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

Sweet Nostalgia

Let’s talk about bonbons. Ice cream bonbons, to be exact.

We never had them at home when I was growing up. But when my parents took us to the movies, there was always a box to be shared in the dark, before the feature even started. Those chocolate covered frozen treats were both seductive and terrifying to me, from the moment I saw my parents leave the concession stand with them. I knew when we sat down, the box would open and one would be placed in my hands, still rock hard, along with a wad of napkins. If I put the entire bonbon in my mouth, I would be in instant agony as it adhered to every soft surface it touched. If I tried to spare myself that misery by biting off a reasonably sized piece, the chocolate shell would split, sending fragments onto my chest or lap, leaving the rest to melt in my hands.

Thus, most of my favorite childhood movie memories—South Pacific, Carousel, West Side Story, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, Tom Thumb—are intertwined with those bonbons, and the sensation of puffed out cheeks, a sore tongue and upper palate, and melting sweet cream and cocoa.

As I think back, I suppose I could have declined the bonbons, asked for a different treat. But, in a strange way, that would have drained the outing of some of its excitement. Everything was large and magical then—the theater, the films, the treats; and nothing was larger or more magical than those bonbons dissolving in my mouth, and the love in the hands that shared them.

©2019 All Rights Reserved


Reality

I’m always amazed when people pin their hopes on others: mates who will fulfill all their needs; children who will take care of them in old age; siblings who will call regularly or visit, or extend invitations to visit them; friends who will be kind, thoughtful, and noncompetitive; businesses that will conduct affairs honestly; and especially, politicians who will put country over party.

If I’ve learned anything over the many decades I’ve lived, it’s that more often than not, reality falls short of ideals: mates fulfill some needs but not others; children have valid (and, sometimes, not) reasons for being unavailable; siblings forget to call, or have valid (and, sometimes, not) reasons for not visiting, or extending invitations; friends become thoughtless or competitive; businesses care more about profit than product safety; and politicians…well…..

We can complain endlessly about the way things are, voice our anger and frustration over the selfishness, greed, entitlement, and epidemic cruelty and corruption, demand justice, and continue to pin our hopes on investigations and investigators, courts, judges, and others to set things right, but in the end, it falls to us.

It’s like the empty toilet paper roll in your house, the one that seems left just for you, the one with several useless shreds hanging off it. You can rant at your kids and mate all day about responsibilities, the importance of considering others who need to do their business, and even stick reminders all over the house and washroom; but in the end, you’ll just wind up frustrated and angry.

So maybe it’s time to accept reality, the same reality we accepted in the 2018 election. November 3, 2020 is 587 days away. Let’s replace that roll.

©2019 All Rights Reserved