“It seems cruel,” she said, “that after awhile, nothing matters…”
“Yes, but meanwhile…”
“Ah-meanwhile-” -Edith Wharton
Newport, RI- Mark Twain first coined the phrase “gilded age” as a critique of the late 1800’s; a time he sees as full of pretty packaging hiding corruption and greed within.
A tale of today?
Instead of the social media filters we use now to gild our lifestyle in an attempt to make it seem better than it is, the giants of the 1880’s built marble monuments and filled them with the latest technology to make their lives easier than they had been.
It is truly a “best of times, worst of times” situation in America. Communication is easier than ever. The phonograph, telephone, and radio are invented and mass media circulation is on the rise with newspaper and magazine audiences growing exponentially.
It’s a time of unprecedented expansion and social revolution. The “golden spike” of the transcontinental railroad is driven in, giants of industry like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Astor are printing money, the cry “Votes for Women” is getting louder, the Statue of Liberty takes her place in New York’s harbor, and America acquires Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico and annexes Hawaii.
Just as the rich are getting richer, the US is seeing an influx of immigrants looking for their own American Dream. Desperate for work, many of these new Americans are taken advantage of and horrifically abused by this massive industrialization. Without workers’ rights and laws of protection, labor violence and deadly strikes sweep across our quickly changing country.
As my husband, Matthew, and I spent time in Newport this June (2015) touring the mansions and learning more about this extraordinary time in history, I kept thinking about how similar pieces of our present are to the past.
We may not coat our home’s walls with 14k gold, but we coat our pictures with airbrushes and filters.
We may not have labor strikes that end in violence and death, but we have prayer meetings in Charleston that do.
We may not have the Populist Party calling for sweeping government controls, but we have a growing number of people who feel they have no political party in which they can fully identify with and be proud of.
It is true that after awhile, a lot of our material possessions and gilded pictures will not matter. And after awhile, some of our dividing issues will not be quite as divisive.
But, meanwhile what will matter is how we treat one another.
Meanwhile… I pray we behave toward each other with the grace I believe was extended to me and the grace on which my faith is built.
Meanwhile… I pray we treat those different from ourselves with the same grace that the members of Emmanuel AME church did at their prayer meeting on June 17th.
Meanwhile… I pray we are careful with what we say and what we post so that after awhile we will be a kinder people than we are today.
Ah, meanwhile… may we be gilded not in gold, but in grace.