The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre 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.
Surely some revelation is at hand;Irish poet W.B. Yates, 1919
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
This exemplar of modernist poetry, written in the aftermath of World War I and at the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, in retrospect seemed eerily prescient of the coming monstrosity that we know as World War II. That was an event that demonstrated the incredible cruelty and prejudice that groups of people could have towards another, as well as unleashing the first weapon that could literally destroy the planet. There is no way to sufficiently describe the horrors of that conflict.
But after World War II, some wonderful things happened. After the effects of the Nazi genocide of Jewish people we call the Holocaust became public knowledge, anti-Seminism dropped dramatically in the US and Europe. Even more profound, in my opinion, was the approach that the winners, particularly the United States, took towards the losers of that terrible war. In an approach that was unprecedented (having learned a lesson from the mistakes of the policies after World War I), we did NOT punish or subjugate our former enemies. Rather, we supported them.
Through the Marshall Plan, the US gave Europe what in today’s dollars would be $128 billion to rebuild their societies and their economies. While the majority of the money went to our non-Communist allies in the war, 11% (meaning around 13 billion 2020 dollars) was awarded to West Germany, and almost that much to Italy as well. About half that much money was given to Asia through a separate program in which Japan was the single largest recipient; our former foe (upon whom we dropped atomic bombs) was awarded almost half of the total funds.
So here we are, not even 100 years after the worst international war our country has ever fought, using the worse weapons we know, and our former enemies are now some of our strongest allies. Yet we realize there are many places in the world who have had conflicts with neighbors going on for generation after generation after generation, with no sign that their antagonism towards each other will abate any time soon.
I don’t want to minimize the suffering and anxiety and illness and loss that this global pandemic has and will continue to create. But as Bill Gates assured us in the talk I wrote about last Friday (click HERE to see the video), we WILL figure this out. It will take some time, and require patience and cooperation and sacrifice and loss on all our parts, but scientists WILL develop a vaccine and we WILL overcome Covid-19.
The question is, what will we do–or perhaps even more, who will we be–once we are on the other side of this experience. Many things may fall apart over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
Maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing. Maybe this is our generation’s opportunity to step up in the way those in charge after World War II did (those we know as “The Greatest Generation”) to bring the world to a similar increase in peace, prosperity, and mutual understanding and cooperation.
An example of that kind of thinking comes from today’s message on Daily Good, an inspirational website from which I receive an uplifting email every day (I recommend it). Today, Marian Brehmer, incorporating insights from several other forward-thinking leaders, gives us 16 Teachings from Covid-19 (you can read it at: http://www.dailygood.org/story/2485/16-teachings-from-covid-19-marian-brehmer/).
I hope you will read his article and think about his lessons. If enough of us can think along those lines, maybe instead of a rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem we can create a community striding together towards a quantum leap in human development.
A girl can dream….even, or maybe especially, during a pandemic.
PS–I have been remiss in this blog in sharing the fact that April is National Poetry Month. Poetry, like art, like music, is a great way to process what is going on right now. The Academy of American Poets is running an online Shelter in Poem initiative in addition to National Poetry Month. If you are seeking inspiration in poetry around this issue, check them out at: https://poets.org/shelter-poems
The Academy of American Poets is where I got the text for the Yates poem above (the famous lines of which I know from memory, but not all of them). They are a great resource for us teachers!