Watching the Democratic convention in Denver has brought back memories. Forty years ago this week I wound up in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the one where protesters came by the thousands to “confront the warmongers” in Chicago and were themselves confronted by angry police and National Guardsmen. I hadn’t really planned to be there, but as seemed to happen during that period of my life, my personal world was in upheaval and I was swept along in the tide of events, finding myself in the midst of one of the major brouhahas of our generation.
It was a scary time, brutality and controversy swarming through and around delegates and protesters alike. But it was also a hopeful time, when we who were congregating in the parks and on the streets believed that our new way of relating to one another and to the world could change the course of our nation and of humanity. And it was a joyful time, singing and chanting and marching together, knowing that we were united in our opposition to the war. We were confident that we were doing the right thing.
I struggle now to connect my young self – the one who was willing to put her body on the line (although I never did get arrested or beaten) for what she believed – with my older, calmer, more peaceful self. Somewhere in this sixty-something person that I am now are threads that go back to that angry, hopeful twenty-three year old. I believed in justice and equality then, and still do. I believed in honesty and openness then, and I still do. I believed in the importance of living my values, and I still do.
But my understanding of what it means to live my values has changed. Where I used to feel that we had to change the world by confronting institutions and rejecting the people who believed in them, I now believe we change the world one person at a time, by finding love and personal connection. I believe there’s more to be gained in listening and understanding than in confrontation and anger. I no longer believe that I know the only truth or have the only answer.
So, have I “copped out,” as I would have said of myself forty years ago, or have I become wiser? I know that I am certainly happier, more in touch with the deep meaning of my life, more committed to living deeply and well, with love and gratitude. And I know also that I couldn’t be where I am now without having been that young woman marching with her friends in the streets of Chicago. I live in the present moment, or try to, but my present moment includes all the moments in my past, all the people I’ve known and loved along this amazing journey. I am grateful to have had those moments, and grateful for my life as it is now.