Ages of Amusement?

Chain of Rocks Amusement Park, St. Louis (c. 1958)

‘Twas a time
(as humans reckon time, not that long ago!)
when life was all (well, mostly) fun and laughter;
when bumper-cars were an apt metaphor
for amusement as the fruit of simple pleasures,
being the chiefest pursuit that hearts raced after
goin’ ‘round an’ ‘round,
chasing others ‘round and, catching them,
runnin’ them to ground,
and (with no pretense or sense of trying to avoid them,
though inflicting no harm) crashing into them.

Yet time, inexorably, marches on, standing not still ‘til
things change,
life’s scenery, torn and rearranged,
life’s once, past-tense sense
becoming a new, nowadays nonsense,
marked by the closing of a park…

Another apt metaphor,
e’en more, for the embittering of pleasures,
where chasing, catching, crashing…

(whether, formerly thought to be reserved only for sanctioned battlefields,
now, truly, long ago and ev’ry day took, takes place
on street corners and in alleys,
in penitentiaries,
on lynching-trees,
in schools,
in churches, synagogues, and mosques,
in homes and bedrooms,
in newsrooms,
in the firmaments of government,
in nature’s defilement,
still, with no pretense or sense of trying to avoid)

…were, are intended to inflict hurt;
and all, any innocence,
by violence,
on these savage, sacrificial crosses of change,
long since was, is toss’d
and fore’er lost.


Photograph: My brother, Wayne Roberts Abernathy (right) and me in a bumper car at the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park (1927-1978) near St. Louis, Missouri (c. 1958).

4 thoughts on “Ages of Amusement?

  1. Dear Paul,

    The photograph is priceless. The earnestness in your face; the excitement in your brother’s, the joy in both, captured and framed in a place and in a moment that most of the world, to its permanent impoverishment, allowed to slip by almost completely unnoticed in c. 1958.

    But someone – your father? mother? uncle? friend? – blessedly thought to preserve it for those of us here sixty years hence. It now poignantly accompanies your cry of grief that echoes for the obliteration of innocence sacrificed on the altar of … what? What is it in us that still demands the offering up of promise, hope, light? What is it that ever chooses – inflicts! – a bottomless void, when such faces could and should gather to light humankind’s path through even the deepest night?

    I mourn with you over the crosses that proliferate day by day beyond all sense and beyond all compassion, beyond all our thoughts and prayers. I have begun to notice that battlefields never stay in one place; once we tolerate them where we think they are needed, they migrate to other places where the need is not obvious, and then, like a malignancy, they invade our back yards and our amusement parks and our schools and our streets and alleyways, even our homes. Once we open wide our consciousness and welcome the “otherness” that battlefields depend upon, otherness seems to acknowledge no reason to stay in circumscribed circumstances and seeks new, more ordinary times and places to attach itself and new everymen and everywomen to infect with suspicion, unfounded fears, resentments, and outright hatred. It becomes, I fear, epidemic.

    How do we get back to bumper cars? How do we learn how to channel even our aggressive energies into something that can ultimately end in joy rather than tears? Life rather than death? Love rather than emptiness?

    Thank you for this, Paul. It grieves me and calls me to transformative thinking.

    Much love,



  2. Paul,
    OH MY!!!!!! I agree with Karen! That photo of you and Wayne is absolutely priceless!! I felt such joy looking at it!! I’d give anything to go back to that time!! As I believe you know, one of activities Mom can still participate in is looking at old photos. They make her smile and take her back to times she can still remember.

    These days there are moments I wouldn’t mind having dementia, so that like my Mom I would be oblivious to all of the horrible things going on in the world today!!

    Times change as you said but it sure would be fantastic if we could go back to the bumper cars where bumping into each other lasted less than 3 minutes and there was no permanent pain. I don’t think we have a clue right now how damaging our current state of “say or do whatever you fell like to another person” will be in the long room. Lots more people will need therapy. Words really do hurt and you can’t just walk away laughing like we can at the end of the bumper car ride.

    Maybe we all need to go to an amusement park and ride the rides that bring us joy and make us laugh. We should ride with folks who may have hurt us in the past, using the amusement park as our common ground and a place to start dialogue. You would think that a church would be a great place for such dialogue but we’ve proven that the churches these days can be divisive too. I think back to the amusement parks I’ve been in since Kendal was born and in every case all ages, ethnicities and religions running and jumping together enjoying themselves. But eventually everyone returns back to their homes and lives and the hurt and pain we inflict on each other begins again.

    Like Karen I’ll be thinking a lot this week and my focus will be just how to start because nothing seems to have worked so far, but an amusement park isn’t a bad place to start.

    Much love!!


  3. My beloved sisters, as always, you, each and both, in your comments stir and deepen my thinking, my feeling about observations I have made, concerns I have, wonderments that amaze and worries that disturb me.

    In this, Karen, your word about the malignancy of the spirit of battlefields that spreads throughout the human arena into all aspects of our being and living and, Loretta, your image, doubtless, through the eyes of your precious granddaughter, of the thrill of amusement parks being a place to redeem the times are wonderfully inspiring to me…

    Both of your words call me to contemplate the power, verily, the staying power of hope. For how is it that folk in the most dire of circumstances – for example, chained in the despair of institutional slavery or facing the death-chambers of the Holocaust or driven from native lands by heedless governmental authorities, whether Native Americans or Palestinians or…or…or (we, sadly, can go on and on) – who yearn for freedom and many of whom die in the sorry course of their dreams being, at first, deferred, then crushingly denied, are able and willing to continue to clutch the ideal of their betterment. I believe it is hope, that capacity and willingness to behold that which has yet to come to be. Perhaps it is that only in the darkest moments can the ideal of light be seen most clearly. If that is true, then, I think, it means that hope is eternal; hope cannot die, hope cannot be killed, though the one who hopes, indeed, can be destroyed. In this sorrowful wonderment, I rest…in hope.

    Love you,


  4. AND thanks for enjoying the photo of Wayne and me!


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