‘. . . your old men shall dream dreams . . .’

The real prophet by Michelangelo  (not Osteen)

The real prophet by Michelangelo (not Osteen)

A few minutes ago I sent a Facebook message to the daughter of  a woman who—were I ‘straight’ – I could well have asked to marry me. Except I think being soul mates and using the same language for just about any old subject that pops up in conversation are not necessarily the best bases for marriage. Even if my sexual orientation were different [at least farther in another direction on the scale of mammalian possibilities], I doubt that Anne and I would have improved our communication or deepened our relationship by getting married.

We simply thought alike on almost every issue and idea we ever talked about. She was almost as committed to progressive politics as I am, and I was almost as dedicated to understanding the fine points of rhetoric as she was. She is one of my dear friends who has died. I miss her almost unbearably from time to time, especially when I want to have a serious conversation about a subject important to me.

I messaged her daughter because she lives in Santiago, Chile, and I want to see Easter Island.

I’m pretty sure there is no ‘tour’ with Easter Island as its destination that I could afford. Almost the only way to get to the island is by going first to Santiago or one of the other major cities in Chile. So I’ve been thinking that Anne’s daughter should—for the sake of her late mother’s and my friendship—offer me a place to stay in Santiago on my way to Easter Island. How’s that for self-centered thinking? The fact is, she and I would have been great friends if she had not spent her adult life in places like Turkey and Jordan and, well, Chile.

Exactly why I want to see Easter Island is something of a mystery to me.

some fascination for me that I can’t quite figure out

some fascination for me that I can’t quite figure out

(By the way—apropos of nothing—I’m using my new computer to type this—but not ‘dragon’—because I discovered its msword here is set to make more letters upper case—or at least give me some red squiggles indicating it wants to—than my old computer, so my typing looks less like one of my students did it. I’m still in the damned sling; 20 more days and counting; believe me, counting!)

Easter Island holds some fascination for me that I can’t quite figure out. I think it has more to do with the people who built those enormous and bizarre statues than with the statues themselves. Those Easter Islanders more or less killed themselves off by not taking care of their island. They over-farmed, they let rats take over, and they just let the whole place go to pot.

That is, of course what will happen to all of us eventually, but Easter Island is one of the few places where we can see that process complete. Most of what we know about the Easter islanders is speculation even though they never completely vanished. And how they built those statues is lost in the dim memory of the few Rapa Nui people who remain. Even they don’t have a real concept of how the statues got planted on the rim of the island –or why.

The question I want to ask is whether or not they, as a group, as a society, knew they were dwindling almost to the point of extinction and why they didn’t do something about it.

They seem to me to be pretty much like Americans. We’re just standing around watching our continent go to hell in a hand basket and don’t really give a rip. If we did, the abominable Koch brothers would no longer be in business. But that’s the question for future generations to ask. The Kochs and their ilk are the equivalent of the rats of Easter Island. And we have our statues that some future generation a thousand years from now will marvel at—you know, the Ballpark at Arlington and the American Airlines center in Dallas.

The Hebrew prophet Joel said a startling thing.

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit (Joel 2:28-29, NRSV).

I don’t have a clue what “my spirit” refers to. I think it might have to do with having common sense and treating everyone equally. Joel goes on to talk about the “portents.” If I were like some fundamentalist (those who think the Bible is both accurate history and good science), I could tell you how Joel has predicted what’s going on today. You know, some citizens of the current state of Israel (not to be confused with the ancient kingdom of the same name) will join “Jews for Jesus” and get out alive, because, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape.”

But it’s the old men dreaming dreams that interest me. I won’t be around here even for the complete automatonization of our society, much less for the disappearance of all but 111 Americans (the population of Easter Island in 1877).

Like the rats that destroyed Easter Island

Like the rats that destroyed Easter Island

But I have a dream that the American people will wake up before the rats take over completely.

If someone can help jog my memory, I’d appreciate it: on NPR not too long ago I heard an atheist philosopher (a real atheist, not an idiot like Richard Dawkins who uses his “atheism” as a cover for the most virulent forms of racism and xenophobia) explaining his view that the way we can understand our immortality is that we know other human beings will carry on our work (whatever that is) after we die.

I love that idea. I dream that dream. And I don’t want the Koch brothers and the Tea Baggers mucking it up.

One Response to ‘. . . your old men shall dream dreams . . .’

  1. bobritzema says:

    If your immortality consists in others carrying on your work, but the nation (or the whole planet) is headed for an Easter Island-like collapse, isn’t that a threat to what makes you immortal? Your work, my work, and lots of other people’s work would be lost in an environmental apocalypse. Other humans carrying on what I’m doing is not my notion of immortality, but, unlike many believers, I don’t regard my hope in eternal life as warrant for ignoring the well-being of the planet. If anything, believing in God is motivation to treat well what he has made.

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