People of the Book Happy Birthday to Me

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Psalm 90, verse 10. Nobody should demand more than their biblical threescore and ten. Any more is extra credit, and like most extra credit projects, they’re a sign that as a kid you didn’t properly enjoy your life.

I write this in the first hour of my 35th birthday. I’m halfway through my biblical threescore and ten, and while I behaved badly, it’s hard to believe I’ve been as bad as I feel: 50 pounds overweight, pains in the back and neck, some other mild conditions that feel much worse than they are, but make me worry that much worse things will crash my future.

When you’re 35 and feel like this, it’s difficult to believe you’ve got another 35 left. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to scrape with every fingernail to get there. But even if I’m healthy enough to get upward of 70, how can we all get there together? Look around you right now: our generation isn’t going to have a happy ending. $20 trillion in debt, temperatures and sea levels rising, 300 million privately held guns in America, WMD’s proliferating everywhere, a madman as President, a whole government compromised by a foreign rival. The inner-half of the country thinks the outer-half is spoiled heathens, the outer-half thinks the inner-half is fascist racists. Maybe both sides are right, but these aren’t solvable problems, they can only be survived.

Nobody knows why civilizations rise and fall, but history tells us that they do, and the higher they rise, the faster they fall. Mother nature cleanses herself – whenever one trait of her ecology grows dominant, she flushes it like so much excrement. Nothing is, or has ever been, more dominant in the world’s ecology than human beings residing in America. Catastrophe may come in the form of war, nature or disease, but whether cataclysm comes in a few months, a few years or a few decades, it will arrive in less than a few centuries. Nature prematurely cleansed itself of 200 million humans in the political maneuvers of the 20th century, and we’re nearly the only country she fundamentally spared. When she wreaks her awesome vengeance again, is it truly hard to believe we will be the vortex’s epicenter?

Americans loathe pessimism. We’re the country that believes ingenuity solves all problems, but ingenuity creates as many problems as it solves. With every obstacle overcome, we watch in slow motion as what it takes to overcome the obstacle brings destructive forces, old and new, ever closer. Perhaps the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, but if it does, then the arc is longer than we can ever fathom.

All my life thus far, I only ever wanted one thing, and that was to be a great artist. The time to get there begins to get shorter, but even if I don’t, I love these suffering arts more than ever. I love them not because I think they change the world, but because they give the world meaning. All artists ever wanted to do was to make your life nicer, to give perspective to your suffering and make your joy more joyful.

The world retreats ever further into politics, which it treats increasingly like religion; utopias of freedom and equality conjured everywhere, and because their utopia never arrives, they require heretics to blame. We’ve lived in a somewhat better world in recent times, but there’s evidence everywhere that the science, technologies and laws which created the better world may facilitate its destruction. Our very success could be what causes a larger failure.

We may not be able to improve the world, but we can understand it better. Whatever happens to me in the next 35 years, whatever happens to you, I wish examined lives for us all. I wish you get as much joy from it as you can possibly wring, and I wish that your suffering has meaning, but allow me to make a suggestion: it is the arts that will bring more joy and meaning to your life than any other activity. Art is lessons in the miracles of religion without dogma, the possibilities of science without dry information, the rules of politics without real people getting hurt. I wish that just a little bit of the passion Americans put into a hundred other things gets put into supporting the Americans who can’t do anything but make music or write words to the point that we can make a semi-decent living with it.

This is my birthday wish. Happy birthday to me.

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at podomatic.com/podcasts/oldnewland.

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