful glass crystal balls, always seeking better ways to divine the future, always falling short. Of course, these trappings of ‘the good life’ are only satisfying if blessed by love and partnership. And I am so blessed! 

Since I am claiming the right to ignore the normal cycle of the year’s end, it is an occasion for my ‘New Year’s’ resolutions, or at least pondering how I might challenge myself during the year ahead, beginning with this damnable blog! Should I lighten the burden of my life by its abandonment, or should I relax a bit, and confine its role to registering intemperate outbursts from time to time, hopefully for your sake not too often? Or should I soldier on, both pleasing Hilal and possibly accommodating my declining powers by aiming in the year ahead to produce no more than 50 instead of the insufferable 100 of 2010-11? Or should I just shut up, and let the muse decide on when and whether? I know that ‘resolutions’ are supposed to be commitments not questions, but this is the best that I can do for now as my muse is mute, perhaps in deference to my birthday. At least, it is this repeated sense of failure to live up to the resolve of resolutions that haunts most resolution-makers, but seems to exempt from self-criticism those that hide their weak will behind a façade of unanswered questions!
My most abiding lifelong political commitment is to side emotionally and actively with the underdog in conflict situations without attention to ethnic, religious, and class differences. This has been so since childhood. I have no idea why. My loving father was inclined toward elites,
respecting and trusting them, and worrying about, distrusting, and opposing those who would make things better, somewhat in the manner of being a principled Burkean conservative. He was deeply opposed to Communism in all forms, including if diluted to become ‘social democracy,’ and disliked even the New Deal response to the Great Depression. I suppose I would have to admit to forming a contrarian streak while still a boy as on the particulars of politics I found myself on opposite side of the political fence from the person who I then loved and respected most in the world. Although he died in 1956 I still feel his stern views as a judgment passed on my own, although softened by his loving tenderness that was always the dominant color of our relationship. It is strange how we never manage to move much beyond the shadows cast by our parents, nor do we wish to end this dialogue that is not ever interrupted even by untimely death.
More prosaically, living in Montreal for a few months without friends, a car, sports life, and books has made me appreciate the daily good fortune of living in Santa Barbara! Although there are some new discoveries that have accompanied this ‘deprived’ condition, the prospect of returning to the known of the Pacific West is satisfying. And one more observation on being a blogger: you never feel isolated or lonely, there are always present some feelings of connectedness although depending on their character, they may sometimes disturb more than they please, but such challenges do not age the soul!

The truth is that I am not sure what to do in this rapidly unfolding future. I am most thankful for love, friendship, and health as gifts from heaven, and I will probably keep doing what I have been doing. It becomes harder at this age to contemplate serious alternatives, although little detours into the unknown are still possible and often bring fresh delight, as well as restorative energy. As with other stages of life, even this late one is only satisfying so long as it remains a learning experience that is receptive to surprise and novelty!
I do wish that a year from now the lines from the Yeats poem will seem quaint and obsolescent so far as the surrounding world situation is concerned, and will be replaced in 2012 by a more life-affirming lyric that thanks time’s angel for spreading its joy to the world. Maybe by then we will think about people as much as we now dwell on the perils of the Euro! Of course, happily, life didn’t begin or end for me at 80, and so I can only become 81 in a state of expectant bemusement!

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