Permit me, dear reader, a few moments of gratuitous self-revelation. Over the past weeks I have withdrawn from writing to reflect and to delve into the words of others in an effort to understand a world I fear I no longer trust I can understand. Reading Karl Popper’s Open Society, Freeländer’s Nazi Germany and the Jews, Müller on Populism, and Traverso’s The New Faces of Fascism, grappling with the ominous shadow of the rise of the far-right now hanging over us all, I have found myself meditating on a crisis which undergirds all of this bleakness – cultural pessimism, the nihilistic assumption culture and civilisation are winding themselves further and further down the road of irreversible decline. The words of my closest friend – “Do you think maybe you need to speak to someone?” – ring loud in my ears as I suspect this crisis of being has been playing itself out in the deepest parts of my soul as I have been waging my own little culture war in the words I have been writing. Everything I think and feel, the ideas I express, and the assumptions I have of the world are infused with a meaning that transcends all that is me and my understanding. Yet, aware that this Weltanschauung is an anachronism, I know its diffusion into the air around me is lost in an environment that has moved on. In sum, my friends, I am lost and at a loss. How can I preach love, that hate and murder are wrong when there are no absolutes – no guarantor? Thou shalt not kill has become my quaint and obscurantist opinion. About me, the columns of the temple of my certainties have fallen; torn down by some raging and blinded Samson.
Christ, without these certainties, when the last of the great lights are extinguished, it is I who am the pessimist – the hopeless. Out of the depths I cry to you. The encroaching darkness of angry politics and governments of tohu va-vohu are themselves the bitter offspring hopelessness, casting the blame for collapse on the hopeless and the powerless; the poor, the dispossessed, the migrant, and the refugee. Signs of hope are disappearing, diminishing over the horizon of the endlessly wrestling oceans of time and change. Left here in the twilight, the only relic of promise I have found are the love songs the forever gone passed down to us as they passed. It is only in these I have found comfort. Nobody speaks to God these days.
Sunshine on a cloudy day, when it’s cold outside, takes me back to a song of my youth. It reminds me of all the songs my heart has sung since. I remember getting off the boat, my arrival in Ireland. A new home, a new land, a promise for the future. Like yesterday, I recall the words of my mother and father as I departed – just as I remember the last words my grandfather ever said to me. That was twenty-odd yeas ago, half a lifetime away. The people and the places of my younger years are all gone now. St Michael’s church – where I first sang – is demolished. The school I attended is now a carpark. Sometimes I imagine, as a child would, that it was my decision to abandon them that condemned them to the wrecking ball. But no, that was unstoppable time – Father Chronos doing what he does best, reducing everything back to the dust from whence it came. Ego te provoco! The lassie whose heart I stole from another laddie is herself ages gone, away with the tides and currents of endless change, and all the auld pals and fellow travellers have walked on – away on their own journeys. Few of them would recognise me now, as I too would pass them by in a crowd. We’re greying and balding now. The man who looks at me through the mirror is a stranger to the boy I once was, with his dreams and ambitions and hopes and loves. Not sure I even remember his name. But I still have the songs. Tunes and lyrics locked unchanged and unchanging in time, there forever the same – untouched by the weariness of the sands, forever proclaiming the magic of the moment of their conception. So, my friends, I’m walking back to Marvin Gaye and I might be away for a while.