“The Next Voice You Hear …” was a 1950 film featuring James Whitmore and Nancy Davis, soon to be Nancy Reagan, as they listened each afternoon to the voice of God taking over the radio waves. We never got to hear God’s voice. And unless we wander in the wilderness or have synesthesia reading the Bible, we never will. But hearing voices is not necessarily a sign of psychosis or sainthood. We hear voices every day. The defining question: whose?
In less than two weeks we will hear from the White House a reassuring voice befitting the office. We have desperately missed this. The excitement and incitement of the world’s worst sore loser turned deadly last week at the Capitol, and at the urging of 350 of his employees, Jack Dorsey of Twitter finally banned the man from tweeting. Too little too late. Et tu, Mark Zuckerberg? He, too, about-Facebooked. Voices can calm, and voices can kill.
Other voices have been twirling in my head like laddered strands of DNA these days, as recuperative evenings reading Obama’s “A Promised Land” slide into nights seeing ghosts of my father, who would have just turned 100, and in the silent movie of dreams missing his voice. His was of a timbre and temperament that was an instant tranquilizer for my anxious nature as a child, then adolescent, trapped in the claustrophobia of a small apartment in an urban tin can, longing for sun and sky and space to find my place in the world. Many were the times his voice talked me down from a blood pressure that was off the charts. He was my north star.
In Obama’s memoir, he is kind enough to spend a page or two on the concerts I put on in the East Room and on the South Lawn as “maybe the best White House perk” and to recall that “Sometimes I’d sneak down the back stairs of the residence and slip into the East Room, standing at the rear so as not to attract attention, and just watch the artists at work.”
I remember those times well, and what he is humble enough not to mention, that I sometimes disturbed his quietude by bringing around each of the performers and crew who wanted a few moments one-on-one to hear his voice addressing them personally. He never once said no.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not making out my father, or Obama, or the president-elect to be other than human beings fallible as the rest of us. The difference is that we need, as individuals and as a country, fathers and mothers to reassure us that wisdom and warmth, compassion and concern are present in our lives. Voices of doom, gloom and disruption have been tearing us apart. With all the criminality and chaos we endured last week, we crave calmer seas, a light at the end of the tunnel that is not on oncoming train.
The assault on democracy was a clarion call that an elephantine four years of taking a tweeting toddler “seriously, but not literally” broke down on the Capitol steps. Picking up the pieces, voices of trusted authority offer shelter from the storm.
Inauguration Day will not augur a return to the garden. That Eden is desecrated, drought-stricken, fire-ravaged, flooded-out, wind-tossed and squeezed through the Swiss cheese of a thinning ozone layer. We have done little to merit the right to a safer or more peaceful world. Our arms have begun to be jabbed in an inoculation against disease and despair, but we have endured days of more death than Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and a day such as Jan. 6 takes a bite out of our national soul for our lifetimes. It is winter in the world, and those who should have been the voices of reason have barked like the hounds of hell. If there is forgiveness in church for those who enabled mob rule and war-zone ICU’s by their politicization of paranoia over democratic process and public safety, they have not earned it. Shame on them. The fish stinks from the head, but it is the enablers who eat their tails.
On my father’s recent birthday, I stood in Arlington Memorial Cemetery, fragrant Christmas wreaths all around, and remembered those who went to war, as he did, to protect the land and values we cherish. On Jan. 20, I will watch order restored on Pennsylvania Avenue. There will be things to applaud and things to deplore. That’s as it may be. The next voices we hear will be a clarion call to order. Intentions matter. The harsh bleating of those who would rip this nation apart can carry on from the dark side of the Web. I hear better voices, better days.
Count the cost of freedom. The circus has left town.