In search of higher ground
Strangely, I woke this morning thinking about a speech Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave at Harvard in the late 70s. I had written a paper about it for a Russian culture class and one or two sentences have stuck with me all this time. Solzhenitsyn wrote amazing fiction and his powerful words deserved to be heard. But his moral self-righteousness didn’t sit well with his audience of university elites — nor with most Americans.
It was easy to find the speech on the internet so I sat down and read it this morning while trying to find my 1970s frame of mind in order to better understand. The speech does not age well, but seeing us from the outside (he had been living in the US for four years) did provide some unwelcome insights. What had stuck with me was the idea that while Americans constantly and proudly praise “the rule of law” we neglect a crucial element; that too often rulings are “legal” but immoral. This happens at every level of our justice system, but we need only look to the laws regarding unaccompanied children at the border to see this truth.
I think about this and about the attack on the Capitol and am depressed. But then I glance out the window and see the trees still standing firmly in place; the evergreens still green, the deciduous trees and shrubs still holding their naked branches high. In a few weeks their roots will begin to awake, and awakening seek out the nutrients they need to build spring leaves to welcome the sunlight. Bulbs in the ground are already stirring and even the rhododendrons that line our drive are ready to burst into bloom; in fact one already has.
This is what is true and real and what we need to rely on as we seek to understand how so many could be so convinced by lies and misinformation. It will not be easy to bring the country back together and I don’t envy the job President-elect Biden has. Personally, I would rather spend the next year hiding under a blanket than deal with the pressing issues that face the country.
The breach between us feels so wide that I question whether the collapse of a common understanding of truth — even reality — can be overcome. But we must try, for ourselves and for our future, and for the world that now looks askance but has for decades depended on us to lead the way to higher ground. That we have failed in that task is certain. But like the trees our roots are strong, and if we can return to feeding and honoring those roots, the goodness in American may prevail.