Seeking spiritual guidance one Saturday morning many years ago, I wandered down to the local synagogue, where the rabbi was giving a sermon on the exodus from Egypt.
Why did God make the Children of Israel wander in the desert for 40 years after escaping oppression under Pharaoh, he asked? Why did some of the Israelites yearn for the “fleshpots of Egypt” and talk as if they’d prefer being back in slavery to being on their way to the Promised Land?
Because, if I’m remembering this right, to get to the Promised Land is no easy matter. Because liberation is difficult and scary. Because you might prefer slavery for its familiarity even if it was, well, slavery. I later saw the movie The Shawshank Redemption, which had a similar theme about a prisoner who couldn’t stand the freedom on the outside.
All this to introduce a poem I wrote years ago after my own personal exodus from the prison-house of a bankrupt ideology, which, however, despite its obvious ill effects on me still held some allure, as can be seen from the poem … or at least from the first three stanzas.
I struggled with this poem back then and wrote maybe a dozen more stanzas, but only the first three stand up, I think. So here they are:
Let Us Drink to Old Illusions
Let us drink to old illusions,
Raise a glass to follies past,
Though we’ve put them all behind us,
Though we’ve seen the light at last –
Still, the new light may be faulty,
May play tricks upon our eyes,
Let us then be kind and gentle
With those now discarded lies.
Life with them was so much simpler,
Life without has so much pain –
Who can live without illusions?
Let us take them up again. …
Maybe the last two work too:
He who will not make an answer,
Out of fear he may be wrong,
He will never paint a picture,
He will never write a song.
So let’s drink to old illusions,
And to new ones that may come,
We march forward but through error,
And to error we must come.