The Question that Faces Americans

In the blush of the world’s new romance with President Obama,
it would be wise to put it into context and look also at the old ritual driving
the drama now unfolding in America.

On a shore beside a lake, an Old King fishes. Behind him is his
country: wasted, grey and barren. The Old King is likewise impotent and
crippled. He is trying to catch the fish that might cure him and his land. The
fish he is angling for will bring wisdom and redemption – both of which he
sorely lacks.

A knight, fresh and victorious from the battles of a long
campaign is now on a quest to restore the wasted land. He comes upon the Old King
fishing in his empty lake. The Old King invites the knight into his castle for
dinner. There, the knight sees a miraculous procession. Three beautiful women
carry into the hall three wondrous objects: a cup, a lance and a sword. The knight
asks, “Whom do they serve?” and immediately, the nation begins to heal.

If you recognize this old story as the quest for the Holy
Grail, you are right. But it’s not the Monty Python version. In fact, it’s not
even the Christian version we know from the tales of King Arthur and the
Knights of the Roundtable. It’s a much older story that cuts across cultures
and continents. It’s a telling of the ancient connection between the land and a
people and a rendering of the old ritual of renewal. The New President gets it
and he named it in his inaugural speech to Americans (the word “new” occurs 11
times). But, as important as asking the question is for initiating the healing,
it’s the answer that will complete the cure.

America is wounded physically, economically and spiritually
from the failed policies and practices of the Old President. She is tired and
broke from years of quagmire in foreign conflicts. Her environment is stretched
to the point of breaking the world’s. Her economy is dependent on others who
are willing (or obliged) to send her their oil and raw materials. Her financial
economy is crushed under the debt of a people pursing the American Dream on
credit – not just Americans, but people all over the world. That’s the trouble
with that sort of dream – you need to be asleep to have it. Well, America is
awake now and looking to the New President to cure what ails it.

The lance and the cup are all the contradictions that are
America; all the opposites that the New President will have to unite: male and
female, black and white, diversity and unity, Republican and Democrat, greed
and selflessness, economy and ecology, American dream and American reality. The
sword is an instrument of war – the weapon of Mars. But Mars is also a god of
renewal, as our month of March reminds us. If the war god also rules over the hope
and renewal of spring, it might not be as hard as you think to turn America’s
swords into ploughshares.

And with a black man moving into the white house that slaves
built, it might seem as though the American Dream were coming true at last: all
men are created equal and anyone can grow up to be President. But
Inauguration Day is not a cue for Americans to go back to sleep, for healing a
nation is too much for one man. Asking the right question only kick starts the
process. The question must be answered, and only Americans can answer it: “Whom
do they serve?”

Inauguration Day was an inauspicious start. The Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court (who was appointed by the Old President) flubbed
the first sentence of the oath of office and it threw off the New President. And
before the end of the day, the New York stock exchange had dropped 4 per cent –
greed is an addiction that’s hard to kick. President Obama’s speech covered a
lot of ground because there is a lot in America that needs healing, and his speech
was the weaker for it.

Americans have their work cut out for them. The world wishes
them well in their quest for renewal because we are all hoping for change in
America. In fact our future relies on it. But we take heart, because the
renewal of America is, like all renewals, a return to its original promise.

January 2009
© David McLaren

David McLaren is a writer who looks for connections between the news
and the ancients. He lives on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada.



About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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