Good early morning from the acre,
As has been the case since returning a bit over a week ago Thursday morning, my body is working to acclimate back to being on Eastern Standard Time. At this point, the latest I have been up is 9:00 p.m. as after that it seems neither my brain nor my eyes want to function with any degree of efficiency . . . . In fact, that lack of efficiency, and the onset of the semester, has had me busier than I can even find a metaphor to adequately describe. At least one that is not more than a cliché. So, as per usual, I will clear my head of competing thoughts so I can get to work on the pressing matters at hand. The weekend needs to be one of incredible productivity.
There are three things that rise to the front of my thought processes in our ridiculously divided world at the moment. While they might seem random, unrelated, and disparate, they are not. The first is the number 29. This morning as I woke early -yes – around 5:00 a.m., I read with sadness that Fatima Ali had lost her battle with Ewing Sarcoma. If you are unaware of her story, look it up. She was a world quality chef who competed on the series Top Chef, and after learning her diagnosis, remission, and reoccurrence of this devastating terminal form of cancer used her voice and social media to document her final battle. In many ways she was at the top of her game when she was diagnosed with this virulent form of cancer. Making it the point of even competing on Top Chef is a testament to the long hours, unparalleled dedication, and passion with which a person tends to an art that many of us could only dream of attempting. While she did not win (I think was 7th out of 15). She was awarded the fan favorite of the year’s competition. Her indefatigable spirit and the joy she exhibited won her an innumerable number of admirers, both professionally and on a more personal level. There are always the questions of fairness regarding such struggle and ultimately the loss of the battle to remain alive. Cancer at any age is unfair, if there is even such an option in life, but when it happens to one of my former students who is in her 20s, it seems so impossibly brutal. My father was diagnosed at 82, and from diagnosis to passing it was a total of 32 days. There was barely enough time to prepare, but I have often thought perhaps that was better. I remember going home to see him after he received this news. It was both sad and a bit comical. He was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, though I have learned since, there is so much more, but regardless. When I got home to see him, he asked why I was there. When I told him he was sick, his response was, but I will be okay. I told him that this time that was probably not the case. A day or so later when speaking with his primary care physician, he noted that he was told he had cancer, and he could remember that it was in his liver and in his kidneys, but he could not remember the third place (it was his pancreas). He sort of stared at the ceiling, however, and then looked squarely at his doctor, telling her that was the one that was going to send him down the road. He was so matter of fact about it that it made us all speechless. Somewhere in that deteriorating brain of his, he had figured it all out. Cancer, while much more manageable than it once was, is simply a brutal sentence.
The second 29 that seems to matter at the present moment, at least for me, is the Freshman United States Representative from the Bronx, who already has her own moniker AOC. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has certainly created a stir, from her unlikely win in a primary election against a well-established and high ranking Democrat to all she has had to manage since being elected to the House in November. She has been scrutinized perhaps as much as the President himself. As I noted in my rhetoric class notes for the week, there is more similar about them than perhaps meets the eye at first glance. They are both outsiders who won unexpectedly; they are both from NYC. They are both willing to use social media to promote their message. They both are strongly opinionated about the direction they believe the country should go, and those opinions are based on their differences: gender, social-economic background, ethnicity, and I believe they have very different ethical or moral compasses. One of the things I believe AOC has demonstrated is quite a bit of grace and moxie under scrutiny. Certainly, there have been some gaffs, but I think she has purported herself extremely well considering. It is a bit of a stretch from bartending to make ends meet to ending up in Washington, DC as the youngest person elected to the House. And regardless of whether I agree with everything she says or the stance she takes, I do believe she is thoughtful and considered in what she says and why. More so, I believe she is a strong example of what it means to actually represent your district. That is what, at least presently, I admire about this young woman.
The second issue is the shutdown and what has happened in terms of the consequence for 800,00 people, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. I noted in one of my last blogs that a former student, friend, and fellow-caregiver for Lydia had been working with no pay as a member of the United States Coast Guard. I am sure his view of the shutdown, the reason behind it, and the reality of what it did is quite different than mine, as he is significantly more right-wing than I am liberal, but nonetheless I respect what he believes and why he believes it. For me, the fact that we have gone 35 days with the partial government shutdown and we are basically where I noted we should be in a previous blog somewhat stuns me. I am not a politician. I am not a wealthy one-percenter. While I am certainly blessed, I also work hard and put in many more than 40 hours a week. I am fortunate enough to go to a job I love every day and I am paid quite reasonably for what I do. What astounded me most this past week was the unparalleled cluelessness of the administrations Secretary of Commerce, who had the audacity to assert that furloughed workers should just take out loans, but the Federal Credit Union, which falls under his purview is charging 9% interest on those loans. He addition, he claimed he could not understand why federal workers, who had been out of work for 32 days that the time of his comment, would need to use food banks. This is a person worth 700 million dollars. Well NO SHIT! that he would not understand. What an arrogant ass!! It should be noted that inflation is at 1.9 % so a 9.0% loan rate is pretty outrageous. Then Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, intelligently responded to the shutdown with the following auspicious remark, “It is a little bit of pain but its going to be for the future of the country. And their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now” (Huffington Post 1/23/19). This is beyond stunning. Again, it explains more about the President and his family and how out of touch they are with the average American. Many of the very people who voted for him were those most likely to be hurt by this extended train wreck. What concerns me about this is the conservative base of the Republican Party took the President to task over this and too often he seems to worry about that base support than any rational action that might be the best way forward. Before you think I am against border security and working to make sure that we admit legal people, I am not against such a proposition, but again, the idea of a wall or barrier, or steel girders or whatever you choose to call it is not the be-all, end-all. Certainly reinforcing or repairing what is there seems logical. Building where there is nothing merely for the sake of saying you built something is beyond ludicrous. It seems much more logical to employ people and technology. Again, the figures seem to indicate that there are fewer people trying to get across, and if I think logically, the increased scrutiny on the border for a whole variety of reasons would seem to support why the numbers trying to enter are down substantially from their high point, during the GWB years. Just look at the figures. Second, allowing people in who want to work and contribute does not seem like a losing proposition to me, it seems like it would be precisely the opposite. Where all of this ends up is anybody’s guess, but hopefully both parties in Congress will get serious and actually try to hash something out that creates a reasonable way to manage the border, that creates a way to support immigration that is legal and helpful, and that works to manage the 100s of 1000s DACA individuals in moving toward citizenship. It is not amnesty. It is allowing those who know no other country a change to become contributing citizens of the place they have already been contributing to since birth. Taxes is not the only way to contribute. Money is not the only way to contribute. Using one’s God-given talents to help the other is not a waste of time or effort. It is time to embrace and create a system that rewards those who have spend their life here under any circumstance and allow them an opportunity that they have probably worked harder for than most of us realize.
The third issue is the reality of how what happens in Washington, DC affects our average daily life in so many more ways than we often consider. As I noted earlier, we are represented by the people we elect. This is why we call our democracy a representative democracy. We elect people to actually watch out for us and listen to our concerns and our hopes and dreams. We believe that somehow our vote matters and what we believe and support is what citizenship is all about. This past week, ironically on the day we remember a non-violent, but profoundly significant figure in our nation’s history, we saw an event take place that epitomizes the divisions that seem to more aptly illustrate our American fabric than many of us wish to admit. Before I note the event, let me offer than I think there is more to this complex day that either side seems willing to admit. Nevertheless, the viral video of a high school student wearing the dreaded MAGA hat and the Native American, who was chanting, demonstrated all too clearly that the media on both sides was ready to put out their own spin on something that had much more to it than the lack of spatiality between two distinct and seemingly unconnected individuals. I am quite sure that an 16 year old (I think that is what he is) has had his life turned upside down in ways he does not even understand at this point. I believe the elder Native American, who understandably has a boatload of reasons, finds himself in a situation he did not intend either. During the week, I have watched, read, and did my own research into the background of Covington Catholic High School. For the students who go there and were not at the event in Washington, I am sure they are mortified by all the attention this event has created. I am sure graduates are not as apt to want to say they graduated from this place. I should note with some of the things I have read, I would not want to be associated with this place either. If you do a bit of your own research, you can come to your own conclusions. The irony of some of what I saw and have read and the fact they were marching in Washington, DC on MLK Day has not gone unnoticed by me. The fact that the students were wearing MAGA hats are an entirely separate and problematic issue for me. Additionally, the President’s statement, which seems rather Charlottesville-esque, was also, unfortunately characteristic.
So what does all of this have in common? It is indicative of the incredibly pain that seems to be in all directions of this country, but simultaneously, the sun rises, the moon sets, sometime in an incredible manner like the eclipse this week. In spite of the things we hear regularly about how screwed up it all seems to be, we need to take heart that there are still people who care. There are still people who want to make a difference. Why do I know and believe this? Because I see them every day. I work with them. From the secretaries to the maintenance people, from administrators to faculty, I see people who care in their daily lives and work to the best of their ability. That is the amazing reality of where I spend my days. From people who support every aspect of the place we call Bloomsburg University. I have spent most of my weekend working on my classes, but it has been a good weekend, a productive weekend. I am blessed to be able to get up in the morning and go back to work where I believe I somehow make a difference also. So, I will close with a thank you for all who remind me that not all is lost. There is so much more to what is good and positive if we take the time to notice. Here is my thought and video for this post. Heart is certainly one of my favorite bands, and I dream and believe that we can find a way to come together more thoughtfully and more completely. So I offer their song Dreams. I love the sort of Salvador Dali sort of vibe to it.
Thanks as always for reading,
One thought on “Tomorrow, Tomorrow (Hopefully Less is More)”
It would seem that since the writing of this post, the world is still such a chaotic and obscure place for humanity to call home. This time of year brings up memories of my grandmother, who has been on my mind a lot since we started emptying her old storage unit. The last time I spoke with her on the phone we talked about work, life, and a little about my writing. The last time I heard from her at all she texted me to wish me a happy birthday. It is hard to lose people you care for. January has a texture to it that escapes my ability to articulate.
Hope and grief often come up in tandem with each other, possibly because they both point toward things that are not tangible in the moment: the former pointing forward to things not yet here and the latter pointing toward things that used to be. I find solace in knowing that Jesus wept for Lazarus. If God can experience grief, the likes of which must be so much more profound than anything we can experience, then it’s okay to have moments of lament. We image God in our grief, we image God in our hope, and we image God in our ability to cause others to hope.
Personal reflection has revealed that my own fragility can make my hope for the future wane, and this fragility for me often comes from my sense of identity. It can be hard to articulate feelings sometimes, but music has always been great at identifying things that are not easy to describe. Jon Bellion has a song called “Stupid Deep” that embodies my own insecurities so well, and knowing that I am not alone in that insecurity is helpful in keeping my life in perspective. Music also has the capacity to bring me hope, to soothe an anxious soul. Two songs come to mind: “Conviction of the Heart” by Kenny Loggins (one of grandma’s favorites), and a song called “Passion Flower” by Jon Gomm (if you can find a video of him playing, it is really quite impressive).
There is a hope in me that is growing daily, and inspiring me to make positive changes and commit to the path set before me, wherever it leads. I want to be a good person, to make other people’s lives better, to be the kind of human that images God in some way. Thank you again for your words. They are an assurance of things hoped for.