Listen. This is a story that has to be told.
That was the opening line of the classic Greek tragedy, Medea, that my wife and I attended at Pepperdine over the weekend. If you are familiar with the play, it is a story that you probably wish had never been told. But we continue to show up for resurrections of Euripides’ terrible tale century after century—so maybe it is true that the story is unavoidable.
I try to attend anything produced by the Fine Arts Division Theatre Program at Pepperdine because every production is always fantastic, and given that our friend, Brad, was the director of and that our friend, Lincoln, composed original electronic music for this particular performance, we marked our calendars for Medea months ago. But wow, what a heart-wrenching story.
I remember the name, Euripides, from some high school textbook mostly because I thought it sounded funny. (“Euripides pants and you’re in big trouble, mister!”) But wow, how unhinged must this classic playwright have been to write such a horrible tale of cold-blooded, unthinkable revenge? What demented mind could imagine Medea, the character?
Obviously the mind of one of the more important playwrights in world history.
Maybe there was method to such madness. Maybe Euripides wrote such a messed-up story to shine a light in the ugliest places of our world so that we might sheepishly walk out of a dark theater committed to building a world that is brighter?
I read that Euripides is known as someone whose work sympathized with society’s outcasts. In Medea we encounter someone so powerless that she resorts to maniacal actions to scream at a world in which she had heretofore been silenced. It is only through unimaginable actions that she is heard.
But I hope we do more than hear her screams. I hope that we listen. I hope that we listen because this is a story that has to be told. If not, we may find ourselves destroyed by the last resorts of the voiceless should their predictable actions not be prevented by the only safeguard remaining — the goodness of their own hearts.
George Washington’s 285th birthday is two days away, my how the time flies, but today marks the federal holiday in his honor. Close to half of these United States extends the holiday to all presidents, but I live in one of the many states that sticks with the federal designation of “Washington’s Birthday” in honor of the man known as the father of this country.
Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, a position he notably resigned after its stunning victory to retire to his farm in Virginia, but public service called again when he was elected as the new nation’s first president. Washington never joined a particular political party, however, and warned against “the spirit of party” in his famous Farewell Address—an interesting admonition given today’s polarized society.
Washington argued that the party spirit is natural and pervasive and produces desires for (and acts of) revenge that lead a nation away from liberty and eventually toward despotism. As a result, Washington argued that it is the “duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain” the party spirit.
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
Now it’s funny, I can picture readers from various political viewpoints reading much more into this than I intend. My critique is of all and my point is simple: Encourage coming together, and discourage choosing up sides. Unity good. Polarization bad. That would be my party platform should I have one, but ironically, a Unity Party is a contradiction in terms.
President Washington concluded his remarks on the party spirit with the following dire warning: “A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”
Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. General President Washington. And happy birthday.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged birthday, divisiveness, farewell address, george washington, holiday, partisanship, party spirit, polarization, political parties, president, reconciliation, revenge, unity