Friday, July 24, 2020

Newsscapes

One of the blessings of our seven-day odyssey was detaching ourselves from the news. Just living each day immersed in what we directly saw, heard and felt. Being wholly present with each other, with our own bodies and minds. That is a rare experience in our current reality.

Think about it. Until the invention of newspapers, the news was found in the daily gossip at the community well, the stories of strangers passing through, the scat trails in the forest telling alert hunters which animals had passed through last night. Newspapers were the beginning of tales of things that happened far away, most of which didn’t directly affect the leader or took a long time for the ramifications of who was elected to reach her or his doorstep. An article about a distant war or natural catastrophe evoked a small grunt—“Well, isn’t that interesting” and then folks went back to their life.
Radio changed that a bit, as one could hear the sounds of explosions as the war reporter on-the-spot came into your living room. Then television with its graphic images. Now the 6 o-clock news entered the house more fully clothed and became a part of one’s mental imagery. Kids being pummeled by fire hoses by the local police, snarling dogs, a President in an open car assassinated in full view, a monk in Vietnam burning in front of your eyes, a sole protester in front of a tank in Tianmen square, the twin towers in New York toppling over and over and over again, a cop killing an innocent George Floyd without anyone batting an eye.
 And when the 6 0’clock news changed to the 24/7 variety, the life one wasn’t living, the things that happened outside one’s immediate experience, starting seeping in to become the mind we lived in. One could have a perfectly nice day and be hammered by the printed word, the podcast, the talk show, the Internet stories, the incessant ramblings of a mean-spirited ignorant orange-haired toddler-in-chief endorsed by his heartless Trumpublicans in his efforts to bring the country to its knees to feed his own pathological narcissistic sickness that had spread pandemically to all those who support, excuse, ignore him. 
Yes, the news has become the grand infectious virus we live in. A man sets up a telescope on a street and passer-bys look up at the moon and each expresses awe at this mysterious unfathomable universe of which we are a tiny part. That could be an image to bring us together and for one brief instant, it does. But it is quickly overshadowed by the extremities the news prefers and back we are into the mud of a sick national discourse.
Last night, I was doing a crostic puzzle after a glorious sunset over Lake Michigan, one daughter was reading her kids to sleep, the other reading her book, my wife listening with earphones to her favorite podcast, The Daily. At one point, my daughter nudged me and whispered, “Mom’s crying.”
Now let me be clear. My wife never cries. Even at the funerals of her parents, it was hard for her to shed a tear. And here she began to weep copiously in her whole body. Turns out she had been listening to the news about the alarming fascist response of police and unmarked troops and soldiers in full riot gear in my other daughter’s home town of Portland, the place we left just eight days ago to begin this trip, the place where my grandchildren are being raised, where my black son-in-law stayed behind to work and help people in their suffering in his hard-earned profession as an occupational therapist. She listened to the accounts of the mayor being tear-gassed, the thousand Moms forming a protective blockade in front of the peaceful protesters and still getting tear-gassed, the Dads who joined the protest with leaf blowers to blow the tear gas away. This from a mostly white city joined together in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The combination of the courage, determination and bravery of the protesters, now in their 50thstraight day of protest and the unbelievable fascist response here in the land of the free, brought my wife to her knees and racked her body with sobs. Not easy to witness, but I was so proud of her. This is the level of grief our current situation calls for. Later, I read an account from a reporter who had been in similar armed responses in Bolivia, Brazil, Beirut and he was affirming that we had taken a new, unprecedented step in our slide toward fascism. 
And please don’t get me wrong. This level of government-sanctioned violence, from slavery to lynchings to the Birmingham fire-hoses to George, Breanna, Ahmaud, Sandra, Tamir, Trayvon and hundreds more, has been going on against black folks forever. Tear-gas and rubber bullets against white moms is mild compared to that and the Portland folks know it. But even as the best-selling books are about how whites can be anti-racists and we have evolved to new levels of awareness, this last gasp of protecting greed, privilege, white supremacy is indeed alarming. If it can make my wife sob in fear and empathy, you know this shit’s getting real.
It’s a beautiful morning and the calm lakes beckons us into its waters. That’s real. But the Trump sign we saw driving up here is also indelibly seared into our soul . Ignoring it is not an option, but getting dragged down by it, having it wholly dominate our day, doesn’t feel right either. Somehow the two are connected and we have to find the thread. This lake and land and the beauties of being wholly human are what we are trying to protect, my mixed-race granddaughter playing in the sand and spontaneously proclaiming “I love me!”, free from the limitations and hatred white supremacy will be throwing at her, is what the Portland Moms are standing up against. 
You can tell I have no easy answer here. This is just to report that when my wife weeps about what’s going on, we all better pay attention. 

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