“Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.”
— from Me and Bobbie McGee, by Kris Kristofferson
When I first heard that line, years ago, I thought to myself, “What a beautiful idea!”
But I now see a dark side to that equation…
In some ways, the hippie hitchhiker of the song is not so different from the gunman who entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people*…
…or from many other young men like him.
Like the hippie, they’re rebelling. Seeing no place for themselves in the world they’ve been given, they’ve rejected that world. They’ve rejected its values, its beliefs. They’ve leapt from the established foundation. It means nothing to them, so what have they to lose?
Unfortunately, like the hippie, they lack a solid replacement for that foundation. Thus, they dangle in midair.
But here’s the difference:
The hippie hitchhiker doesn’t just love Bobbie McGee—he loves life. He may be lost, he may be searching, but wherever he goes, he will see love, will experience love.
Even though he’s rejected traditional religion, he will enter a Black church and join the choir in a gospel song. Their love stirs his love. He wants to engage with the world…
…and those other rebels do not. They see only the ugliness and falsehood of their culture. Everything’s a sham.
As I see it, they haven’t yet made peace with the contradiction. The dilemma we all face…
As an individual stumbles into adulthood, he must come to terms with the inescapable contradictions of living in a civil society…
How do we reconcile ourselves to a society that espouses one value, yet rewards the opposite value? That honors criminals while punishing honest folk? That cheapens beauty and worships trash? No, everything isn’t a sham, but too much is. How can we live in such world without giving in or being eaten alive by our outrage?
Maybe our hitchhiker still struggles with the contradiction. But I think he’ll soon make his peace, because he hasn’t lost his love…
He’ll realize, that though there’s so much wrong with the world, there’s just as much that’s right. So much honest grace and beauty. True voices to be heard amid the hypocrisy.
That love may not put a foundation under his dangling feet, but it can act as a solid cornerstone.
Those other disaffected men lack that cornerstone. So they’re even more desperate for some type of foundation. So desperate, they may accept this blatant nonsense:
Why is the world as it is? Because of those other people! They’re the source of the trouble. They’re the cause of your pain.
That’s what these rebels find online. And it seems to make sense. After all, somebody must be` responsible for all the problems in the world. And that somebody certainly isn’t them. So it must be the others!
The next logical thought is: we should get rid of those others.
Though our hitchhiker may blame certain people—or types—for the ills of the world…
…his love of life will keep him from destroying life. His wild ideas are more likely to be beautiful visions. Maybe one day he’ll bring them down to earth.
I can’t say how those like the Charleston gunman lost their love, their love for life…
But I can say: in this crazy culture, in these crazy times, we’re asked to deal with too much too soon. And often without much help from those around us.
In such an environment, it’s easy to lose your sense of feeling. It’s easy to become numb.
Quite a loss. No wonder they’re is so angry.
That said, it’s up to any potential gunman to heal himself. No one can return that sense of love to him—no matter how much the person cares.
But maybe we can help jump-start the process. To solve this problem as a society, we must become aware of the problem. So let’s shout it from the rooftops: we’ve become numb!
Then, after we’ve gotten everyone’s attention, we should add: but only our surface is numb. We can regain our sense of feeling if we’re willing to go deep.
My hope is: through such digging, we’ll eventually find that solid foundation.
(* I’m referring to the shooting that occurred at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. I chose this particular incident, because the killer lived to make his motives and influences known.)
skyrope poetry blog
© 2017, Michael R. Patton