Joseph Campbell explained in the PBS series The Power of Myth that “myths are clues to the spiritual
potentialities of human life.” Campbell further noted that “myths are public dreams. Dreams are private myths.” Dreamers throughout history have grown seeds of private myth into public dreams that can elevate cultures and the world.
There is no grander edifice to the American myth than the U.S. Capitol. Since the desecration of the House of the People, I have observed Americans hollowed out, exhausted. Their private and public dreams have been violated, their hearts blasted apart. Often, dreamers of better worlds are shadowed by a monstrous “twin” who would decimate the good that dreamers do for humanity.
This chaotic Self, suffocated in fear and hatred, writhes within the culture. It was on full display Jan. 6. Bellowing, battering and murdering, it sought to overrun the great American myth — Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beloved Community and World House, Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.
The name of the monstrous twin in America is white supremacy in its many forms.
Thomas Jefferson was a stellar dreamer. John F. Kennedy proposed to a dinner for Nobel Prize winners that, “This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
There seemed to be nothing Jefferson could not do that he set his mind to. It was his orchestration of the building of the Capitol, his passion for Greco-Roman and Renaissance myth, that takes your breath away. His immortal words resonate with the majesty of the People’s House: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Take heart if you are burdened by the potential fate of our union. The myth embedded in democracy lives and expands. Freedoms launched at the beginning now include legal equality for multitudes.
Yet even Jefferson could not overcome the nation’s original sin: communal fear and hatred ignited by slavery and its defeat. Jefferson and the founders from the South held humans in bondage. By the end of Jefferson’s terms, Northern states had abolished slavery. It would take a war consuming more than 600,000 American lives to birth a nation free of that sin.
Founder-slavers such as Washington, Madison and Jefferson wrote about their abhorrence of slavery, but could not or would not heal the wounded disempowered. Jefferson epitomized the divide, with his relationship with Sally Hemings, the African American woman who birthed six of his children. Thus grew the chasm that remains, spewing poison fumes of disdain for “the other,” fulminating in terror-laced violence from the American dichotomy. To this day.
Yet the tide of universal freedom is strong in us. Travel through the land and you will find that love is stronger than hate. Abraham Lincoln, who became mythic on the night he was martyred, wrote, “We must not be enemies. … The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Sound those mystic chords again and join as one, infused with the better angels our nature, and do not disappear into the shadows of tyrants and the end of democracy. Choose your dream well.
“I was thinking of a series of dreams where nothing comes up to the top. Everything stays down where it’s wounded and comes to a permanent stop.” — Bob Dylan