When many think about an important or memorable place, most almost certainly will not picture a greyhound bus or an Amtrak train ride. As many picture them, buses are not exactly attractive. The design scheme is the same in virtually every greyhound bus: rows and rows of black seats, lingering smells, a thin aisle down the middle of the bus to a litter box closet, dozens of tinted windows with face oil impressions, and the great blue exterior with a running dog designed on both side. Not many people, I am guessing, would consider buses to be an important part of their lives. However, if someone were to think about it, they would realize that they've probably had at least had one memorable , good or bad, experience in their life that took place on a bus. It could have been as a kid or adult. It could have changed their lives or might have changed the world!
I believe that could be the case with young Amanda waiting for her bus to Grand Junction, CO. She had lost her confidence in the world around her and the change she brings to it. Recently fired from her first attempt to alter the world with her barista flair art, industry changing ideas and wholesome views of people at a sweet age of 18. Now, she was heading home with dreams darker than a cup of Guatemalan coffee. Her excuse still burned in my head 'People are already doing it.'
One of the things that separate confident people from diffident ones is their approach to history.
Very broadly speaking, of course, the unconfident believe that history is over, but the self-assured trust for the most part that it's still in the process of being created. One day possibly by themselves at the reins of change.
The way we enter the world, may it be 18, 37, or 50 years of age, carries with it a constitutional bias towards a consequence that 'change' has finished and that history has been settled. That everything around us conspires to give off a sense that the status quo is entrenched. We're surrounded by great people who follow practices/traditions that have been in place for decades, some even centuries! The area we live in appears as immutable as an ancient temple people visit on holiday. The schools we go to look as though they have been performing the same rituals torturing children since the world began. We are constantly told why things are and encouraged to accept that reality is not made according to our wishes. But in Amanda's case and with many, it doesn't do anything for those dreams skipping in one's head.
We come to trust that humans have fully mapped the range of the possible. If something hasn't happened for many, it's because it can't happen - or it shouldn't. The result can be deep wariness around imagining the words 'changing the world!' let alone do something about it. It tells someone, 'there is no point starting that new coffee business, the Denver market has a fucking Starbucks on every corner'. Or when pioneering a new approach to the arts, to the diffident, the idea is that 'everything is already set in a fixed pattern. Fuck throwing more paint!'... Please throw the fucking paint!
When we study history closer, however, the pictures and photographs change sharply. Once time's accelerated and, we climb the mountain of minutes; surveying the peaks of centuries, change just appears very constant.
New continents are discovered by those unaware they were always there, alternative ways of governing nations are pioneered and toppled in the process as we are seeing with Trump, ideas of how to dress and whom to worship are all transformed.
Once folks wore strange cloaks, cock pieces and tilted the land with clumsy instruments. To see that now, it'll cost you a hundred bucks and a trip to Larkspur, CO for the Renaissance fair in the summer months.
Years ago, they chopped a King's head when they didn't like him. Nowadays, a mean tweet is about as closest you'll get to the idiot running your country. Even way back, people got around in fragile ships that couldn't hold a barrel of Colorado whisky, ate elephant trunks, used chamber pots to shit and piss in, and didn't know how to fix teeth in these mountains. Which lead to many strange deaths. (Mix it the food with water and drink that shit, weirdos. You're digestive tract gave you a demonstration already!)
We walk away from Union Station knowing, at least in the most simple theory, that things do change, and constantly.
But in classic form, almost without noticing, we tend to distance ourselves and our societies from a day-to-day belief that we belong to the same ongoing bumpy narrative and are, at present, its central actors on a shitty bus ride home. History, we feel, is what use to happen. It can't be what is going on around us in the here, and now. Being defeated to the notion that things, in our vicinity at least, have settled down.
I am still awaiting a response to their reason for posting this poem on a Facebook bookclub group. Until then, to make us braver about the idea of changing; we might want to turn to three lines in T.S Eliot's peoms - The Four Quartets.
So, while the light fails on a winter's afternoon,
in a secluded chapel.
History is now and England. -T.S Eliot
Winter afternoons, around 5 pm, have a habit of feeling particularly resolved and established with many. Especially in quiet small mountain towns of Colorado. Many of which date back to when frontiers first come to these lands. The air in such towns is still and musty taking you on an old smell adventure equal only to a nursing home in Kansas. The large wood floors of these places have been slowly worn away by feet of the faithful and punctual. These are not venues and times to think about changing the world. Everything hints that we would be wiser to accept the way things are, head home this evening, light a fire and settle down for quiet night catching the local weatherman sound optimistic about tomorrow and pondering only change in the Broncos lineup next season.
Hence the surprise of Mr. Eliot's third line, his resonant:
'History is now and England' (the Brit in me smiles)
In other many words, everything that we associate with history - The impetuous daring of great people, the dramatic alterations in moral values, the revolutionary questioning of long-held beliefs, the upturning of the old order.
All this is still going on! Even at this very moment, in externally peaceful and apparently, in seemingly unchanging places like the mountain towns where my new friend Amanda was heading.
We don't believe it only because we are standing far too close to the fireplace. But the world is being made, remade, and made again at every instant by almost 8 billion people minus the ones we have around us.
And therefore, anyone of us has a wicked chance of being a secret(or not so secret) agent in history. It can be a CIA level or small scale WikiLeaks basement operation! You choose how you change the world! It's open to our own timelines to build a new city every bit as unique and beautiful as Venice in its grandeur, to change ideas as radically as the Renaissance, to start an intellectual movement as resounding as Buddhism or the thinkers of romanticism.
The present has all the contingency of the past and is every bit as malleable. It shouldn't intimidate us but attract us to a new confidence in ourselves and dreams. How we love, travel, approach the arts, govern, educate ourselves, run businesses, age and die are all up for further development. Current views and limits may appear firm, but only because we exaggerate their fixity to ourselves. The majority of what exists is arbitrary, neither inevitable nor right, simply the result of chaos and happenstance.
We should be confident, even on a purple sunset on a winter afternoon waiting for a bus home, of our power to join the Livestream feed of history and however modestly you choose to do so, change its course!
Even if it starts with creating an fancy aspen leaf in another person's coffee cup and not taking that memorable bus ride home. You can change the world instead!