It is quiet now, there is a temperate wind rustling the thick foliage that climbs upward, summer leaves grasping for the sun. The nourishing rains have stopped and billowing clouds now and then again slip above like a cooling blanket, extinguishing the agonies of summer. Occasionally a car drives past, or a man walking his dog. “Goodday,” he says, smiling. Retired now, he was maybe a policeman – his duty – our protection – our law-made nation’s glory; or perhaps an insurance salesman or a banker. His hair is white and there is a thickness about him which insinuates age and while serving as a witness of many winters it also radiates the tranquility of wisdom and experience. The end of revolt. For life does not end in revolt, as some have said; there is rarely a raging against the dying of the light, instead a quiet gentle acquiescence; for that which has been was good, and there is only gratitude.
“Thank you for your service,” I said to an old man in the gym; an aged fighter, from a long storied war – our greatest war in fact, our second world war when men like him, dashing and strong and agile traversed the oceans to save humanity from tyranny. As had happened many times before, and has many times since; a story as old as America in fact – we fight over there, for our tender tranquility of home. Service; it is a word that we don’t hear very much anymore – at least meaningfully. Service; it implies sacrifice – but regarding those who are said to serve us, do they really? How often have you turned on your television or opened the pages of a paper and listened to the angry cries to revolt from our ‘servants’ – and wondered, in fact, who are they really serving? Calls to hate and anger penetrating into our verdant refuges; making the winds intemperate as we – too – often rage.
But why rage? That aged soldier fought an evil greater than any we have today; and yet the America for which he sacrificed weathered that storm, and returned stronger; remembering him while he was in harm’s way and welcoming him home, back to the green valleys of the Smokey Mountains where he became old. Does he still worry about our world, so soon to leave it and after so great an investment? It is his world after all, bequeathed to us to safeguard – does he doubt our valor? Our commitment? Our stoicism? Or is he contented – because he knows that things do not change quickly in America. She is too vast, too broad and deep and with so great a prosperity to listen easily to the silken voices of prejudice.
Revolution – people long to call for it. One for the workers; another for the aggrieved. Now they are calling for one green – communists all, our old adversary, taking the vessels of thought, emptying them of meaning and filling them with hate and envy and greed. But what would the old man in the gym say, about the madness? “Time,” he would probably respond, and with a gentle good-natured shrug. “Time polishes over the rough edges of our ambition, of our rage and our dreams and the toxic mix that rushes around with the hormones of youth making that which is good and true seem somehow faulty. Slow – when things should change faster. Though often they should not change at all. But this is all ashes and dust; passing like birth-pains and then we are through, and we realize that of which we had been so convinced was grasping for the wind, as the preacher said so many centuries ago.”
Or maybe the old soldier is not a warrior-philosopher, and he simply smiles and winks at the shenanigans and says “Don’t worry,” a pat on the shoulder and he is off again along his unchanging routine. And that, too, is prescient – wise even. No, America is not easily changed – the green valleys of Tennessee prove that. She is preserved in hardship and discipline; in violence and fortitude and suffering – as the nearby battlefields of Shiloh can attest. For those today who call for revolution, tomorrow will have children – and then grandchildren. They will see that what is more wise to preserve far outweighs that which needs tweaked; and as the abundance settles around them like a great wreath, those of hearts true will find the rage slipping away into the silent Tennessee valleys as the nourishing silence fills their hearts with something greater – and far older – than the also-ancient prejudices which they cradled for a season: peace.