To Etta

In some ways life underground was simply life—I worked, I hung out with friends, I read the newspaper and went to the movies, I cooked breakfast and dinner. In other ways it was extraordinary because we felt that our lives had a serious purpose that we were conscious of and earnest about every day: to end a war and overthrow a system—imperialism—that made war after war inevitable, and to upend centuries of racial oppression and white supremacy creating a society based on equality, justice, and love. We had high ideals, utopian dreams, and a deep, deep commitment to live it out, to create a life that didn’t make a mockery of our values.
“Enjoy” doesn’t quite capture the feeling of the experience. I’m predisposed to enjoy life—I sometimes joke that it’s a genetic flaw inherited from my mother—and I found joy and pleasure and happiness in every little detail—a walk through the city, watching a sunset, a meal with friends. And, of course, falling in love, having adventures, raising our children. But there’s something equally important, and that is the satisfaction that comes from making a decision to participate as fully as you can in building a better community, fighting against unnecessary suffering and pain, and struggling toward a fairer and more humane social order. There’s some deep satisfaction and enjoyment in trying to participate in history, and make the future.
The experience changed my life forever—made me see the world differently. All the privileges that come from being American, white, and on and on blind you to the fullness of life—the pain and the love, the joy and sorrow. Of course people are blind to their blindspots, anesthetized by comfort, and being underground I became an exile, an uncomfortable person, in my own land. The good thing is that that condition allowed me a kind of double vision, to see the world as an American and to see America as an outsider. There’s real advantages to that because if you become too comfortable, too at home, you will only ever know the walls of your own cave, and even if it has lots of glitter and color, it’s still just a cave. Freedom always lies beyond. And freedom requires us to overcome fear, to learn to act with courage, and then to doubt, and then to act again.
There’s always more. Read Fugitive Days.

One Response to To Etta

  1. Pat Finnegan says:

    I wish I’d been able to write what I just read about how you felt during your underground years.
    I tell those that are capable of hearing to read about the backgrounds of the weatherpeople. Look at American racism from their front line freedom rider perspective, from their inner city porjects, whatever they might have been perspective. Look at the war from their perspective. Besides the sacriledge of the world’s most techno developed nation waging war against a peaceful farming people living in houses made of vegetation. the war drained billions of dollars into the unfillable maw of the military iindustrial complex away from sorely needed social and infrastructure problems right here in the United States.

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