Around the Island

Jenifer’s Journal: Anatomy of an epiphany, Part 1

I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me as it did before, or else I am awake for the first time.

— Walt Whitman

The Feast of the Epiphany was Thursday, January 6, a Christian celebration that commemorates the Magi — or the three Wise Men — who followed the star and found the Baby Jesus in that humble manger. Webster also defines the event as “… [being]the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles …” Big stuff.

However, the small “e” epiphany that Webster’s describes is: “3a(1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something” or, “(2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking,” can occur as well.

For instance, maybe we could mark last Thursday, which also happens to be the first anniversary of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, as an example of such a small-‘e’ epiphany, if only we could all agree on what “the essential nature of its meaning” is.

Anyway, I’m embarrassed to report that as the topic, “epiphany” came to me more as a matter of convenience than anything else.  When I realized that the first edition of the Reporter after Christmas break would come out on January 6, I thought it would fit right in with my  ‘Christmases past, present and future’ theme from December — a nice, neat quartet of columns. Tidy.

Except I actually had an epiphany, a kind of modest, slow-motion one, to be sure, but I don’t know what else to call it. I think, over my lifetime, I’ve had maybe two or three of them. You’ve had them, too, right? The life-changers that seem to materialize unbidden out of that ubiquitous “nowhere” we hear about?

Granted, this time, I had already been playing around with ideas for this column, reflecting on 2021 and the experiences that had shaped my life during the year. But so many of those experiences had been connected to national and/or global events, the kind that used to feel so removed from my everyday life but, in the past few years, have begun to feel increasingly personal.

The reality that my nation could not agree on the provable facts of several of those major events only highlighted the greatest threat we face: the death of shared, factual truth. There are now two versions of what this country is, how it got this way and where it should be headed.

There seems to be no middle ground any longer, just two polarized ends congealed into a dead weight that’s sinking this ship of state to an ocean bottom already littered with the corpses of dead democracies. 

Understanding that this situation isn’t survivable long-term needs no epiphany. It’s pretty clear already.

Not surprisingly, that morose train of thought was not exactly serving the subject of my column very well — this column in this weekly newspaper — itself an endangered species on this little chip of an island bobbing off the east coast of our vast, but divided nation.

This paper that covers the Christmas concert, Town Board disputes, zoning issues, profiles of leading citizens, activities at the Senior Center and the Library and the Historical Society, high school sports, the Legion, the obituaries, the weddings, etc. In other words, our lives in fact, is precisely what the Courier is covering in Charlevoix, Mich., and the Turtle Lake Times is reporting on in Turtle Lake, Wis.

Though their readers, like ours, may not agree with the OpEds, or certain Letters to the Editor, by and large they accept the basic facts that are reported, including facts about local politics.

Except, in an age when information can make its way around the world in seconds, when political action taken in one part of the world can substantively impact another, when our global community is engaged in trying to survive the same global pandemic, then that news and those politics become “local,” just like that infernal ear-worm of a song says: “It’s a small world after all.”  

So? Is objective truth dead except in local newspapers?

That’s where I was when I left to visit family on Christmas Eve, and that’s where I remained until, back home on the 26th, I heard the sad news that an icon of freedom had died. My sister-in-law sent an illustrated article about his life posted  online by South Africa’s The Daily Maverick.

One of the pictures — a recent one — showed the archbishop wearing a long-sleeved Shelter Island T-shirt.  My sister-in-law’s question: “What’s with the shirt?” Turns out, the answer is in an extraordinary article by Lois Morris,

Re: epiphanies. I’m taking it as a sign.