From left, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Freewheelin’ Frank and Marcetta at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park on Jan. 14, 1967. (Courtesy Gene Anthony/California Historical Society)

From left, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Freewheelin’ Frank and Marcetta at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park on Jan. 14, 1967. (Courtesy Gene Anthony/California Historical Society)

The Summer of Love is over

Not every past has a future. It’s hard to imagine anyone, even in San Francisco, observing a Summer of Love Centennial in 2067. Although we probably won’t be doing this again, it’s worth asking what we learned and what all of this will mean in the future.

This week, Garrison Keillor told me that he considered joining his cousin in San Francisco during the ’60s but changed his mind because he was suspicious of euphoria and wanted too much to be useful.

His earlier self might have been surprised that, 50 years later, we would still have young people dropping out and coming to San Francisco. The clothing, style, culture and ideals of hippies seem oddly persistent. Tourists still want to learn about hippies. That freedom from constraint and conventional responsibilities attracts us.

At the heart of what happened in San Francisco was a response to the war in Vietnam, which ultimately caused the death of 3.5 million people. The draft and the dishonesty of government officials led to a fear and distrust in American life that puts our own current anxieties in perspective. Many young people simply lost faith in the American Dream and wondered if there might be a better way to thrive.

Their desire for exploration and experimentation launched the global psychedelic revolution, which originated here in the days of Ken Kesey’s acid tests. I have seen so much suffering, addiction and death that followed after this new openness to recreational drugs.

But this summer, my friends Joel and James told me what it felt like to listen to bands like Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Charlatans at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms. For both of them, the sense of unity among all the people there was a profoundly spiritual encounter that changed their lives. Although they may experience echoes of the joy and connection they felt back then, neither have been part of anything like it since.

Our spiritual life was changed by the events of those days. The poets Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder brought their interest in Buddhism to thousands of people at the Human Be-In on Jan. 14, 1967. Meditation and yoga practices, which used to seem exotic and strange, are today much more familiar ways to connect our physical and spiritual selves. In the Bay Area, we became more open to learning spiritual wisdom from new sources.

The flower children’s ideals of freedom and equality for all added energy to liberation movements that increased opportunities for women, people with handicaps, LGTBQ people and people of color.

Was the Summer of Love good for children? Did changes in our social mores around sexual experimentation and expression lead to greater human flourishing? Was it ultimately too much a part of the commercial culture that it seemed to criticize? Have the reactions against the excesses of those times made life today worse? We can certainly debate these questions.

Recent criticisms of memorials to confederate army generals put our recent commemorations of the Summer of Love in context. Rather than remembering a war, we are recalling an affirmation of peace. In the face of our rat-race culture, relentlessly committed to achievement, we need this reminder of a spirituality focused on happiness and connection and love.

The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young is the ninth dean of Grace Cathedral.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Advocates with the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition hold a rally outside City Hall before the Board of Supervisors were to vote on a resolution supporting the creation of a public banking charter on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Should San Francisco run its own public bank? The debate returns

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs, pictured at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017, is representing himself in an unusually public police misconduct matter. <ins>(Courtesy Bay City News)</ins>
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Most Read