Today

When I was younger, much younger, in the 70s, there were all kinds of feel-good icons, quotes, songs. God is love. Have a Coke and a smile. The “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” song – the ultimate feel-good ditty. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Ah, the 70s. Colors, longer skirts, weird hair. People were just coming out of that hangover from the 60s, I think. I was still pissed that I wasn’t old enough to go to Woodstock. My whole world was falling apart in 1971, and I didn’t quite understand why everybody wanted to be smiling. Today is the first day of the rest of your life really kind of made me a little nuts.

So, I get the point – but today being the first day of the rest of my life irked me, because it was trite. It tried way too hard to be clever and was annoyingly optimistic. I saw nothing optimistic or hopeful about the rest of my life at that point. I wanted to listen to Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin and Timothy Leary. I definitely wanted to tune in, turn on, and drop out. I wanted nothing to do with what was going on around me. It just all seemed like a big pain in the arse.

Today, I refuse to believe it’s the first day of anything. It’s just today, and it is what it is. I can make it be something, or I can make it be nothing. I can start it over whenever I want to, because time is a human construct, and I don’t have to keep defining the present by how bad the past was. It’s just a revolution around the Sun, our guiding Star. The Sun does what it does, and I do what I do. I can’t control the Sun, but I can control me. Or so I’m told.

When it was the 70s, and I had no clue about how the world worked, how life worked, how anything worked. I did not have many choices, because I was a kid and totally dependent on my parents for survival, for stuff like food and shelter and clothes and teaching me how to walk through the world. Well, that last part didn’t go all that smoothly, but I survived.

I can’t say that any day I spent in the 70s was the first day of any of this, so enough with the feel-good crap. There have been many first days. There have been many final days, too. Whatever it is that I’m doing, or wherever I am in my life, I never know which day will be the final day of some part of it all. I learned yesterday that a lady I knew had died. I didn’t know she was ill, but they said it was really quick, like less than a month since she had gotten sick and then died. I was trying to remember the last time I saw her, and I couldn’t place it exactly. Whenever it was, I had no idea that would be the last time I ever saw her. I don’t guess we ever know.

Maybe when we are at the point of death with someone, I suppose we know that we’ll never see them again. When the last breath comes, the last heartbeat, we know that at least in this lifetime, we’ll never see them again. But, I’ve never had that experience, to be present when someone takes the last breath. I wonder if that changes the knowing when it’s the final time. Maybe, maybe not. I guess it depends on whether or not I believe in life after death on this plane of existence, and I do.

But, even with life after death, the whole experience of never seeing someone again would seem to be irrelevant. Would there be cognitive recognition if I was somehow to meet up with my mother again, before I died? I’m sure there would be no physical resemblance to the woman I knew, who gave birth to me. It would be her essence that survives, the spare essence of spirit that makes us who we are, deep down, beyond our consciousness and cognition. She could be he when next we meet. She could be of a different race, ethnicity. She could be 6-fee tall. She could be non-human. Wouldn’t THAT be something?

The point is, I cannot even begin to imagine how our stardust might recombine after our human bodies have decayed and returned to the Earth. My imagination is not that stellar. (see what I did there? stardust…stellar. I amaze even myself at times.) Perhaps that is what imagination really is – I don’t know so I’ll make up a fantastic story about how it might be if I knew. Some stories are better than others, I guess. Genesis is a little problematic, but babies popping out of Zeus’ forehead is pretty far out there.

Creativity, I guess, is the common thread of all progress. Some of us create fantastic imaginary worlds, that cannot possibly exist…but can they? We have always told stories, to explain what we cannot understand, to recount actual events, to revise history, to keep history alive. We are story tellers. Whether it’s the one that got away, or you should have seen the other guy, we tell stories. Recounting facts is also a story, but not particularly entertaining. We demand entertainment, I suppose.

The last President was a master story teller. There is a thin line between stories and lies, and sometimes he crossed that line in dramatic and unapologetic fashion. His story telling gave rise to story telling about his story telling, and now we are telling stories about the stories about his story telling. Entertainment. We demand to be entertained. Left alone with only what’s inside our heads, we tell stories to ourselves, and find that we need an audience. Nobody wants to have their stories bounce of the inside of the skull.

Story telling is necessary. I get that. When we can’t tell the difference between a story and a lie, there could be a problem. A story can embellish the facts, stretch the facts, make the facts appear favorably or unfavorably, but…there is still a basis of fact. A lie has no basis in fact. If someone told us that the corona virus that causes COVID-19 does not exist, there is no factual basis. The virus does exist. If someone tells me that dogs do not exist, that is a lie because we know that dogs do exist. If someone tells me that dogs were once bipedal and had magical powers, that’s a story because…the footing of the story relies on dogs, which exist.

I enjoy a good story as much as anyone, but not when I need facts. Not when I need to know whether or not my second COVID shot is stimulating my body to produce antibodies that work against the disease. I don’t have time to be entertained, because my health is at stake. I don’t want a medical professional to answer my question about my antibody production with a story about little cartoon virus warriors sleeping on the job until awakened by the arrival of evil corona virus demons. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The need to be constantly entertained seems to me an outcry against being left alone with…our selves. There was once a time when I couldn’t stand to be alone, with only myself for company. I wasn’t a good friend, and could not stand having nothing to interrupt my invasive and errant thoughts. It has taken me a really long time to come to a place where I can be at peace in the company of others, as well as being alone. I don’t have to run any longer.

It’s a futile attempt to run from yourself. You don’t have far to go, and you don’t get very far. I became the anti-self. I simply rejected everything I had learned, everything I knew,. I wasn’t able to say, “I don’t believe in that any more, I don’t do that any more, and here’s why.” All I could throw out was, “Eff all that! People are just trying to control me!”

Well, there’s an intellectual argument for ya. When in doubt, I always came to the same place – people are trying to control me, and I can make my own decisions. That’s very nice. Some of my best decisions got me into more trouble than anything, so left to my own devices, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Some people are inappropriate and get totally out of bounds when dealing with me, but I can evaluate that and reject it on a case-by-case basis. I don’t need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater in rejecting everything summarily. Live and learn.

Sometimes I feel that’s what is happening in the country today. People are fixated on the rebellion of not needing anyone, not wanting any help, being left alone. But, when the sloppy stuff hits the fan, every one of us wants help. With billions of us on this planet, there is literally no room for anyone to be “left alone”. We have no choice but to learn how to live together, no matter how much we babble on about our rights and our liberties. This most recent health crisis has shown us that, even when our denial and childish rejection of facts is all we have to contribute.

The jury is out in the Derek Chauvin case. I hope they will reach a decision soon, because people are sitting on the edges of their seats to see this end. It needs to be over. People are posturing already, with “Well, if the verdict is not <insert verdict here>, there’s gonna be trouble. This is MY country, too!” Thanks for sharing.

I don’t know where nationalism actually came from. I assume it’s just the ancient, limbic tribal instinct of territorialism…protecting the resources you will need to survive. Before industrialization, I believe, there was a slightly more natural flow to this. My village has grown up around this water source…we need that for our people to survive. We might be convinced to share it, but how can this work for all of us? If you just want to take it over, and move us out, there’s going to be a problem. OK, let’s agree that you take the south end of the lake, and we’ll take the north end, and we should be good? OK, let’s do that.

But there’s one more piece hidden under that, at least for me. Why not both groups unite and live together, sharing the water source? Why not just be, oh, um…inclusive? Everybody is a human, everybody is configured in more or less the same way, so why not just share resources and responsibilities? Well, our ways..our tribe…our people…y’all are different. Get too close, and we’ll have to fight. We want our ways to keep going, be passed on to our next generations. If you come in, we’ll lose our “heritage”, the stuff people who look like us have been doing for generations before us. We don’t want to lose that, so you stay over there. Don’t come over here.

I guess nothing much has changed there, since the earliest times. It gets rather interesting here in America, because the folks who are screaming the loudest about their heritage, and proclaiming themselves to be more American than anyone else are the folks who refuse to believe there is no such thing as a “pure” American. There are immigrants, there are indigenous people. That’s really about it. Even the formerly enslaved people were immigrants, at least in my book, they just had no choice in the matter.

I understand territorialism. It’s an animal thing. But we have no real need for it these days, and it just manifests as status quo. Greed seems to have replaced the instinct to secure the most resources in order to survive. We know we can survive, but now it’s down to who survives best, who has the most chickens, who has the biggest range. Those chickens and range areas have been replaced by Escalades, bling, mansions, and private schools. None of that ensures our survival. None.

Perhaps greed has re-wired us to the point that we cannot survive on our own resources any longer. When the lights went out in New Orleans after Katrina, and there was no sewerage, people reverted to some kind of primal state. Shooting guns, sexual assaults, robbery, burglary. Even when reacting to unavailability of everyday things like grocery stores, clothing stores, and restaurants people had no other plan than to restore those immediate depots. Some engaged in looting, taking the opportunity of no law enforcement to steal the big-screen television they’d always wanted. Most, however, rifled through grocery stores and places that stored food in order to provide sustenance for themselves and others.

As I remember all of this unfolding, it occurred to me that no matter how far from everyday survival these people got, they had a tremendous amount of faith. Stealing a big-screen television when you’re standing in water up to your knees implies that you have confidence there will be power once again so that you can enjoy your new acquisition. Stealing a Cadillac sedan implies that you believe standing water will soon recede, and you will be able to drive your luxury vehicle on city streets once again. Somehow, we all knew that it was going to be hard, and it was going to take a while, but we’d be back to “normal” once again. This was not going to kill us.

When people have that sort of grudging faith in an oppressive system, I have to believe they do not understand the links between that new Cadillac, or that new big-screen television, and the condition of their lives that have made it impossible to acquire those items by legal means. The are not connecting the loss of their homes and even loved ones to the systems that abandoned them in a drowning city, the systems that have kept them in the lower echelon of the socio-economic caste. Homes worth upward of a half-million dollars in the French Quarter and the Garden District remained in tact. Homes in the Lakeview area, which is a fairly solid white middle class to upper middle-class area fell victim to some of the drainage system failure, and there was heavy damage in that part of town. In many ways, that was an anomaly.

It’s been this way in New Orleans for a long time. On paper, it makes sense – the areas of town, except for Lakeview, that remained largely undamaged sit on naturally higher ground than the Ninth Ward, and Gentilly, New Orleans East, and the Seventh Ward. All of those areas endured very heavy damage. All of those areas were basically flood plain areas, where poor and Black people have always been forced to settle in order to buy their own homes. The storm had no bias, but the architecture of the socio-economic strata in the city had plenty of inherent bias.

New Orleans is not the only place that can demonstrate inequities like this. Nearly every state in the Union has reserved choice real estate and greater access to resources for its dominant culture residents. Even to this day. The systems are now building on themselves, as generational wealth ensures that a next generation of the privileged will maintain their relative position within the class structure. They will inherit the same choice real estate and greater access to resources their ancestors had. If your parents didn’t have that status, chances are good that you won’t, either.

Nobody has any answers. There are no solutions brewing out in the wilderness, no burning bush to mark a spot where a solution will be made evident. There is only us. Flawed humans with a propensity for greed and violence, and a persistent need for drama and entertainment. I have no doubt this won’t last forever. I have faith that we’ll be in very different circumstances sooner rather than later. We’ll get to enjoy that stolen big-screen television if we can just avoid dropping it into the standing water, and refrain from being heartbroken when we realize that prized booty is obsolete.

We can’t get back to normal. It was never normal. Having people living a 5-minute walk from each other but separated by millions of dollars is not normal. It is usual. It is the ordinary routine of things. But it is not normal. We sleep in the day and work at night, and we couldn’t grow our own food if Mother Nature came down herself and held our hand on the plow. We’re in between who we used to be and who we are going to be, and that is a shaky place to be, because we don’t quite know who we want to be. I believe there are forces at work who DO know what they want us to be. That’s not a good thing. It should be up to us, but so many of us have laid down in the poppy fields (figuratively and quite literally – the opioid crisis is a real thing) and gone to sleep.

Who DO we want to be? Do we just want to be comfortable? Not have to worry about anything, not have to clean up behind ourselves, not have any responsibility for, well…anything? That’s not the real world. That’s not going to happen. If we really do want that life, we can just stop working and invite another world power in to take over. Let’s just hang it up, right now. You can’t have it both ways – getting what you want and having no responsibility for the acquisition of it. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might get what you need. (thanks to Mick Jagger and the Stones)

Storm’s comin’.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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