As I have been my whole life, I’m immersed in other’s stories. Through fiction, non-fiction, poetry, TV, movies, books on tape (well, not exactly tape.) At any one time—like now—I might be listening to an Audible book while walking through the city, reading a book before bed, finding moments to dip into non-fiction, watching documentary films (alongside more fluffy things). At the moment, the above-mentioned include:
• The Island of the Sea Women by Lisa See
• Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
• The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
• The Central Park Five and Freedom Summer.
All are well-written and/or directed/ produced, but each alone and the combination of them all point to one irrefutable conclusion:
We are a horrific species.
Whether it be Korea post-World War II, the entire sordid history of slavery by all its names or today’s news (the President encouraging people to commit voter fraud—well, people, that is, who will vote for him), we are one sorry excuse for decent living beings. Granting us the ability to use the gift of our neo-cortex in service of our basest emotions was the Creator’s biggest mistake. It’s one thing to fight with your siblings, but the organization of and institutionalization of evil just won’t quit. It’s the same, tired, old pitiful story—the leaders who have a hole in their soul amassing power to trample others, the followers who support it and excuse it and carry out the dirty work and then the resisters who keep their heart and intelligence connected and entwined in some laudable moral fiber, only to be shut down and shot down. All five of the stories above follow the same patterns and there are five thousand more, from the South African apartheid to the Nazi era to the Stalin error to the Cultural Revolution under Mao to Rwanda and on and on and on. No culture is spared or exempt.
None of this is new to me, but reading/ watching the above stories at the same time while tuning in to the news is pushing to the edge my capacity to keep the flag of hope and goodness flying. And that’s when it occurred to me:
I miss preschool singing time. I miss playing jazz with 8thgrade and hearing their thoughts about Elvis and Big Mama. I miss contra dancing with 4thgraders and feeling their joyful swings and do-si-dos. It has been my constant contact with these beautiful children that has kept my faith in humanity alive. Of course, they can be rude to me, mean to each other, weird in their behavior, but all of it within the proper proportion of what we all go through. At the end of the day, it’s their smiles and laughter and hugs and interesting perceptions and their joy that washes over me and shields me from the horror.
This is not a regret that I retired, because had I not, I still couldn’t experience all these things in the face of the pandemic. When the world opens, high on my list is teaching kids in other schools as a sub, guest artist, what have you, just to keep me connected to the promise of who human beings could be if we weren’t so damn horrible.
Meanwhile, I’m looking into a species transfer.