67th in a series of posts on Touchstone Theatre
Fireflies in the summer.
What a beautiful image.
What a horrible thought.
Spoken by an African American Political Science professor almost at the end of the panel discussion after Festival UnBound’s play “Hidden Seed.”
In a very real sense the 10-day festival can be thought of as an orgy of good feeling. You couldn’t be on Payrow Plaza that last perfectly weathered night without experiencing the orgasmic release of (channeling Walt Whitman) long pent-up aching rivers of love for and empathy with our Bethlehem brothers and sisters. All our brothers and sisters. “Of every hue and caste am I,” Whitman chanted in his democratic ecstasy.
When our antic ringmaster proclaimed “We love you, Bethlehem!” we were one.
When we lit our candles on the parapet and peered into the City’s navel, we signed on to a kind of suicide mission.
By god, we are going to make this town a better place — or else!
But 17 days past that almost cult-like charisma, a firm, sober voice from the “Hidden Seed” back row naggingly nips at Gadfly’s optimism like a speck in the eye or a pebble in a shoe.
- “I don’t know where we are.”
- “I thought we were further along on this path.”
- “I’m a political science professor.”
- “The last election and everything that’s happened since then has totally messed with how far along I thought we were.”
- “The path I thought we were moving along in the right direction as far as inclusion as far as accepting others.
- “And now I find that maybe a third to maybe forty percent of the people in this country have a very different idea than I do.”
- “What I got from this play was that there are these bursts , it seems, of activity, and maybe things don’t work out, and then maybe somewhere else there’s another burst, and maybe that’s the way it is.
- “And maybe you can’t really think of it as linear progression from bad to better.”
- “Maybe it’s just like, I don’t know, like fireflies in the summer, just be a light here and a light there.”
- “Maybe that’s the way it is.”
An African American who’s “lost.”
Progress — random, illusory.
Maybe the long arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice.
Maybe on that parapet we were just one more firefly burst briefly adorning the darkness.
Say it ain’t so.
Gadfly has to believe in progress, has to believe in the steady ascent of human kind from the brutal forms fighting over a water-hole in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Has to believe that democracy is ever in the making.
The title of Lehigh professor Stephanie Powell Watts’ novel Nobody’s Going to Save Us was invoked many times during the festival.
Maybe what we will most need to save ourselves from is . . . our own doubt.
Closed but never forgotten