Detroit’s east side:
It was oddly reassuring: on the stroke of midnight, shotguns, handguns and firecrackers broke the silence to welcome in the New Year. And this noisy and exuberant celebratory rite provoked me to ask what these people had to celebrate. What in their hardscrabble lives prompted such enthusiasm for the coming year?
Some, I assumed, were not so much greeting the new year as saying good riddance to the old. For others, the new year was cover for the guilty pleasure of breaking the law. But maybe for a few it was a boisterous expression of hope that something would come along to lift them out of their dreary lives, their straitened circumstances, to make living less oppressive, more joyful.
But even these few, I reasoned, must know better . . . mustn’t they? There could be little in their personal histories to warrant such enthusiasm and hope.
These were people whose entire lives were built on a modest but persistent optimism that their lives could improve. There was just a chance, however slim, that their efforts—extra jobs, night classes, training for new skills—would be rewarded. Finally, rewarded.
Surely, these were unjustified hopes, I thought. Life mostly did not reward hoping, dreaming, aspiring. Life was mostly a crapshoot. Or worse yet, a scale tipped toward unfairness and inequality. A big thumb seemed always to press the scale down, raising the demands on them. How many times would disappointment have to visit them before this truth sank in?
Life already came loaded with injustices beyond endurance. And the reality was that it was not going to improve but grow still worse in the year ahead. Anyone who believed otherwise was fooling themselves. Just ask 1.5 million refugees how reasonable they thought life was. Ask people of color. The LGBTQ community. Ask veterans from our endless wars. Ask anyone trying to survive on a minimum wage job. Ask graduates who’ve just realized that their education is not a ticket to prosperity but a bill to be paid; some were still paying out of their Social Security allowances.
Of course, of course . . . they weren’t fools, they knew better. Yet their hopes, dreams, and aspirations persisted and they endured. As someone said in a different context, they lived in the same world as us but in a different universe. Their universe was one where possibility outranked cold reality. That universe existed in their heads, where hope resided, protected from the old reality until it could become the new reality.
Because while the Old Guard defends its walled city—or bunker—where privilege lives, a legion of the hopeful have already bypassed the city gates. They live in the open, on the commons. Everyone is welcome there. The only rules on the common are these: don’t take more than you need, and share what you have with those who have nothing.
Labels like communism and socialism are no more than historical artifacts on the common. Oddities of that parallel universe where the Old Guard live.
The Old Guard is dying out and knows it. Its desperation shows; it is painfully obvious. In its death throes, the Old Guard strikes out in terror as it watches the new reality being born. The futile gestures, the striking out at the new, testify to the Old Guard’s utter hysteria; its thrashing about is too often portrayed as evidence of its power.
The hopeful wait for its passing, wait for the Old Guard to waste and die. Its bile, spite, hate, and—most of all—its fear burned away by a rising sun.
“This, too, shall pass,” wrote the Sufi poets, wrote the Jewish King, say the hopeful.