As when we awaken startled from a long, dank sleep
and realize that what we thought was love
was not love was not even the hollow kindness we show
a neighbor five doors down when we say “so sorry for your loss”
and think we can leave it at that was not even
a “there, there” we offer a friend of a friend whose husband
took up with a slinky redhead was not even the feigned
pity we show towards a second cousin once removed
who tells a cousin on our mother’s side about her stepbrother
who fell down two flights of stairs, broke his neck, and left behind
an ample wife was never even like
the small gasp that leaves our lips when through a car window
we see a blur of black bird with an injured wing
hop helpless in the gravel.
July 3, 1947 — May 30, 2017
Depending upon which moment of which day you catch me, I am either elated at the prospect that Mr. Trump and his goons will soon go down in flames or I am hangdog about the fact that we are stuck with him (and them) for at least another 1332 days, 11 hours, 10 minutes, and 38 seconds (but who’s counting?).
This morning, I experienced that emotional roller coaster ride within a 15-minute span when first I read Chris Riotta’s encouraging Newsweek piece titled
“Experts Upgrade Donald Trump’s Impeachment Odds As Russian Investigation Looms”
and next I read Andrew O’Hehir’s mega bummer of an article from Salon, which was preceded by this cold-water-in-the-face title:
“Wake Up, Liberals: There Will be No 2018 ‘Blue Wave,’ No Democratic Majority and No Impeachment”
Both articles appeared in one of Alternet’s digest of top stories, which I daily receive in an email. Today, though, while trying to understand how these antithetical pronouncements could simultaneously be true, I thought about what The New Yorker’s David Remnick wrote in his brilliant article “A Hundred Days of Trump“:
His Presidency has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.
My obsession with the state of affairs in our diminished and diminishing democracy is indeed “demoralizing,” not only because I cannot make sense of a nation shot through with a spreading stain of violent, me-first thuggery but also because those who are paid to try and make sense of it are banging around in the pitch dark, too.
Yesterday, I visited the woman who colors and cuts my hair. I can’t remember how it came to pass that I told her I was Jewish, but as soon as I did our wheels screeched on the asphalt and the conversation came to a halt. “What’s Jewish?” she wanted to know. I thought she was kidding.
“What do you mean?” I asked, incredulous.
“I don’t know what Jewish is,” she said. “Growing up, I remember hearing that, if you were Jewish, they would let you come to America.” She’s from Africa, and she has been in this country for many years.
There was such innocence to her questioning that I couldn’t be offended, though her ignorance reflects “the world’s longest hatred” and holds within it a certain dominant and persistent strand of antisemitism: Jews, the racist stereotype suggests, are unfathomable “others” who, because of their great, hoarded wealth, will have the doors flung wide for them wherever in the world they wish to go. Even that mythic place called America will roll out the red carpet for them.
I didn’t tell her about the time in America when I ran from boys who were screaming, “Go back where you came from, you dirty Jew” as they pelted me with rocks. Or the time a high school German teacher asked me to recite Rudolph’s reindeer, and, when I came up short, said in front of 25 snickering children, “Just because you’re Jewish doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know their names.” Or the time I was alone in a diner and two young men spotted the tiniest Star of David around my neck, chased me into the parking lot, shouted taunts at me, and tailgated me on the freeway until I managed to lose them. Or the times our heat and electricity were shut off because my mother couldn’t pay the bill. Or the times we awoke to find an empty driveway because someone had come to repossess her car in the middle of the night.
Driving home from work each evening, I generally listen to NPR’s All Things Considered — and with more attention than I might otherwise muster after a long day. I have enjoyed all the co-hosts, but I especially enjoyed listening to Melissa Block, who left the program in 2015 after having been a part of it for 12 years.
Though it is difficult to describe the qualities that make for a beautiful speaking voice, I can say that Block somehow made me feel like I was the only member of her listening audience. There was a tender, silver-throated warmth to her and a sense, too, that I could pull up a chair to her table and sip a cup of tea with her while she delivered the day’s news; still, she always seemed to have absolute mastery over the delivery of any story.
My feelings about Robert Siegel’s voice, on the other hand, have been shot through with judgment. A radio veteran who has been with the program for 30 years, Siegel has “[o]ne of the most distinctive voices on NPR’s airwaves“; yet, while it may be that off-air he is a very kind soul, his voice sounds just this side of about-to-make-a-mockery. And, from the sound of it I have always seen him thus: pink-faced; thin and small; balded; dressed during summer in short-sleeved shirts; thin, bowed lips the color of raspberry Popsicle.
It wasn’t until I learned that he was retiring that I had an occasion to see his photo, and I have to say I was taken aback. There is a darker density to him that I do not hear when I listen to him speak. I hadn’t imagined the facial hair either, which certainly changes things.
Since December I have had five minor surgeries. Although I thought I might not survive one of them (after a ghoulish week of fevers, nightmares, and retching that followed an oral bone graft), I have nonetheless emerged intact and much surprised by my physical strength and resilience.
I find, though, that I am filled with dread and am afraid I won’t recover from another kind of affliction that dogs me: one that tells me I might not be able to survive the hate and fear that infects Washington, a good many of our citizens, and untold others across the globe.
Since we installed in Washington a man and his coterie of sadists who reflect all that is dark and unholy within us, I have been made to question what in me could have helped birth such a tragedy. And I have been made to question something I have never given any thought to, much less lost sleep over — namely whether the democratic freedoms I have taken for granted could disappear in my lifetime or whether our republic would be sturdy enough to survive this grave wound.
I am haunted through my days and nights by images of hateful men (and women, sadly) determined to destroy the fragile threads that bind our world — since of course what happens here happens there…and there. But I have not felt like writing because I am not inclined to write about things unrelated to the peril we face; yet, my despair is so pervasive that I do not think I can offer much that would be of solace. Soon, though, I will hope to try and find some useful words.