"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Sky Is Falling! The Sad Story Of A Man With Too Many Good Causes

Bob Muslin had been a social justice warrior since his days with the Reverend Peter Bach, traveler on the first Freedom Ride to Selma, demonstrator at the walls of the Pentagon to protest nuclear proliferation, and most recently a tireless fighter for the black man, gays, women, and affordable housing. 

Well into advancing old age Bob still woke up each morning with purpose.  How lucky he was, he thought, as he made his way from bathrobe to shower, that the world was beset by so many seemingly insoluble problems. Not that climate change, racial prejudice, and homophobia were good things, but where would he be without them?  His whole life had been one dedicated to social justice in one form or another, and without challenge, he might, like the rest of his classmates, be dying unceremoniously on a chaise lounge.  

Only recently had a niggling, unsettling thought crossed his mind - what if it all didn't matter?
What if the world's troubles were only insignificant, unnoticeable specks in God's vast, unplumbable universe? The older he got, the more this irritating, discomforting idea worried him.  Had it all been for naught?  Had he ignored la dolce vita on moral grounds only to find that he had wasted a perfectly good life? 

Today was his emeritus lecture before the Progressive Action League, and Bob had prepared what he hoped would be a signature piece.  "Action is the operative word", he would begin.  "Committed, purposeful, deliberate moral action.  No sitting on the fence.  The time for on-the-one-hand, on-the-other has long past.  The science is settled, the way is clear.  Only you can make a difference".  

He had struggled with these opening lines.  He could have recited them from memory, but as he stared at the blank sheet in front of him, he could write nothing.  The niggling doubt had become paralyzing. 

"Was this Alzheimer's", he wondered, "some peculiar addling of the brain".  He had read that will was located in the cerebral cortex, usually the first to go at the onset of dementia; so that these upsetting doubts might be the first signs of circuits going bad.  "God forbid!", he said to himself.  "So much to do". 

He remembered how as a young man he crowded into freedom busses with Reverend Bach, singing camp songs in joyous camaraderie.  They were going to Selma! They were crusaders, warriors, men and women of rectitude and courage.  They hugged each other, shared food and drink, slept fitfully on each other's shoulders, waiting to smell the honeysuckle and jasmine of the South, and face the ax handles, spit, and outrage of white mobs.  It was a heady time. 

Or standing as one with women in their protests against male dominion, the glass ceiling, misogyny, and sexual abuse.  As he linked arms with his female colleagues and joined in rousing choruses of 'We Are The World', he was a happy man, a fulfilled man.  

He had been surprised and disappointed when invitations to such gatherings became scarce. They had become women-only affairs, much more militant and angry; and despite Bob's impeccable credentials he was still a man and the enemy.  

He had been proud that he had so many gay friends, and while at first he felt uneasy in the gay clubs of Dupont Circle, he soon became accustomed to the new world of same-sex intercourse.  A good Methodist from sound New England Puritan stock, he had been appalled at the promiscuity and the grossness of homosexual acts - there was something wrong about it all - but soon left his baggage on the curb and joined in.  Not that he went to the bathhouses, went naked on a float on the Bay-to-Breakers San Francisco gay pride event, or leathered up in chains and whips on Folsom Street; but that he expressed a solidarity with his gay friends. 

Yet, again despite his credentials, he was politely told that he was no longer welcome.  Times had changed, and with the enthusiasm for and embrace of transgenderism and radical sexuality, his old-fashioned civil rights morality had become tiring.  

One after one, Bob's causes disappeared, and he was left to petition the editors of progressive journals to accept his offerings; yet, despite an occasional op-ed piece in the Omaha World Herald, his voice had fallen silent. 

His wife, a kindred soul, veteran of the abortion wars, feminist and outspoken champion of women's sanctity and preeminence, leader in the movement to reform boys and men in a woman's image, had happily retired.  Fifty years of social action were enough, and Bob's hated chaise lounge looked very nice indeed, 

"How can you?", Bob challenged his wife over dinner. "You have so much left to do". 

It wasn't that the issues she had fought for her were incidental - she still believed in these and all other progressive causes - it was simply that a luxuriant torpor that had come over her, a kind of blessed epiphany of relaxed ease. 

Bob made his way to the podium, and began to deliver his prepared remarks. "Action is the operative word", he said. "Committed, purposeful, deliberate action".  Here he paused, looking out over the respectful, attentive faces in the audience, many of whom were his friends who had come to hear what they thought might well be his final public appearance.  An old, tired lot, he thought, ready for pasture, but here they are....His mind was wandering and he had trouble finding his place on his lecture notes, but soldiered on, distracted and more and more lost.  "What am I doing here?"

He finished his lecture to polite applause, left by the stage door, and went home. 

His wife was puttering in the garden.  "Aphids", she said, spraying the rose bushes.  "A nuisance at this time of year".  He could smell the pot roast and the baking potatoes, kissed his wife, and went to his office.  A good dollop of troubling news always gave him hope and restored his flagging spirits.  But this time images of Greta Thunberg, Donald Trump, and X Man The Dawg did nothing for him.  He stared blankly at the screen, listened to the sound of his wife's pruning shears trimming the skip laurels, and went to bed. 

This was a good thing, for at his age thoughts of God and eternity could not be put off any longer. The light at the end of the tunnel was dimming.  Perhaps it is part of God's plan, Bob wondered, to relieve me of my earthly burdens to prepare me for the next life; such nostrums were of no use to a man for whom religion had long ceased to matter in the struggle for social justice. 

So without social causes and divine inspiration, and long past the time when la dolce vita was even a vague notion, Bob was lost.  The battering and thumping of fellow progressives was nothing but noise, the histrionics of black women became comic book caricatures, and the demands of gay men swishy nonsense. 

"What has God done to me?", Bob asked, but the record stops here. Bob disappeared from view, either on that chaise lounge or in Greenacres, a retirement home in Maryland for men like him, likeminded progressives living in the past.  Everyone has a pull-by date, but life off the shelves is harder for some than others.  La Dolce Vita is a far easier way to live, no strings attached, no regrets when it is over. 

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