Are we?

Photo by Stephen L. Syverud

Whenever I hear someone assert, “We are better than this,” I wonder.

As much as I want to believe that people are basically good at heart, I’ve seen too many act out of self-interest, rather than a common good, succumb to the reassurance of herd mentality, rather than strike out against it, follow unethical orders, rather than defy them. There are always exceptions, but often, not enough. It feels as though people will defend their behavior, no matter how inconsiderate, corrupt, or simply petty, if they feel it’s in their best interests to do so.

It’s easy to blame one person for causing the assorted manifestations of ugliness that emerge from self interest, but to do so ignores what has been both our greatest strength and fatal flaw since humans walked upright, perhaps even before: the instinct for self-preservation. This instinct can drive people to excel, create masterpieces, eradicate diseases; but it can also drive them to oppress, amass power at others’ expense, take pleasure in, or blame people for their pain and misfortune. The ugly side of self-preservation, indeed, survival, existed long before the current administration, and will continue long after it is gone….

***

So, are we better than our primitive survival instincts?

The current expressions of ugliness on both sides of the ideological spectrum would lead me to believe we’re not.

And yet, there are the thousands of people who put themselves in harms way every day to provide necessary services to those at risk, or work under the most physically grueling and emotionally wrenching conditions to care for those who are ill, or dying….

And there are the simplest expressions of selflessness that say, “I care….”

***

When my mother-in-law died, the distribution of many of her treasures fell to my sister-in-law and me. One by one, we went through them, with my sister-in-law choosing which pieces she wanted, and the two of us offering the rest to our children. Because I wanted the process to be as amicable and stress-free as possible, I refrained from asking for anything. After almost an hour had passed, and we’d gone through a substantial number of possessions, I held up a plate that was one of my mother-in-law’s favorites, and asked my sister-in-law if she wanted it. She took the plate in her hands and eyed it lovingly, remembering, I’m certain, as I did, all the homemade cookies and sweets that were served on it, then looked at me, a bit wistfully, and said, “Don’t you want anything?”

I said, “She was your mother, their grandmother. Her things should go to you and them.”

She sighed, and set the plate in front of me. “You take it. I want you to have it.”

***

So, are we better?

On most days, I’m doubtful. And then I think of all those selfless souls who shop for, and tend to, and care for us, with not nearly enough recognition and appreciation for their heroism, or enough patience to do what’s needed to make their jobs, their lives easier. And I think of that day so many years ago, in view of another loss, and the gift that was given so generously, with so much love, and I think, maybe, maybe, we can be….

***

Rest in peace, sweet sister. Rest in peace.

Photo by B. Froman

©2020 All Rights Reserved

It’s Time

Like many others, for four years I have sat aghast as the Republican party sold their souls to Donald Trump for no other reasons than doing so protected their seats and served their agendas.

As Trump’s lawlessness and reign of terror escalates, they continue to support him, even as he rallies his base of bigots to take arms and storm the streets, and intimidates the institutions that are supposed to guard our health and safety into authorizing the use of questionable treatments, and pressures manufacturers into speeding the release of inadequately tested vaccines to secure his re-election.

At this point, it should be clear to Republicans that no human life has value to him except his own.

But, apparently, their actions indicate they share that credo: theirs are the only lives that matter.

I have been unhappy with FB for a long time. I’ve occasionally deactivated my account, stayed away, and returned—partially to keep up with people whose news would otherwise not reach me, and partially because it served my agenda.

If you are a writer, artist, composer, or performer, you’re aware of how valuable social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, etal., can be in publicizing and sharing your work. While these sites allow excellent work that might be rejected by traditional outlets to reach audiences, they also do not discriminate. The result is that everyone with anything to share is attempting to be heard and seen. So, using social media becomes a necessity to avoid obscurity—a necessary evil.

Since my recent FB deactivation, I have remained active on Twitter. It was there that I saw Ady Barkan’s tweet regarding a doctored video Congressman Steve Scalise released of him on both Twitter and Facebook. Barkan, as you may recall, is a young health activist with ALS. Scalise’s post was quickly flagged, and, ultimately, removed by Twitter. Scalise then deleted the post, too. But, by that point, it was too late. The lie had been widely disseminated and repeated.

And, this, in no small part, is thanks to Facebook, which has refused to remove the video.

I will not link to it. If you wish, you can find it on your own. Barkan’s tweet, and one linking to an article in Politico describing Scalise’s video, and his reaction to the backlash are below.

But, this pattern of letting lies stand is company policy with FB, one that continues because it probably benefits their agenda.

And so, I’m left with the question: if I were to stay on FB, would I be any different than those Republicans who are content to ignore and stay silent about every crime and act of brutality and insanity merely because it benefits them?

If I’m going to be brutally honest with myself, I have to say, “No.” I would be no different. I can no longer rationalize that staying, and sounding the alarms on Facebook will have any impact, as I have been preaching to the choir as long as I’ve been on it. Nor do I have any illusions that my leaving will have any impact. Facebook is too big for that, and too insidious in the ways it convinces people they need it.

I’m leaving purely because it will make me feel better; and at this time, that’s everything.

I can’t say I won’t miss it. My friends’ posts have been a source of joy and enlightenment for me. I wish them well, and pray they stay safe.

Hopefully, they will follow me here.

Peace.

©2020 All Rights Reserved.

2020

“…in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort….” (From The Republic, Plato)

It’s hard to avoid the irony—the titular year of perfect vision, the unraveling of once reliable norms, political structures, checks and balances, civility in all arenas, the losses of loved ones and heroes to injustice and disease.

And it’s equally hard to avoid the comparison—between that titular year of sudden perfect vision, and the years of blurring and distortion, loss of sight preceding it.

That loss creeps up on us slowly. Colors lose their intensity, fading from brilliant to dull, letters spread into each other across pages and screens as poetry and prose and road signs seem layered with petroleum jelly. For a while, it’s easy to grow accustomed to, and comfortable with changes, a world smearing out of focus, and accommodate them with sharper lenses and adjusted habits. It’s easy to say we can deal with things as they are. We’re not missing anything truly important. We can still make out the big picture.

But then, one day, those street lights that come on at dusk glare at and confuse us, make us misread road signs. Or, the newspaper goes untouched because it’s too taxing to decipher small print. That’s when we realize how much of the big picture we’re not seeing.

I’m getting to that stage with my own vision, which has been on a steady decline for years. And I’ve been through enough cataract surgeries with friends and family to understand how startling sudden clarity can be.

More than one friend has related how shocked she was by her first look at herself after surgery. “I walked by the mirror, not intending to stop, then did a double-take after I caught sight of a strange image moving across the glass. I couldn’t believe the woman’s wrinkled up face was mine.”

For many of us, the severely clouded lenses that enabled our old lives and habits and beliefs have been stripped away, and we aren’t quite sure how to process and respond to the stark and painful clarity of new vision, or function with it. No matter which way we turn, no matter how well we think we’re adjusting, there’s always another flaw, another act of cruelty, corruption, injustice, bigotry, stupidity, selfishness, and there’s always another loss—of a loved one, or hero….

I wish I had words to ease the pain, fury, and helplessness over being assailed with such clarity, the harsh reality it exposes. But all I have is an increasing sense of urgency to more actively care for those I love, impress upon them the necessity of taking care of themselves and their loved ones, paying attention to persistent symptoms, scheduling life-saving tests, looking both ways when crossing the street, wearing a mask…wearing a mask….

That, at least, is a start.

Stay safe. Be well.

©2020 All Rights Reserved