What matters?

OK, I am now officially falling apart at the seams. Maybe not even the seams, just sort of bursting out of the usual container. Metaphorically, that is not a bad thing. Realistically, and even logistically, it’s a bit unsettling. No, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass.

I’ve been dealing for the past nearly three weeks with this broken tooth and the resulting aesthetic that brings to mind a cattle call for extras in the movie “Deliverance”. This is not the rendering of a make-up artist, though – my teeth have literally fallen apart. They’ve never been all that great, and never been taken care of all that well, but damn.

The dentist did a whole lof of studying and contemplating and deliberation in concocting a plan of action, which involves another appointment more ten days from now. I suppose they had to order parts? This feels a bit like what happens when my truck needs repairs, and I bring it to some people who confer and do things I cannot understand. The problem is resolved, however, and I drive off unburdened of multiple layers of my financial security. That will be the end result of this dental journey – they will fix the problem by doing things I don’t understand, then relieve me of several hundred (or thousand) dollars, parts and labor included. And yes, I am grateful that I have the ability to have a solution, but again…damn.

This morning when I woke up, courtesy of the canine alarm, I reached for my glasses before getting up. And the left arm of the frames detached itself from the rest of the apparatus. I think it’s a question of a screw that has fallen out, but I couldn’t see well enough to make that out. So, here I sit peering through frames that fortunately still rest on my nose, but without a left arm. Damn.

As I write this, I am sipping on a fresh cup of coffee but fully aware that an aroma is wafting its way toward me. It’s not the fragrant aroma of freshly brewed coffee, however. It’s the fresh deposit of this skanky little mutt who delights in making regular transactions of this nature whenever she can. Even after having been outside. Even after having been fussed at, screamed at, forced to run cowering under the bed. Damn.

So, I am retreating into the recesses of my thoughts for a bit. Reality can wait a few moments for me to return. I’m not able to make a contribution at this time. I’ve got…nothing right now. So, I will drink my coffee and go to my happy place where there I really don’t need glasses and my teeth are perfect and my dog is well trained and obedient. Yeah.

For some reason, in the midst of all the logistical chaos of this morning, I had an unwelcome memory of the day my mother died. I had not even made it to her bedside yet, but that day was a certifiable nightmare. It was early morning, and I had arrived at the airport for the scheduled flight that would take me to the end of her life. There was a problem, however, a massive problem – the airport had shut down because of a power outage and it was just a mess. I was standing in a long line of people, in sever pain because my back and right hip were trying to go in a different direction than every other part of my body, and the gravity of possibly not making it to my mother before she died was crushing. I was alone, as usual, and I stood there crying silently in that line, defeated, and powerless.

After about an hour in the line, I had finally inched my way within arm’s length of the ticket counter, and there was some malfunction and we were informed there would be a delay. I vocalized, in my inside voice, a spontaneous but sarcastic comment about having all the time in the world for them to get things moving again. The man in front of me, a tall 40-something white guy, turned to me and said, “I know you’re upset, but we’re all having to wait, so … I mean you’re almost to the counter, but we all have to wait.”

Hmmm. I had no words for this icon of compassion at that moment. My thoughts were, immediately, “#%^@ YOU, ASSHOLE! My mother is actively dying, at this moment, so shut your insensitive mouth.” But nothing came out, and everyone was spared a hysterical woman in an Academy-award winning monologue illustrating the anatomy of homicidal rage stemming from grief and powerlessness. As usual, I knew that I needed to get on that flight more than I needed to kick that guy in the balls, so I remained silent. But it was difficult.

For me to remember this on at this point, on this day, when my mother has been dead since 2017, is beyond interesting. What’s even more interesting is that I cannot remember that guy’s face, but I remember that he was tall and white and a man. That’s what I remember. And he was quite surely an asshole. It intrigues me, however, that I remember his race and gender, and the memory seems to be somehow underpinned by that information. It’s a post-traumatic memory, and I remember the emotion of it all, but it seems important for me to remember race and gender. All these years later.

I don’t know where I want to go with this memory, not sure it means anything in terms of those points of remembrance. For some reason, it feels significant, though, and I have a feeling it will come to me later why it’s significant. Why I still have this pin in a map that says “tall white man, asshole” – not “insensitive guy, day my mother died” or maybe even “airport nightmare, day my mother died”. I will reflect on this a lot more, because the first things coming to mind are that I’m still holding on to an identity as a victim, as a racial and gender minority. This is where I go when I am powerless, it seems. I was powerless not because some tall white man said something insensitive, but because there was an accident on the Interstate near the airport that knocked out power to the entire area and shut down air travel for several hours. Interesting.

So, looking more at where I go when I am feeling powerless is somewhat interesting. Only somewhat interesting, because it feels like something fundamental, foundational, close to my core beliefs. I am not entirely sure I like that, but more importantly I am not entirely sure that doesn’t inform my reality on other levels that are seemingly not connected. That is a very wordy way of saying that I’m not sure I’ve dealt with my internalized oppression as well as I think I have.

While all this internal dialogue is going on, I’m listening to CNN in the background. They are talking about COVID, and the fact that Louisiana has the second highest infection rate in the nation, and there’s at least one hospital in the state capiral of Baton Rouge that is out of ICU beds. They are asking people in the hospital why they didn’t get vaccinated, because nearly 100% of the people hospitalized now are those who are unvaccinated. One guy said he didn’t have time. Another lady said she just wanted to wait for more evidence of how people would fare after being vaccinated, but she ran out of time. Sorry to say that I understand the “I didn’t have time” explanation way better than “I wanted to wait and see”. Wait and see WHAT? See yourself in the hospital?

We seem to give life ultimatums, and I suppose that is a way of believing that you have power. One of the tag lines in recover is “life on life’s terms”. Before I got into recovery, I resisted that with every fiber of my being. If the world told me “no”, I was going to show it that I could make it “yes”. This was a total illusion, of course, but it made me feel somewhat better in those days to feel that I was defying the odds, doing things everybody said I couldn’t do. Some of that was the hubris of youth, of course, but it was the hubris of an alcoholic youth. Addicts are notorious for bargaining with the Universe. We don’t want to see the life we know, the life that is not working, die. It’s a grieving process, in slow motion, and we don’t know we’ve already lost something.

When COVID reared it’s spiky head in the public consciousness more than a year ago, we had no vaccine. People cried out for a vaccine, for something with which to fight the scourge. Now we have a vaccine. And people refuse to receive it. What gives, folks? When the vaccine was made available, there was a great deal of angst and opinion wrangling and of course politics, but I went to every doctor I have and asked them what I should do. Without exception, they all said, “Get the vaccine. As soon as you can, however you can, whichever one you can.” So I did that. I don’t pretend this gives me immunity, but it’s the best chance I have. That’s it. Just like the flu shot – it’s mitigates my risk of getting a sever case of a virus that wants to kill me. I’ll take whatever I can get.

Aside from watching people in Louisiana fighting for their lives, and other people fighting tooth and nail to quell the vaccine resistance, people in Tennessee simply lost their minds over all of this. The governance in some counties looked at their infection rates, and decided the best course of action was to reinstate mask mandates. So they did. And people went out of their minds, making nonsensical charges about constitutionality and violation of personal rights. They went out of their minds, threatening officials who promoted the mask mandates, and even citizens who agreed with the mandates.

I cannot quite understand the rage that has resulted from telling people to wear a mask for some portion of their time in the presence of other people. Not when you go to sleep. Not when you are making dinner. Not when you are in your car. Just when you’re interacting with other people you don’t live with. It’s a piece of fabric that covers the nose and mouth. It’s not a weapon of mass destruction, and it’s not permanent. Get a grip, people. Chasing someone out of a public meeting because they believe that is a little over the top. Screaming at them “We know who you are, and we know where you live, and we’re coming for you!” is, well, just nuts.

“We’re coming for you” is a lot of the rhetoric that was hurled at the January 6th insurrection, apparently meant to instill fear in the hearts of politicians they’d named, those who disagreed with their view of what should be happening in the country. “We’re coming for you”. Coming to do what? Coming to kill? Exactly what are you coming to do? Be clear. You can’t kill everyone you disagree with – just like I can’t. There will always be more. You can’t kill an ideology, or passion, or a way of thinking.

The attempts to wield power by intimidation and murder have been been going on for centuries. The Crusades, the Holy Roman Empire, Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, Sadaam Hussein, Idi Amin. It’s about power. It’s about do as I say, or I will simply kill you. Conformity and compliance is worth far more than your life. You should know where you stand, and where you stand is only important to a political system as far as it serves to support the system. It’s not personal. The agents of the system ay seem to be personality-driven, but it’s only the system making sure that it survives. We’re living in the Hall of Mirrors, and things are not as they seem.

People are born and die every day. Every single day. How they are born and how they die is really irrelevant to the overall population. Our personal ties to the living and the dead notwithstanding, organic functions like viruses and bacteria know nothing about the lives they take because they are not sentient. Every living thing has one purpose – survival. The only reason there are variants of the corona virus that causes COVID is because the corona virus is surviving. That’s what it does, no more and no less.

We humans are a consortium of cellular functions, and we have the same goal – survival. We like to pretend that we are very far above that base level of existence, because of our higher sentience, but perhaps we are not. I think out sentience merely complicates our efforts to survive. When people commit hate crimes, there is some level on which they feel their survival is threatened. Whether that’s reality, or not, is irrelevant. They believe they will somehow be destroyed, cease to be, by the object of their hatred. I get it.

When Dylan Roof shot nine people in that church in South Carolina, he told the victims that he had no choice. “They” were killing and raping people, presumably “his” people, and he had no choice but to stop them. It made no sense to most of us because the people he killed were not doing anything but reading the Bible, and many of them were older people, but the threat had been implanted in him and it wasn’t going to respond to reason. Timothy McVeigh made a similar decision when he bombed the Federal building in Oklahoma City, saying that he was acting in defense of American liberty and resisting a government that was becoming tyrannical. The September 11th terrorists were in pursuit of a higher ideal, one that was embedded in their religious ideals of how the world should be.

Survival. If you believe your survival is threatened and you feel powerless, you’re going to do whatever you can to bring yourself into power. If you’re a certain personality type, you may act within the confines of the social contract in which you’re contained. If you’re another personality type, you become a pilot and hijack airliners to crash them into commercial buildings. We’re coming for you. We know where you live, and we’re coming for you. These should be chilling words coming from the mouths of Americans, and directed to other Americans.

If anybody should be coming for anybody else, maybe we should be coming for ourselves. Where have we gone? It’s very easy to lose yourself in these days of non-stop sensory input. It’s very easy to lose yourself in someone else’s web, in someone else’s vision. It’s very easy to lost yourself and all that you’ve known when you feel powerless and devalued. We need to be coming for ourselves. We know where we live, and we’re coming for … us.

We can do this. We can restore civility, and compassion, and sensitivity. Incivility, insensitivity, and lack of compassion are not relegated to one race, or gender, or ethnicity but we often become distracted by those attributes. I contend that our distraction serves only those who seek to destroy us. We’re not really contributing to our own survival as a species by killing each other. That’s pretty simple. VIruses are not terribly intelligent, because they kill their host. They survive as a genus only because they mutate, evolve, and infect other hosts. Because they’re not sentient, viruses don’t have debates about which of their strains is more desirable or more representative of what they believe is the original and most superior strain. Seriously.

They came for each other. Now what?

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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