Wisdom’s Cry #4: Getting to Silence

This one might be a bit overwritten, but it still holds true–maybe even truer than ever in our internet, smart phone, and 24-hour-news world:

Getting to Silence

(August 1992)

For a day, maybe two, at the end of my summer tours — three-week marathons of exposure to and care for other people — I feel a sense of panic, as though the earth has been pulled out from beneath my feet and I am suddenly falling down to the depths of an unvoiced despair — without support, without recourse, without even a self to rely upon.

For a day, maybe two, I want nothing but to be back with the people I so recently wanted to leave behind, the people who have surrounded me night and day for three weeks, who have worn me down with their needs, their wants, their insistent demands.  I feel a need for them, a desperate need, as though I will expire if I’m not wrapped in their cares, their words, their presence.

For a day, maybe two, there is one person with whom I don’t want to be left alone, one person who makes me feel as though I’m nothing despite the favorable evaluations, the thank-yous, the words of praise.  He says nothing but he is there, waiting–in my room, on the street, in the little cafe where I go for a rest and a cafe au lait.  He promises nothing, threatens nothing, asks for nothing but my presence alone with him.  Yet I am filled with fear of him, with fear of the unknown, for he is myself.

On the third or fourth day, if I have resisted the panic-driven urge to surround myself with other people, my fear recedes.  If I have kept to myself, weathered the fear, the feeling of uselessness, the lack of hope, on the third or maybe the fourth day I rise again from the grave of despair and I am a changed man.  I have entered a new reality, a new world, a world in which my self comes to me as the perfect companion — both pupil and teacher, playmate and partner, parent and child.

There is a still, small voice in each of us that fills us with more fear than the winds and storm with which we surround ourselves.  We want more of ‘life’ — whatever ‘life’ might be — and so we try to reach out farther, to push ourselves faster, to consume more and more, all the time trying to silence this voice inside that is telling us we are lost int he void of the universe.  It whispers so softly that we think we can ignore it and the import of its words but they echo loudly through the empty spaces of our souls, reverberating through the chambers of our hearts, telling us over and over again that in our search for something more we have found less, we have stretched ourselves so fine that we are about to break, spread ourselves so wide that there is no center left.  No center, just a still, small voice of which we are afraid.

Then something happens.  We have an accident that keeps us from working.  Or we hear that a relative or good friend has died.  Or one day our mind or heart gives out and we enter a period in which nothing matters at all.  And because we no longer desire those things we desired, wee no longer fear those things we feared — including the still, small voice.  And yet we go on ignoring it until every other voice has been stripped away, until we are left alone with hits whispers, its echoes, its words.  The panic comes anew.  Our impulse is to run and find someone, anyone, to be with, but we are tired of the world, tired of its ways and everyone who goes about them.  So we sit with the voice, like two people who suddenly find themselves alone together on a park bench.  The voice asks a question and despite ourselves we answer.  The question is about us and in the timbre of the voice we sense a sincere desire to know, a desire we suddenly realize has been missing from every other voice we’ve heard for…how long?

The voice both probes and reassures; it lets us know how little we really know ourselves and at the same time makes us believe that we can know ourselves, that there is still time.  It begins to pull out of us thoughts and feelings and dreams that amaze us for we never realized they were there.  We are frightened of them at first — they seem unreal, like phantoms that have risen from the murky earth to mock us — but the voice assures us that they are real and comely and speak the truth.  They want us to know them because they are part of us, they are us, and we see for the first time that we have always thought that the thoughts we were thinking and the feelings we were feeling — thoughts and feelings given to us by others — were ours.  And dreams — why, we didn’t even realize that we had dreams.  And suddenly we feel a wriggle of excitement, a sense that we have at last found a clue to what ‘life’ is all about.  The solitude we once feared we now crave.  We seek silence, for only when the noisy ways of the world have been filtered out can we hear what the voice is telling us.

Life presents a dilemma then, for we must work to make a living and yet we no longer have the same desires, the same wants and needs of those around us.  In fact, when we re-enter their world it all seems a bit silly and wrong-headed.  We crave silence, but after a few weeks away from it we find that we fear it again, too.  We must pull away and live with the fear of ourselves again for a day, maybe two.  We must die again tot he world, knowing that on the third day, or maybe the fourth, we will rise to a new reality, a new world — the world of our true thoughts and feelings and dreams.  The world of that still, small voice that tells us who we really are and what ‘life’ — our life — is all about.

© Michael N. McGregor 1992

Wisdom’s Cry #3: It’s a Political Year

As was true when I sent out Wisdom’s Cry in 1992, this is an election year, and while the focus of most people’s frustration, anger, desire for change, etc. is the federal government, we can do much more at the local and state level.  Here’s what I wrote then about getting involved [to go straight to a list of practical things you can do, scroll to the bottom]:


(August 1992)

The Year of Living Publicly is upon us, the year during which those who are leaders and those hoping to be leaders discuss all the issues they should have been discussing all along and will avoid discussing even now if the populace will let them.

Remember 1988 when the presidential campaign became a referendum on whether the American flag should be honored or whether furloughed black men should be allowed to rape?

We’v entered another political year, and most of us will be tempted to either ignore the political process altogether or focus on the public and private lives of those few men running for the presidency [2018 update: Congress].  We’ll gather our news from newspapers [2018 update: the internet] or those 17-second sound bites we see on the nightly news.  And at the end of the process we’ll be disappointed once again, feeling frustrated by our lack of control and a bit less willing to care about politics again.

But this is an important year!  Each of us needs to be involved.  Not at the national level, but at the local level.  For while most of the media discussion centers on the latest national clash between the Big Egos, the political races that will most directly affect our lives are quietly taking place in our neighborhoods.

In Washington State, for example, we will be voting this year for senator, governor, lieutenant governor, congressional representatives, all state representatives and many state senators.  A full 20% of the people in this year’s state legislature are seeking higher office, which means that their current positions will be left vacant, waiting to be filled by those whose views we endorse…or those whose views we don’t.

In addition, several initiatives will be on the ballot including two that deal with campaign spending reform.

So what, you say?  So get involved!  Many of us feel left out of the political process, unable to affect the decisions of government leaders.  But what we don’t realize is that we can have an effect on the process and ultimately on the decisions of leaders.

When you do more than just cast your ballot, when you attend public meetings or work on a political campaign, you increase your effect on process and decisions a thousand-fold.  Yes, a thousand-fold.  Whether we like to believe it or not, a small number of people from our neighborhoods are making the decisions that affect us all and we can each be a part of that group.

Too often it’s easier to stay home and concentrate on your own concerns.  Too often it’s easier to gripe about the direction society is going, about the lack of quality leaders, about he poor information on which decisions are made.

Too often it’s easier to gripe, period, than to do anything.

So how does one become involved when she has never been involved before?  On this page [see below] you’ll find a list of things you can do right now, today.  Be careful, though.  Once you become involved, you can’t sit back and refuse to do anything.  And you’ll no longer be able to gripe about having no part in the process!

THINGS TO DO IN 1992 [or 2018]:

  1.  Read your local community paper, especially the Community Calendar section, and attend some of the meetings announced.
  2. Join your local community council and begin attending its meetings.  These are open to everyone and are the best place to find out what’s happening in your community.
  3. Talk to any neighbors or friends you know are already involved and ask them to take you to events or meetings they attend.
  4. Call the county office of whichever political party you feel closest to and ask if there are ways you can help them.
  5. If you don’t want to work with apolitical party, call the League of Women Voters or similar groups involved in politics.
  6. Pick a local candidate and volunteer for his or her campaign.  this is the best way to hep out your views into office.  An added benefit is that you will meet others who share your views and desire to be involved.
  7. Arrange a candidate’s appearance before groups you already participate in.  Church and civic groups are always looking for speakers, and an appearance by your candidate fosters discussion of your ideas.
  8. Write to your local newspapers about issues you think should be part of the political discussion.  Newspaper will accept most letters that contain concise ideas clearly stated and the Letters section is the most widely read page of any publication.
  9. Talk about your views to anyone who will listen.  You’ll be amazed at how many of your friends share your concerns and are willing to be involved with you.

© Michael N. McGregor 1992

Wisdom’s Cry Reprint #2: Feel The Power–Children and Guns

This one is especially–and sadly–relevant given last week’s news from Parkland, FL.  We tend to think that the phenomenon of children shooting children is new or goes back only to the Columbine killings in 1999, but I wrote the following in 1992, when American children were already killing others at alarming rates:


(August 1992)

The statistics are in at last, and it was another record year*:

148 in Boston

522 in Philadelphia

959 in Los Angeles

2,200 in New York

And in Washington, D.C., the capital of History’s Great Democratic Experiment: 483

Deaths, that is.  Or, more precisely, deaths at the hands–and by the decisions–of others.  Murders.  Executions.  Assassinations.

Something to be proud of, these records are, especially when we look at where the increases are taking place: among our children.  Between 1984 and 1990 the number of teenage murder victims double.  The number of teenage arrests for murder, too.  Children killing children.  OUR children killing OUR children.  Killing them for money, for drugs, for satisfaction.

Raising them to be like us, we are, and we should be proud of how well they’re learning.  Soon they’ll be able to help us arm the world, point our guns at uncooperative island nations, and contribute to the stockpiling of weapons in underground shelters and desert caches.

If they live to adulthood, that is.

*Figures are for 1990.


Heroes with guns.

Guns they use as easily, as often, as a toothbrush

or comb.

On TV, in books, the neighborhood.

Presidents with guns.

Guns they trade for favors, employ for favors,

build for favors

from nations, friends, business leaders.


The excitement of it all.  The power.  The POWER!

Fondle it, take it to school, feel the POWER!

Use it.  USE IT!  It screams in the little, hairless hand.


© Michael N. McGregor 1992

Note: the featured image for this post is from the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance (CFSA), which has more recent statistics on children and firearms.

Wisdom’s Cry: A Journal of Introspection

In 1992, I was living in Seattle and running a small European tour company I had established three years before.  In addition to leading my own tours, I guided for Rick Steves, with whom I’d been working for seven years. I was ready to move away from travel, though–to return to my first love, writing, or get more involved in politics, maybe even run for office.  Two years before, I had developed a small magazine I called Wisdom’s Cry, writing everything in it myself and sending it to friends to stimulate discussion about issues I thought were important.  I was tired of get-togethers at which people talked only about trivial things when larger things were happening in our country and our world.

I had intended to make Wisdom’s Cry a regular effort, sending copies to friends every three months or so, but touring and running a business and everything else in my life interfered.  Then came the Gulf War buildup, followed by the war itself and I found myself baffled by the country’s zealous support of what seemed to me an ill-advised venture.  When the war had ended and the next election cycle was in full swing, I was more anxious than ever to stimulate discussion among my friends and my thoughts returned to Wisdom’s Cry.  By then, I was volunteering as the newsletter editor for my local Democratic district, the Thundering 36th as we called ourselves.  I was a precinct committee officer too  (the only elective office I’ve ever held).  But I wanted to do more.  So I put out a second issue.

While looking for something else yesterday, I found that second issue.  When I read through it, it seemed to me that the writing in it was level-headed as well as passionate and sometimes creative.  Having mostly neglected this website for months, I thought putting some of the articles I wrote for that issue on here might help me jump-start it.  If nothing else, they show a way of approaching important issues that seems more reasonable (at least to me) than how we’ve been approaching them lately in this fractious and extremely partisan time.

I should note that only some of the articles in that issue seem obviously political–dealing with education, gun violence or getting involved in elections, for example–but all of them, even the more creative ones dealing with silence or art, are political in the deepest sense, for they are about our collective decisions about how we want to live as a society.

Maybe something I wrote in that issue, or just the decision to put it together and send it out, will inspire someone who stumbles upon this website to do more than they’ve done before to help better this country and world–even put out a magazine of their own.

To get things started, here’s my editor’s note from that issue:

“It’s been over two years since I put out the first issue of Wisdom’s Cry.  I’m sure some of you have forgotten about it.  It was a patchwork affair, much like this one, an attempt to increase discussion about issues I thought important.

“At the time, I hoped to make this a quarterly publication.  But like other people, I got involved in other things and though Wisdom’s Cry was never far form my mind, I didn’t find the time to work on it.

“Then last year came along and changed my mind about many things.  The Gulf War and its aftermath convinced me that we do not have the luxury of not speaking out for what we believe.  I saw politicians and other citizens silence themselves or jump on the bandwagon to support an enterprise that was dubious at best, arrogant, chauvinistic, and racist at worst.

“What does one do when he finds himself at odds with the prevailing sentiments in his country?   What does he do when his heart bleeds for those who suffer as the result of wrong-minded policies, for those whose needs are neglected because his government would rather build million-dollar bombs than put a few dollars into education or health care?

“He has three options: 1. He joins in, checking his conscience at the door.  2. He packs his things and retreats to an isolated place where he pursues his ideas on his own.  3. He jumps into the fray and does what he can to change attitudes and influence priorities.

“For me, the first of the three was never an option and though I thought about the second, the third was the only truly responsible course.

“So Wisdom’s Cry is back.  As before, it is not intended to be the final word on issues, but rather a call to discussion, to concerned consideration, and, finally to action.

“My hope is that every one of you will talk with me about issues that matter and that my feeble scribblings will prompt you to talk to those around you at home, at the office, at church.

“We are the people who can change this society’s course for the better but first we must overcome our fear of speaking out.  We must form beliefs and state them and do what we can to make this country and this world a more humane, more caring, more equitable and hopeful place to live.”

© Michael N. McGregor 1992


And yes, I went by “Mike” back then.  🙂