Towards the end of his second State of the Union address, Abraham Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” That quote has been at the forefront of my mind for the last few days. Lincoln was trying to rally a Union divided against itself and suggesting that they needed a new way of thinking. Basically telling them that everything you think you know is wrong – that the old solutions aren’t going to cut it.
The stock market is collapsing. The U.S. Congress is beholden to corporations and morons wrapped in the flag. Extreme right-wing governments are readying the knife to slash the social safety net to ribbons. The planet is cooking and scientists desperate to reverse it are mocked, slandered and defunded. Intellectuals are feared and ignorance is lauded. The Mayor of Toronto wants to close libraries. And the great city of London is on fire. The present is not just stormy – it’s an all-out hurricane.
Right now, a guy I used to play in a marching band with named Steve Gaul is attempting to break the world record for marathon drumming. He survived testicular cancer and lost his sister to paranasal cancer just last year. He’s doing this to raise money and awareness and you can check him out (and donate) at www.beatstobeatcancer.com. The record is 120 hours and as I’m writing this he just passed 105. I have to confess to a bit of cynicism about cancer research. There seems to be an awful lot of money raised for it every year and precious little progress made in treatment methodology – and the real pessimist side of me notes that we’ve never heard about a pharmaceutical company executive who’s died of cancer (happy to be corrected on this point if anyone out there knows something I don’t.)
But watching Steve is amazing. Even though we were in the same band for three years, I never knew him very well. He was the leader of our percussion section when I first signed up and was known for his endless reserve of “guy walks into a bar” jokes shared with the group before we stepped off on parade. I didn’t know until I stumbled upon the site mentioned above that he had survived cancer at so young an age. As I remember him he wouldn’t have struck me as the guy who would have this kind of fight in him. But there he is. 105 hours in, still smiling and laughing, jamming away to an endless soundtrack of rock classics. My wife was telling me today that even though she’s never met Steve, she’s proud of him and what he’s doing. So am I. Here’s a guy staring into the gale and saying “bring it on.”
The world kinda sucks right now. We can admit that. It feels like the bad guys are winning. The field of Republican candidates running to run against President Obama next year is a terrifying group cut from the Greg Stilson cloth whom one could easily imagine pushing the nuke button at God’s command. Canada gave a majority government to a guy who thought George W. Bush was the bee’s knees, and we put a redneck doofus in charge of our most progressive and cosmopolitan city. We could really use a victory right now.
Steve Gaul is proving that the victory lies with us as individuals. Sometime around 8am tomorrow morning he’s going to break the record. He’s going to smash it to bits. Kick its ass. Make us stand up and cheer. Make us ask what we can do and dare us to do better. Because the old way of sitting back and waiting for the storm to pass isn’t working.
Beyond the stormy present lies the clear skies of the future. We can get there. We know the way. We just need to start walking.