I'm a well known sap. Let's just get that out of the way from the start. I grew up in the 60's and 70's and my musical taste leaned toward 'soft rock'. The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, The Hollies, Tony Orlando, The Eagles and of course, those quintessential soft-rockers, Bread. Hey, I was young and immature and so very naïve.
Eventually my musical tastes matured but I still have a soft spot for anything that moves me emotionally, that appeals to our better nature as human beings or that speaks to the naïve but appealing desire for true love and the belief that certain things were meant to be. The difference now is that I know that life isn't really all that.
Years ago, I took a long distance trip with my daughter who was 12 or so at the time. We took turns playing our favorite tapes and I remember being struck by how innocent and pure the lyrics of her music was compared to mine. Her music was filled with proclamations of true love, love at first sight, and promises of being true and never hurting you for ever and ever. Mine was a little more complicated, recognizing the twists and turns that life throws at us, the pain of betrayal and trying to move forward after we learn that real life isn't actually all that.
I know that her musical tastes have matured over the years just as mine did. We experience life and its ups and inevitable downs and we grow more complicated, our expectations more realistic and our musical taste is a reflextion of that. I'm not sure if that innocence in our youth is just another phase in life or a very bad set-up for disappointment when life fails to live up to our idealistic expectations.
I'll bet you've seen that meme going around on Facebook about the innocent days of our youth when we survived drinking out of the garden hose and traveling without seat-belts. It's meant to be an appealing look back on to when we were less cynical and it's a bit of a back-handed swipe at progressivism. The truth is that some of us survived without seat-belts but a lot more of us survive now thanks to mandated seat-belt use and better seat-belts.
We are eager to get caught up in the nostalgia of the good old days because we want to believe that things were once better but that's not really true. We were just more innocent because we were still kids and not yet cynical adults but we must recognize that life never really was all that.
The song He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother appeals to our youthful idealism by speaking to our better natures and telling us that love conquers all and that we are better in the service of others. I remember as a young boy listening to it over and over again, as I was wont to do any time I found a song I liked, much to the annoyance of everyone within earshot of my stereo cranked to 11. As I listened to that song, I wondered if I had the strength, the intestinal fortitude and enough love to carry my brother down that long road. I had my doubts then and I still do because like most of us, I am selfish by nature.
Now there is a movement afoot in our country that tells us that we don't need to worry about our better nature; that selfishness is fine and that poor people, the ill, the elderly, the disenfranchised and the victims of economic collapse don't matter. The uber-rich have taken over our government by convincing a majority that there is some sort of inherent superiority in wealth and that people on the other end of the spectrum are only getting what they deserve because they are lazy and evil, so screw them. Let The Salvation Army worry about those folks.
He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother came out in 1969. Viet Nam was raging, people were marching in the street, the Civil rights movement was in disarray after the death of Dr. King, gay equality wasn't even a concept yet and for many, hope for a better America died with Bobby Kennedy. They were dark days and yet millions of us were still able to get swept up into the idea that “his welfare is my concern” even as our government burned human beings with Napalm.
It's easy now to buy into the ideas that the oligarchs are selling, like so many good people have already done but the reality is that the entire history of our world has been one long struggle of progressive ideas to overcome the kind of fascist suppression that is embodied by the political right today. We move forward before being pulled back but always, always, we progress in the long run.
Jesus was a progressive, moving the world forward from the angry and vengeful God of the old Testament and he was killed for it. His struggle, his fate, is a story that has repeated itself throughout history whenever the forces of good seek to pull the world forward. We slide back time and time again but the momentum is always forward in the long run because our progressive ideals are right.
These days look dark indeed and it's easy to believe that our hope for a better, more pure world is as naïve as a 12 year old girl believing that the cute boy in class will always be true and never hurt her. But when that Jr. High crush ended with your first broken heart, you did move on to love again, really love, didn't you?
Yes, like the song says, the road is long, with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where. We're caught up in two and a half wars while terror reigns, xenophobia rages and hate and fear have become the new patriotism. Our leaders are toying with our economic collapse while telling us that his welfare is NOT our concern and it's tempting to just give up, crawl in a cave with our loved ones and wait for the end.
Don't you dare do it because you know better, you know that our progressive ideals are worth the trouble. They are worth the trouble because they are right.