This really is not fair to May. The word itself derives from maey, an Old English word which connoted "to be able," "to be strong," "to manifest power." That is why it serves very well to represent the time of year when nature pops open with beauty, new growth, and landscapes escaping the cold death of winter. May represent a springtime of life that gives birth to traditional, springtime pagan festivals, a remnant of which remains in our present-day attempts to catch May's revelry with the Maypole display of greenery, ribbons and our school children "dancing" around a pole stuck in the ground, the significance of which our kids have no idea.
Strange then, isn't it, that May also calls our attention to a couple of grim experiences. The first of them is the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. This violent event thrust the plight of blue-collar workers into a spotlight that shines today upon the labor movement with its own international day honoring workers.
Unconnected to that event is the second of "grim" experiences that May has come to represent. This is the international distress call -- May Day, May Day, May Day! It was first used in 1923 when a British senior radio officer, Frederick Stanley Meckford, was asked to develop a vocal distress call that could be used by aviators and mariners to signal that they were experiencing an emergency. Mackford worked at the Croydon Airport, London, and most of the emergencies with which he was concerned had to do with sea vessels and aircraft flying between London and Paris. What he proposed was a clever use of the French word m'aider, meaning "help me." The French pronunciation sounds like the English "May Day," and thus was born a verbal international distress call that was made official in 1948, sanctioning the use of "May Day," sounded three times in a brief consecutive round.
Whether we think about "May" linguistically, psychologically, or historically, the word wants to get our attention. And so it was when "May," the month, slipped up on me following a very rainy month of April. Flowers burst out as if cued to announce a happy springtime festival's arrival. However, as the wonderful, old baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat," laments, "There is no joy in Mudville"! And I am referring not just to the mood at my house but, for the most part, in most houses today.
There is no joy in Mudville, or in our nation's capital, or throughout the land. Everybody seems to be angry with everybody, everybody seems not to trust anybody, everybody seems to be pessimistic about the state of the world -- its looney-tunes politics, its perpetual war games abroad, its approaching-but-not-yet environmental catastrophe, its governmental practiced howdy-doody show, its sarcastically mean humor, its hysterical love affair with machines, its self-appointed "know-it-all" talking heads, its sordid evangelical fundamentalism, its less-than-entertaining entertainment industry, and its vacuous non-engagement with the mind.
How is it we do not brood about these things and break through our imposed caccoon of dissociative inattentiveness to the inauthentic life we are living. I guess it has to do with our wealth. My God, there is so much money. My wife and I have just returned from the west coast and a visit to celebrate our granddaughter's birthday. We marveled at the opportunity we have to arrange such a visit, and we marveled still more at the wealth, the crowds pouring through the entertainment venues, the uproarious conversations in the restaurants, the preening presentation of exotic dishes, the transportation systems, the grand artifact of civilization imposed on one of the worlds' true natural vistas of beauty.
And then there were also the fashionable dressing-down of the men, the women's wholly pants which are not so holy, the studied presentation of a casual air that says we do not assume to present a studied style. Not that their "airs" are at all unique to the west coast. For the most part, they are universal and present among all of us -- as is the wealth, the gobs of money, the standard of living that takes us far above the natural persons we are when we are not living in this bubble of detachment from our natural and vulnerable and ever-so temporary habitat.
This habitat exists on a membrane of ecological sub-systems of water, oxygen, and natural life that may -- we are told by reputable scientists -- have no more than ten-to twelve years remaining for us to reign in the abusing excesses of our expoitative standard of living. We are driving and dancing, dining and drinking, dressing and doping our birthright away.
But before I go any further down the road of despair, I think it is important to mention yet one more association to the word, "May." This association is a linguistic one and is found in the thought of Hinduism and Buddhism, two of the world's great religions. From them we also find the word and the concept of "Maya." This term refers to the illusory appearance of the material world that obscures the undifferentiated spiritual reality from which it originates. You will recognize this as not so different from the idea of Jesus that "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you."
In other words, there is a profound reality beneath the surface of this material world. And in this "spiritual" world, other forces are at work, forces and powers beyond anything we yet can imagine with our egotistically driven minds. When and how will this spiritual world emerge? Has it already? Or is it waiting for us to sound the distress call -- May Day, May Day, May Day!