A Weekly Column published by Kevin D. Annett
January 17, 2016
If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man. - Henry Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849
I turn sixty in less than a month. I was tempted to wait until the Big Day to share this little ditty with you all but, being the Hundredth Cheeky Monkey that I am, I couldn’t wait.
I’ll spend that birthday alone, in a hotel room under close protection. That part doesn’t bother me, for it’s a consequence of the life I’ve chosen, and that chose me. Tolstoy called his solitude the only sweet comfort he had as an aging man, knowing as I do something of the Great Cosmic Shrug.
I drank long from that sweetness today, as I passed all the other searching souls on soggy streets.
One old fellow especially stood out: a regular at the downtown public library. He was bearded, sad, and poorly dressed, someone used to being a shadow. The guy tried the door of the library and saw that it was locked up for something ironically called “Family Day”. He shook his head, swore, and wandered off, imagining, I assumed, what he could do for the entire day to make watching the end of his cigarette burn down something more than his sole preoccupation.
I’ve never found it possible to hate anyone, or even resent them for very long even when I have just cause, simply because none of us are that different from the poor sod turned away from the library today. Like sparks thrown off from the one fire, each one seeking its own salvation, according to the war film The Thin Red Line. And any glimmer of self- reflection shows us how quickly our own individual coal is burning down to that final edge of extinction that terrifies us. I guess that’s why we don’t know how to really appreciate being alive.
I don’t remember my own moment of physical birth, as a matter of fact. I’ve been told it happened around seven in the morning when I was lifted from my mom’s sliced belly and thereby not birthed so much as hoisted, or hijacked, depending on how you see it. My first conscious memory is lying on my back inside a plastic tent trying to breathe. Nobody was around; not even a nurse. I must have been thinking, So this is life, eh? I like to trace the gestation of my rebellious nature to that moment.
Of course, what counts is what happened next. When I try to put the six decades of my life into perspective, it’s like attempting to herd a multitude of rampaging wildebeests, or asking a warlord how many times he’s counted coup against his enemies. And yet what I’ve done with my years has impressed at least a few people who occasionally still call me up uninvited to say hello, but who also keep asking me two very odd questions, like Job’s Challengers:
What has this work cost you, Kevin? And how has it affected your spirituality?
The first interrogatory is the easier one to answer: It has cost me everything.
There’s to be more said about all that, obviously, even though my recounting of the droll facts of treachery and death will not explain anything. Then again, such details will no doubt titillate some of my readers, to whom I would not deny the experience. So here you have it:
Since 1995, my various hard knocks have included, but as lawyers say not been restricted to, the following assaults:
1. Hit on my head with blunt objects and threatened by a knife wielding assailant;
2. Nearly suffocated by another attacker;
3. Received a broken rib and muscle damage after being beaten and kicked severely by two other men with hard-toe boots;
4. Received countless and continual death threats, by telephone, email and face to face;
5. Been expelled without cause, due process or compensation from my livelihood, and thereby rendered penniless and homeless;
6. Had my marriage destroyed and my two daughters kidnapped and estranged from me by court orders;
7. Been permanently blacklisted and made unemployable, and targeted for unceasing and organized public defamation, character assassination and lies;
8. Been subjected to constant monitoring, surveillance, gang stalking and harassment;
9. Denied basic civil liberties including freedom of speech, dissent and the right to assemble;
10. Issued threats of arrest and lawsuits;
11. Been arrested and detained on three occasions without charges being laid;
12. Had my car’s brake lines cut on two occasions, narrowly averting death;
13. Had bullets, excrement and dead animals left on the doorstep of my homes;
14. Had those homes vandalized and my belongings, laptops and research files stolen or destroyed;
15. Had close personal relationships sabotaged and destroyed by unknown “influences”;
16. Seen the continual subversion and destruction of all of my work and public efforts, including radio programs, publications, grassroots organizations and public inquiries;
17. Had six close friends murdered;
18. Been arrested, jailed, brutally interrogated and deported from England without just cause or explanation;
19. Had three separate careers including a doctoral studies program destroyed; and, most dearly,
20. Lost my innocence and trust because of betrayal.
Thankfully, those who ask me this first question have not also inquired whether I think all of this nightmare has been worth it. For obviously, it has not been. But that’s not something anybody can really accept, least of all me, even though it’s true.
The second question is harder to answer, but I’ll try anyway, of course, with something I call:
The Inner Stuff
When I do right I feel right; when I do wrong I fell wrong. That is the extent of my religion. – Abraham Lincoln, 1861
People routinely inquire about my “spirituality” like they would about what hockey team I prefer. I’m especially irked when they inquire how my “sense of faith” has sustained me through the various levels of hell I’ve endured, since they somehow assume that it has.
For too long I made my interrogators and me stupider by trying to answer them with something they could understand. But it never worked, of course, since as my old mentor Joe Hendsbee the Communist Longshoreman always told me, “Talking don’t do shit”; and especially, I might add, God Talk.
I do catch a whiff of the Eternal sometimes, wholly unexpected and randomly. It might come on the soft edge of the evening sunlight glancing through the trees, as each tiny leaf waves serenely at me in greeting and farewell; or in a look in the eyes of a stranger, and in the one you thought you knew. But the infinite never hangs around for very long, nor should it. Watch out if it does.
I spend more of my time now trying to make sense of the moment I am in, as well as the years behind me and the ones that may lie ahead, and I always come up with an ultimate blank. But there’s an odd serenity that comes with such a void of answers, like the way the stars will gaze down on me tonight when I search once more for a response from the universe that never comes. Learning the maturity to see things as they are is never the easy part of life.
I’ve finally discovered that everything in what we call reality is just a passing sideshow, including love and wonder and the crushing injustices and crimes through which we spin like a perpetual merry-go-round in the stuck note called human history. But realizing this final futility of life somehow makes every experience in it all that more sweetly sacred and essential.
Knowing that it is all futile, yet persisting as if it wasn’t, as if our best hopes will one day be requited: that alone is the valor of being human that transcends any Olympian grandeur. So the ancient Greeks were right, after all: the gods do look down on us mortals with envy because, being dust, we surpass them in courage and love.
I sensed this glory in each one of us early on in my life, which is why I never thought of Jesus as being some heavenly being who deigned to wander briefly among us scum of the earth. He could never be anything more than utterly human to me, as destitute of answers as the unreplenished souls he so loved and embraced. And so when my formal entry into God Study at the Vancouver School of Theology required that I assess myself as a “spiritual being”, sometime around my thirtieth year of life, I used to tell my confused and amused pious colleagues that I wished for nothing else than to share the fate of the poorest person, starting with Jesus himself. Things wouldn’t have felt right to me, otherwise.
Naturally, I got my wish. And now that I dwell in the destitute obscurity of prophets and beggars, I get curious sometimes about why I ever wished for this kind of life; and why I ever desired anything else.
Crucifixions notwithstanding, living so ignored and vilified by those around us is torture and death enough for those with gentle heart and purpose. And every ruler in history has known this, especially the Roman occupiers of two millennia ago, who were the best at their trade, which was killing.
The Imperial Caesars weren’t stupid. And the proof of their genius is that they fabricated the world’s first and most successful corporation – themselves. Being the penultimate corporate thinkers, they knew that the last thing you do with revolutionaries and their message is immortalize them into martyrs by snuffing them out. Instead, you erase them by re-inventing them, and diminishing them to an icon.
In reality, the Empire dealt with the systems-busting Jesus by obscuring him to death and then morphing him into itself, otherwise known as Christendom. But first it had to snuff out any memory of the real man to make it all happen. Search for a single independent record of Yeshua Ben Yusuf in the Roman record and you’ll do so in vain. The real man might get in the way of the Icon.
That whole process makes total sense to me and to a lot of other obscure nobodies whose real story is as hidden now behind fear and distortion as when divinity sometimes walks among us.
Once, we briefly grabbed your attention through our own try at smashing up and unseating the Temple. Tonight, as exiled rebels, you may notice us on the bus and under street lamps, more alone now but no less armed with that truth that has become our very flesh and marrow. But then or now, you’ll be sure to look away from us once the nails and crosses come out again. It’s always been that way in this world as presently constituted.
So how could I have wished this life for myself? And how could I have not?
As illusions go, people, life is surely one of the best.