Another rainy Sunday, here in America. My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I … of thee I … grieve. Mourn. Wail. A COVID relief bill has just passed in the House of Representatives, with not one vote of support from GOP members. At nearly the same time, people were flocking to witness the unveiling of a gold likeness of the former POTUS, snapping pictures of themselves with it, cheesy smiles all around (including the idol). At exactly the same time, Americans were contemplating how they would eat in the next 24-hour period. They were juggling meager resources to provide basic life essentials for themselves and their families, things like shelter and medication, no big whoop. But let’s have the privileged line up for a photo opportunity with an inanimate symbol of conspicuous consumption, in some bizarre parallel dimension that is not the Twilight Zone, but America…in 20221…a dimension of sight, and sound, and competing planes of reality based on outdated notions of worth and value and success. This is the flypaper zone…or possibly the roach motel…once you enter, you can’t get out.
I suppose that’s the question I have – can we get out of the roach motel? SHOULD we get out? I’m sure many of us would unequivocally say yes, of course we should get out…WE should get out, but not…those people over there. Not the ones who steal, or use drugs, or the kind of crazy ones that we can’t trust…the ones who won’t work, who think everybody should have health care. Not them. And to be fair, there’s an equal and opposite faction that believes those with disposable income, and good salaries, and entitlements like health care and life insurance…THEY are the ones who should have their feet glued down and make no further progress. Who wins? Who decides the winner? This is when a super-hero is needed, but which one? AquaMan? WonderWoman? Super Man. Bat Man…with or without the Boy Wonder. Black Panther? There would be a new civil war over the nature of super-hero rescue, and … we would be doomed. What an ignominious vision of the future.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, like within the first 36 hours, the Red Cross distributed direct aid to survivors in the form of fixed limit debit cards that could be used to purchase food, clothing, gas, and to satisfy other immediate needs. My mother, who was near 70 at the time, dutifully stood in line for a card, and they asked her a few questions about how many people were with her, and some personal data. She answered truthfully (you’d have to have know my mother, she was a VERY good girl) and they handed her a $200 card. When she reported this to my oldest cousin, her niece, the firebrand of the family said, and I quote, “Oh, HELL no.” and took my mother by the hand to revisit the folks in charge. My cousin, who is not a terribly large woman, drug my mother back up there, no waiting in line required, and angrily confronted the “management” about giving such a paltry sum to a senior citizen who had nobody to look out for her and no other resources for who knows how long. Dammit. My mother came back with another card, with double the spending limit.
I would have left with the $200 card and probably starved under a bridge a few days later. Who decides, and how? I was raised on the credo that “It’s not what you know, but WHO you know”. Who decides? Who do you have to know? How much is it going to cost to get what you need – not what you want, but what you need? My mother eventually came here to NC, a bedraggled waif in oversized sweat pants and sloppy tee-shirt after the hurricane, because she was basically homeless, and penniless. The debit card had long since been exhausted, and it was still less than a week past the hurricane. I shudder to think what might have become of her if I had not been able to provide a place for her to escape; it would be nearly a year before she was able to return to New Orleans and begin the process of rebuilding (her choice). There were literally horror stories about people with kids, and infirm family members, who did not make out nearly as well…I’m not sure anyone has properly counted the deaths brought on by the trauma after the trauma as people ran into one wall after another in the effort to recover. Some never did, some have never been able to go home, the heart of the city is still broken.
There are some parts of a broken heart that can never be restored…the cracks remain, and the life blood leaks. There’s a tenuous hold on life once you realize how fragile it really is. You also realize there’s just no such thing as getting things “back to normal, back to the way it used to be”. Time has marched on while you were down, while your life was in pieces and other people argued about what to do with it. If you thought you were powerless before this catastrophe, you don’t have words to describe this fresh, new Hell. Nobody should dare wonder how or why the rate of opioid overdose has skyrocketed. Nobody.
I am wondering (always a bad idea, I am beginning to believe) where my mother is right now. Do people who have passed on do so with their full consciousness intact, or is their essence merely reconstituted as part of the Whole? Of course, there is really no answer to this, and I am welcome to believe whatever I choose to believe. As is true for everyone. I go back and forth with this question, and I’m sure I am not alone.
At this point in my life, I don’t require a definitive answer, or conclusion, about this. I don’t need to check this off my bucket list and go on to the next item, which is probably something experiential and entirely selfish. I don’t have a huge issue with not having answers to some of life’s more esoteric questions, but I do require that I’m allowed to choose what I believe. I require the agency to do my own exploration, and to change my mind. Repeatedly change my mind. What I can’t tolerate is choosing to believe something on the basis of believing the source of the information rather than the conclusion itself. This is why I can’t be a member of a credal religion. If I choose to believe in a deity, or some statement of belief and a historical or philosophical account, it’s because I believe in that philosophy and that world view. Not because I believe in a human who tells me about/explains, teaches that accounting, and narrates that world view. Not because that is all I have ever known about how the world functions and my place in that. Not because I had no questions, didn’t debate philosophical inconsistencies (and theologies are rife with them), came to my own conclusions. I came here with a brain, and the least I can do is use it (sometimes badly, but whatever).
The role of the blind, unquestioning acceptance of religious tenets has been translated to political arenas successfully, and that’s not new. That’s not a necessarily dangerous situation, until it is. Until it becomes the rationalization and justification of things like Matthew Shepard’s murder, of things like Ahmad Arbery’s murder, of lynchings, of cross burnings, of coup d’etat (successful or merely attempted). Not until it becomes someone’s interpretation of religious “law” and justification of beheading journalists and supposed enemies of the state. Until we begin to manipulate reality, and simply say no when the facts say yes, or yes when the facts and the data and the evidence says no. Until we begin to argue about the definition of fact, the burden of proof for evidence, and ultimately debate what is truth. I’m not sure truth is in the eyes of the beholder. That’s beauty. That’s subjective. Facts are not supposed to be subjective – that’s why they are facts, as opposed to beliefs, or thoughts. Just because I think something doesn’t make it true, except in these strange times. Apparently, I can define something as true when I have enough relational power to have a critical mass of support that agrees. There’s something wrong with that picture, in my not so humble opinion.