What a Piece of Work is Man
What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
I first heard these words, not from the soliloquy from Hamlet, but from the song from the musical “Hair”. My high school choir sang it and I can still remember my tenor part. I thought the song to be one stressing positivity. Extolling human virtues, intelligence, and excellence. I later learned that these words were an inquiry to Hamlet as to why he was depressed? In spite of all man’s potential, and all that has been realized. Today, in arguably the greatest country in the world in many respects. There is great reason to be depressed.
Please bear with me because I will get to something positive but not just yet. I was asked by a friend, a poet, a writer, to respond so something that expressed her feelings. She wanted to understand? And I was no help.
I don’t know what allows a man to kill another man (or woman), seemingly just because they can. I don’t know how our politicians can refuse to enact background checks for all gun purchases in spite of the fact that over 90% of the public wants it. I don’t know how the answer after every mass shooting is to ultimately do nothing. I don’t know how we don’t offer health care to the remaining percentage without it. I don’t know how we refuse to address immigration in a humane manner. I don’t know how we spend our resources mandating morality and sexuality and what bathroom one can enter. I don’t know how we have a system that allows gerrymandering and voter suppression and the equivalent of poll taxes. I’m not saying I don’t know why; I just don’t know how.
And now we have two more dead black men, killed by police. Posing no threat to the officers. Dead just the same. The Governor of Minnesota said what we all know, “Would this have happened if the driver and the passengers had been white? I don’t think so.”
I used to be able to say their names. I used to know the circumstances of their deaths. I used to know the specifics. Now, the number is so many, my memory is insufficient to keep track. I remember the outcomes for the officers. Not charged, not charged, not charged, not charged, not charged, not guilty, not charged. Then a case in South Carolina that was so egregious when a lawman shot an unarmed black man in the back; he was thrown under the bus as if that represented justice for all the rest. Not charged, not charged, not charged, not guilty, not guilty.
My friend said, “I have tried, as long as I know, to understand the mind of God.” Presumably in an attempt to understand God’s will in these situations. For the first time, I knew what I could say. I referred to a sermon I heard many years ago in Jacksonville, FL titled, “Mysterium Tremendum”, Latin for tremendous mystery. The sermon went on to say that God is to man, as man is to the ant. That He is so far beyond our ken, that we cannot comprehend His ways, much like the ant knows not our ways. If we can accept that we will not achieve understanding and instead rely on faith, we may not have satisfaction. But we may have peace.
I am not suggesting at all a passive acceptance of the wrongs in our society. Especially when many of the wrongs target those who have less, to preserve the status and privilege of those who have more. I believe it is also God’s will for us to resist, to challenge, to protest and to vote. Use your strength whatever it is to make positive change happen. If you are not a leader, be a follower, adding strength in numbers but follow wisely.
My peace comes not from man but from God. My strengths as well. To my friend, I suggest she channel her feelings into action. Using her gift of words to shine a light on the issues she chooses. She has motivational power, she can affect change, she can be a beacon in the darkness.
While this was directed to one, I submit that it takes many to affect change. It takes a collective power, focused on the changes that need to be made. Select your causes, bring your passion, make things better. It’s certainly justifiable to be angry, but anger alone accomplishes nothing. This is a time for action.