Posted to Facbook earlier today…almost lost it, too. I had a near breakdown until I found it again and got it posted!
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
so, what DOES happen to a dream deferred, in Harlem, or in Ferguson, or in Topeka, or in Wilmington, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles? i am sure one could make the case for any of the outcomes the poet lists. At this point, perhaps the dream deferred is all of these simultaneously – dried up, festering, running, stinking, crusting, sagging, and…exploding. Exploding gets our attention more than drying up or festering, although each outcome is painful.
I suppose these are stages of healing…some of them exhibit discoloration, sometimes itchiness, always a sensory reaction that lets you know SOMETHING happened. There is a wound, trying to heal. The body is doing what the body is programmed to do, heal itself. It’s not a voluntary reaction, and it is ultimately a survival mechanism. When the stages are interrupted, however, strange things happen…if the wound remains open for too long, the body’s healing mechanisms cannot activate, the white corpuscles do not gather and promote coagulation of the blood, and eventual production of healing fluid and possibly blistering, designed to protect the wound from further damage.
If the wound remains exposed for too long, bacteria and other nasties seize an opportunity to feed, and the fluid turns to pus, and there is an invading infection that adds insult to injury, quite literally. The secondary insult often goes very far out of control, and the body can’t handle it without external assistance, like antibiotics, antifungals, or other medicinals. But, there’s still a chance for wound recovery, for the body to reconcile its injury, for the body to heal.
There’s still a chance for healing, though, unless the wound is opened again, the injury is not allowed to heal and then repeated. The body will continue its attempt to heal, but there is an escalation in the response and it takes a toll on the overal health of the entire system. Sepsis may set in, and if not arrested, leads to septic shock and eventually death of the tissue and possibly the body in its entirety. A person suffering from septic shock can be considered “not in their right mind” – the infection can make one dizzy, disoriented, confused, nauseous, pale. clammy.
So…it is entirely possible that, at this point in our societal development (or lack thereof), we are suffering from what amounts to septic shock caused by the unhealed infection of toxic racism, egregious intolerance, and superlatively heinous arrogance and hubris. In so many cases, we are simply not willing to entertain the notion that we may be off course, that our aim is not true, that we are simply … wrong. That we may be injuring and re-injuring and re-injuring the same part of our body that nags at us, hurts a little, itches at times, turns blue and yellow and looks rather unpleasant, but…the pain and the discomfort are not quite strong enough to stop us.
At this point, though, maybe the infection has gotten out of hand, and we have symptoms. We are not in our right minds. We have parts of the body politic arising in protest over the killing of unarmed Black and Brown people, the killing of transgendered persons, the inhuman treatment of certain marginalized people in our communities (the mentally ill, the addicted, the poor). Equally and opposite, we have insurrection and vigilantes and extremist militias. We have a gun for everyone and nearly everyone with a gun, and we have new and creative ways to kill each other with and without guns. And then we have to notice that we are not healing.
We are in need of medication, we bandage the wound, we achieve some measure of infection control…and we feel a little better. We see a little bit of change and a little less pain, a change in the discoloration. We feel better. We do not, however, get to the end stage of the healing…the deep healing and the scabbing over of the original wound. Even if we see a scab beginning to form, some of us declare the healing complete and rip off the scab or neglect to protect it further, so that it is torn off. We want to move on, and we are irritated when we’re told to wait…just wait…it’s not time yet. Keep up the protections and the medication.
When the wound is not fully healed, the risk of re-injury is high, and…the entire healing process has to begin again. This is what keeps happening in our country, in my opinion. We often recognize there are certain wounds that have been inflicted on the collective consciousness, the collective heart of us…slavery, racism, white supremacy and the violent resistance to civil rights for marginalized identities (women, people of color, GLBTQIA+ people, ethnic and religious minorities). We recognize those wounds, but unless they are painful enough, unless they engender a sufficiently disruptive and painful response, we ignore them. If we can’t ignore them, we attempt to simply kill the pain, with numbing agents or bandages that hide the wound.
We have to recognize that our goal should be healing, not simply feeling better. Those remedies are, at best, temporary reprieves; unless there is debriding and disinfection of the wound, it will recur and never truly heal. And therein lies the rub…we don’t go quite far enough with our healing, because…it’s unpleasant. It hurts. Debriding a wound that has nasty debris embedded in tender skin hurts. Debriding a burn to eliminate the dead tissue hurts.
There can never be full healing without going through the necesary steps to clean out the unhealthy agents. When we stop just short of completely, to the best of our ability, cleaning out the wound, to the point that we encounter a clean, raw, and tender surface that can host new growth, we sabotage the entire healing process. And we will be operating at far less than our full vitality, we will be vaguely ill, there will be an itch that we cannot scratch and a vague pain that we can’t quite get rid of. There will be a mark that won’t fade, no matter what we do. If we never get to the root of the wound, we can never heal.