Realms of despair
Looking to the heavens for hope in a world gone mad
By Lionel Rolfe 12/17/2010
I was talking to a friend about the increasing despair I had been feeling since Boryana left me. I said I was afraid it was starting to morph into a black hole that would all but consume me.
“Maybe it’s not just her,” Lee said. “Maybe it’s all the bad news that’s going on.”
Lee Boek had been the minister who presided over our wedding seven years before. He had been a Christian evangelist who toured the country as a kid and young adult preaching the Gospel, until one day in the Deep South he discovered civil rights.
Later he became a left-wing activist and socially conscious actor and union organizer in Los Angeles, but he still kept ministering to people at weddings and funerals and the like. And, in truth, he still was a kind of preacher. He is an actor, running Public Works Improvisational Theatre, which does socially conscious events of various kinds.
Maybe on a political level, it was always thus, I said. “Roosevelt moved our country out of the Depression, and established things like unemployment insurance and social security and gave working men and women the right to organize, but by Eisenhower’s time in the ’50s, the former commanding general of the Allied Forces who beat fascism felt compelled to warn about the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex for our democracy.”
Boek said that we’ve had a shadow government for decades now. “The politicians are just the fronts for them,” he said. “Obama has to know that, even if he tries to get as much for the working man as possible.”
“I read where some union organizer said the problem with Obama was he was a poet and not a fighter,” I said.
“Like us,” he said.
“But you were a union organizer, and a good, incorruptible one.”
He nodded. “Maybe so.”
“I was reading where Obama demanded his generals produce a plan for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan, and they simply refused to do it. Shined him on. He may be the commander in chief, but his generals simply ignored him,” I said.
“The secret government,” said The Rev. Lee.
“It’s interesting. The same thing happened in Israel,” I said. “Netanyahu urged someone to assassinate Rabin for trying to make peace with Arafat. After a ‘lone crazed assassin’ killed Rabin, Netanyahu and the Likud types took over. Really, it was a coup.”
“And it will probably end with somebody getting nuclear weapons,” he said.
“Jesus — is everything that terrible?” I asked.
Rather than answer directly, my friend advised me how to survive my abandonment. “You’re a writer. You need to write. Write about your personal despair, and how it is intertwined with what is happening to our species. The fact is in both realms everything goes back to the earth. The earth ends up consuming everything. We belong to the earth. The earth will take us back.”
“Yeah, part of my despair over Boryana may be all the bad news,” I said. “It’s not just me and my sad story of love gone wrong. It’s also how the story is being played out front of terribly depressing things in the news.
“The world is a scary place,” he hardly needed to have observed.
We both confessed to having doubts that socialism would necessarily do much better than the unmitigated capitalism that Reagan ushered in, setting the stage for the international events now unfolding. The evidence is very mixed on that point.
Later that evening, a friend invited me to go up to the Griffith Park Observatory with her. It was one of those incredible sparkling evenings when the wind had blown the sky clear and the evening felt both cold and hot at the same time. Adding to the mystery of the moment was the hint of fog making its way in from the ocean, with a half-moon overhead.
A group of amateur and not-so-amateur astronomers had set up not far from the statue of Galileo on the front lawn in front of the planetarium building.
I peered into the telescope aimed at Jupiter and to one of them said, “Well, it’s OK as long as you admit the earth is flat.”
“Oh,” he said, “it’s not flat. It’s a cone-shaped sphere that gets steep, and if you go far enough out on the horizon you fall off into the void.”
“Oh,” I laughed. “I once wrote about a fellow in Lancaster who formed the Flat Earth Society. Sarah Palin is no doubt a member still.”
“You know what the rings of Jupiter are made of?” he shot back. “Lost luggage from all the airplanes.”
It was nice light, fun banter to be having in the face of the universe. The observatory is an oasis in Los Angeles, perhaps the greatest thing in the whole city. Amidst the horror of a civilization being consumed by greed and ignorance, the Griffith Park planetarium stands as a beacon of science and civilization.
We sat down on a bench and took it all in. “When I feel despair, I am reminded that there also is the side of man that builds telescopes and searches for meaning in the skies. And it lessens the despair.”
Despite peering into the universe from atop a hill in the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains where the observatory sits, I still felt a terrible stabbing in the pit of my stomach thinking about having to go home to where Boryana was no longer.
One of our bonds was that although I was Jewish and she Bulgarian, we were both children of the Black Sea. My grandmother was a Cherkess Jew from Yalta in the Crimea, home to a tough mountain people.
We both loved the movie “Mongol.” Her ancestors were the short, dark Bulgars warriors who tried to breach the Great Wall of China, and when they failed headed to the Black Sea, where they mingled with the tall, lanky Slavs, primarily peaceable farming people, and the remnants of the ancient Thracians. My people were also from similar clans.
I’ve come to regret telling her I didn’t want children. We talked about that. Is this the true cause of my despair, or is it also something larger? And does it really matter to mother earth, which will as surely as life and death devour us all one day?
Lionel Rolfe is the author of “Literary L.A.,” about which a documentary is being made, “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather,” “Fat Man on the Left” and co-author of “Bread and Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles,” all featured on boryanabooks.com.