If I Had A Hammer

June 2, 2021

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen

And perhaps that’s also how the light gets out.

While in Boulder I talked with several graduates who were planning to take this next year as a gap year. It was remarkable given the expected trajectory of heading directly to university. The graduates spoke of it enthusiastically, the parents not so much. I gave my voice to enthusiasm. After this time of pandemic isolation and hibernation it would be good for them to discover a new grounding for themselves and their place in the world.

I reflected back to my time in university. I didn’t take a gap year but I did take a gap summer. It certainly wasn’t what my parents thought would happen. They had me safely ensconced in a sorority, or so they thought, and determined it would be good for me to spend a summer back in Washington DC working for a congressman. Through university connections it was all arranged.

That summer the light poured in through cracks in the vessel of our democracy. I experienced the reality of how our legislative branch works and it shattered any idealistic illusions I held. Beyond the rampant infidelity and excessive drinking, there was the shock of how decisions are really made and how those decisions often have nothing to do with what the people want. One example. I was in charge of a poll that asked constituents their opinion on the raging war in Vietnam. Even in the congressman’s rural and conservative district, three quarters of the responses indicated they wanted us out of that war. I thought the congressman would vote against any further war appropriations. But he didn’t. He aligned himself with powerful senate hawks from our state and voted to continue the war. 

That summer the light also poured in through cracks in my cultural vessel when I saw my first performance of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. I will leave it there as I imagine no further detail or example is really necessary.

That summer changed everything. I would leave the sorority and soon lead the anti-war movement on campus. No, that is not at all what my parents thought would happen yet it seems that’s both the nature and possibility of cracks and light. 

In a way gap years are another crack in the vessel of life. Sometimes those cracks occur naturally. Sometimes it takes a hammer, even the soft hammer of supportive enthusiasm. And that can be a good thing.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com