Sometimes, you wake up in the morning and you’re pretty sure that the whole world’s going to hell in a handbasket.
I’m sorry, did I say you? I meant me.
For me it comes after news like Boston– instances of violence that play tiny parts in a larger culture of violence that go largely unchecked, if not perpetuated, by lawmakers and lobbyists who also export our particular brand of violence all over the world. Hate, violence, fear, insecurity…byproducts of deeply entrenched systems of oppression.
And maybe if it were just invisible hands pulling strings on our marionette bodies it would be forgivable or at the very least possible of being overlooked.
But soon enough you start realizing that life’s complicated not only through the television screen, but also in the power dynamics, politics, bureaucracy and bullshit of every day interactions between people. The injustices that we condemn in international and statewide policies we seem quick to turn around and replicate on a microcosm scale with our neighbors, acquaintances, coworkers, friends and family. Neighborhood kids create caste systems, teachers pick favorites, men do disproportionately lower amounts of housework and child rearing compared to women, etc.
And maybe once we realize that our marionette stage was built for some people to have more power than others, for some to succeed and for some to fail, we could accept it and find reprieve in the song and dance.
But soon enough we’d start realizing that our own synapses betray us. Even our best attempts to forget about the politics, institutions, neighbors, and acquaintances result in us believing what our puppeteers have told us about ourselves.
And feeling the weight that these issues are not just big dark clouds in the sky, or the words we exchange with other humans, but rather things that have seeped under our skin and into our brains and have socialized us to actively maintain these oppressive systems?
Well, that’s enough to just make you curl up in your bed and call it a day. Which is what I did for awhile.
And then I got a phone call reminder to come to my grandma and grandpa choir practice (I’m the youngest one by 30 years, but have as many as 53 years separating me from other members).
When I walked in they started a sparkling rendition of Happy Birthday and showered me with fake scented flowers, duck shaped salt and pepper shakers, and an embroidered towel. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate and watched a video from a performance of theirs from over a year ago. They chalked up the extreme pitchiness to the poor quality of the sound system and nodded their heads.
“Well, we weren’t so bad.”
They applauded, sang and laughed together. Inevitably, they complained. (Paraguayans obviously don’t have the market cornered on complaining, I think it’s human nature, but they do say that They complain so as not to lose the custom/tradition)
And then one woman kept complaining and listed all of the things she had done that day: “and then I woke up at 6 am to prepare the mate, and then I swept the whole house, and then I cleaned the bathroom, and will you believe they haven’t even picked up the trash in weeks? And then I made lunch for my grandson, and he is seriously getting so fat and lazy, and then I washed all of the laundry by hand…”
Her list seemed to be getting too extensive and the others tried to interrupt her to remind her to thank god for being able to be so hard working and mobile at her age.
She raised her voice, seemingly not listening. “And then I started preparing all of the meat for dinner, all by myself I tell you. And I had to figure out who was going to take care of my granddaughter while my daughter went to her classes, because she’s just so lazy she doesn’t want to go anywhere…
And that is why I’m happy to be alive and to be here,” she concluded.
Her crowd didn’t miss a beat: “And that is why we’re happy to be alive and happy to be here celebrating, Happy Birthday Molly!” the group responded in unison.
Wait a minute, that was a left turn out of nowhwere. It seems like they know something I don’t.
One man leaned over: “This is what you have to look forward to in 50 years.”
Honestly, I’m not sure what it all means. If anyone has some answers they’d like to share I’m all ears. For now, I think it might have something to do with this:
If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living. To sit on the front steps–whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city–and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color.
And I hardly need to tell you that in the 19- or 24-inch view of the world, cleanliness has long since eclipsed godliness. Soon we’ll all smell, look, and actually be laboratory clean, as sterile on the inside as on the out. The perfect consumer, surrounded by the latest appliances. The perfect audience, with a ringside seat to almost any event in the world, without smell, without taste, without feel–alone and unhappy in the vast wasteland of our living rooms. I think that what we actually need, of course, is a little more dirt on the seat of our pants as we sit on the front stoop and talk to our neighbors once again, enjoying the type of summer day where the smell of garlic travels slightly faster than the speed of sound.
Work on ourselves, work with our neighbors, work on the world?
I certainly don’t have any answers, but I am glad that I crawled back out of my bed today…and I suppose that’s a start.