I reflect on the gravity of this moment as a pastoral counselor and psychoanalyst who has lived in the southeastern and northeastern United States, the east and west coasts, and have been privileged to travel abroad. My view is shaped by depth psychology and theology, a life-time with my share of suffering and joy, losses and gains.
As far as my political views are concerned, whether I am a liberal or conservative would depend upon the vantage point of the viewer. My vulnerability is that I am not nestled within a regionalism or ideology that protects me; and my possible strength is that I am not nestled within a regionalism or ideology that encourages a conformity.
All of that is to say that I view this present moment and potential crisis through a lens in which I am searching for a sign of our well-being that could be described as a mutual care for the common good. With all of our fractured factionalism and issues that divide us, is there a sign of our oneness, a togetherness in which we seek a common good? Given the ravages of a pandemic that, as of this moment in the world, has attacked 46,099,224 people, killing 1,196,788 -- 235,431 of these deaths in the United States, is there a sign offering hope we will prevail?
Surely we care, do we not? Surely we cannot go about our life with a business-as-usual attitude, can we? Surely there is a weight of so much death upon our psyches that calls us to look within at our basic humanity, is there not? Surely we do not expect our first-line support of care-giving by doctors and nurses to stand alone at the juncture of life and death, do we? Surely if we look within the depth of human personality we can find a capacity to move beyond the dangerous moment when political choices may impact human destiny for decades if not centuries to come, can we not? There is such a capacity within our human personality, is there not, and a sign that we can see at work right now?
This capacity in human nature to overcome differences and work for the common good, where is it located? Do we find references to this capacity in the great religions? I think of Jesus the Christ and his escape from a culture soaked in an obsession with sin. First, he had to leap over the walls of the books of legal prescriptions, the Mishna and the Talmud, taught by the Pharisees to protect people from the sins of idolatry, murder, adultery and other transgressions enumerated in an extensive legal code. Next, Jesus went out in the wilderness and desert to hear John the Baptist preach about the deliverance from sin through forgiveness, a way of life that convicted Jesus of its truth to the point he chose the baptism of John over the legalism of the Pharisees.
This understanding of human personality as one flawed by a corruption of sin was overcome by Jesus in a discovery of love as a principle of human existence that brings people together for the achievement of a common good and well-being. And, like Jesus the Christ, Buddha offered a way of hope that transcended human suffering.
However, it is with suffering that he begins in his announcement of the Four Noble Truths: (1) the truth of suffering, particularly as it is experienced in birth, aging, disease, death; (2) that there is a cause for suffering, namely attachment or craving for that which we want but which cannot have, or which we have but is ultimately impermanent; (3) a cessation to suffering, that like everything that begins, there is an end; (4) and the end of suffering. This end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path that includes three areas: Wisdom (right understanding, right intention), Ethical Conduct (right speech, right action, right vocation), and Mental Discipline (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). And, like the intent of Jesus, Siddartha who became the Buddha, anticipated a development of the personality that culminated in loving-kindness.
How interesting, I thought, as I reflected on Christ and Buddha and their understanding of the human personality and its capacity, that those two prophets anticipated love would prevail at the points of human crisis and despair. But where do we see such sign of hope in our world today?
Then, as I watched the TV drama of long lines of people standing sometimes for hours, these people of all ages, races, and ethnic groups, as I saw them winding around in spiraling circles like mandalas unfolding around a voting site, I realized this is the sign. Something in these people, varied as they are, something in their deep humanity yearns for decency, honesty, truth, justice, fairness, a state of well-being for themselves, their parents, their children, and for all the strangers in that long polling line.
Those long lines of people circling around voting sites, waiting for hours in sun and rain, heat and cold, sometimes laughing, sometimes anxious, sometimes dancing, sometimes standing quietly and thoughtfully, they expect that they can make a difference in a troubled world -- this is a sign, is it not -- a sign of hope.