Friday, January 14, 2011

Sink or Swim

I'm sitting in the Quail House looking out at a forest of cholla trees. One lone scraggly creosote branch grows up between them all. Above, and nearly all around, is blue, blue sky.

Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy are singing "Adieu False Heart" on my computer and the hepa-VOC filter whirs behind me, muffling the sound of machinery that breaks the quiet on the sanctuary today.

Before I began to write this morning, I stood outside to talk to the Desert and all her creatures. I could almost feel the motion of the Old Sea beneath my feet and all around me. I nearly always hear a siren song in this desert--and often I feel at a loss as how to interpret it.

This year has been a tough one on the sanctuary for me. I'm not sure why. Three winters ago, we only spent a couple weeks here, trying to recover from the sudden death of my mother. Last year, my father had major open heart surgery, and every day I came into this Quail House and sang a healing song for my father. I had a knot in my stomach the whole time. I started a novel, The Rift, but I never finished it here and I've never been back to it.

This year, I thought it would be great because my family was safe and sound, knock wood.

But I have felt anxious the whole time, and I haven't felt physically well. I was angry because I didn't feel well. I struggled with asthma every time I took a walk; I had a sinus infection and one cold sore after another. On top of it all, I had this sinking feeling that I was failing at everything.

Mostly I was exhausted from a year of changing my whole life again and again and again.

Maybe not my whole life, but a lot of it.

I changed too many things to go into now.

Let's just say it was a rocky year, and the first few weeks at the sanctuary seemed to mirror this rocky road. I felt crappy and crappier.

And then last Saturday morning, Mario happened to look at cnn on his computer and he found out there had been a shooting at a Safeway in Tucson a few miles from here and Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been shot along with many others.

I started to cry. We don't have a TV here, or a radio that works, so I searched desperately online for news. I knew little about Gabrielle Giffords. The ranchers I interviewed for my jaguar book had said Giffords had tried to help them out with the problems they were having on the border. I didn't know if she was a Republican or Democrat at first. I didn't care. I was just horrified that once again someone had gone on a shooting spree.

I wasn't surprised it had happened. I had been holding my breath since the presidential election, in fear that someone was going to go after one of our elected officials.

I had seen it before. I was nine when President Kennedy was murdered. When it happened, I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming: I couldn't believe someone would kill the president.

And then Martin Luther King was murdered. And Bobby Kennedy.

I grew up as a witness to so much violence in our country. My formative years were the sixties, and the entire world--beyond our little house in the country--seemed tinged in bloody violence.

It also seemed that any time a Democrat became president, the crazies came out of the woodwork, frothing at the mouth and bent on vengeance.

But vengeance for what? It was as though an entire segment of our country felt entitled to rule the world. Elections didn't matter. They wanted their people in office no matter what. When it didn't happen, they went crazy. Or they took off their tin hats and the crazy happened.

I was such a bleeding heart liberal that I was always disappointed with whomever was elected. They were never liberal enough for me. I couldn't understand why everyone didn't want a safe and clean environment. I couldn't understand why it mattered to anyone if someone else was gay. I couldn't understand why it mattered to anyone whether someone who was pregnant decided to terminate her pregnancy.

So no one fit my particular bill.

But just because they didn't agree with me didn't mean I felt any violence toward them.

For many years, I loathed the government, and I wasn't shy about saying so. It seemed like every politician was bought and paid for by some corporation. It didn't seem like anyone was working for what I cared about.

Then the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. When they arrested Timothy McVeigh, they kept mentioning that he had anti-government sentiments. I remember standing in front of the television looking at the smoldering Murrah building and thinking, I am not like him, I am NOT like him. I had criticisms of the government, but I was not like him.

And yet, I was making broad judgments about people. I wasn't working to change anything in my community at that particular time. I was just complaining.

I decided then and there that I would be careful with my words.

I would no longer dismiss every politician just because. I would no longer badmouth the government just to badmouth "it." The government was made up of we the people. We were the government.

During the Bush years, I was appalled by what he and his administration did. I was repulsed. I was furious. I felt that many of their policies were anathema to what our country was. But I never wished any of them ill. I wanted them out of government because they weren't re-elected. And I worked hard in our peace group. I worked hard to get politicians elected who were more in line with what I believed.

When Barack Obama became president, it seemed like even more crazies came out of the woodwork than they did when Clinton was elected. Only now they had a television network dedicated just to them. They had radio personalities urging them on. I was afraid someone was going to get shot. The anti-immigrant rhetoric, especially in Arizona, was frightening. I had lived in Arizona twenty-five years ago, and the politics then were strange and bigoted. (The governor wouldn't even recognize Martin Luther King Day.) Now it all seemed even more volatile.

This is a long way of saying that I wasn't surprised when I heard about the shooting in Safeway. I was appalled, grief-stricken, horrified, but I was not surprised.

I had seen too much of this over my life time.

I'm exhausted thinking about all of this. More and more I feel out of step with the world. I hear more and more people say they don't like people and they can't stand being around other people.

I keep thinking of this old science fiction story I read thirty plus years ago where no one ever left their homes. They stayed inside, isolated from everyone else.

I'm always wary when someone says they don't like people, when someone says they would much rather spend time with animals. I love domestic animals like I love people: one at a time. I am most comfortable in the wild, communing with the wild things, the plants, animals, the Invisibles. But I understand that human beings are my tribe. If I hate people, then I hate myself.

It seems so easy to say, "I love animals." It's like saying you love being around a nine-month-old child. A baby can't question or judge us, neither can animals.

Are we are forgetting how to have relationships with other people? Are we forgetting how to be in community with others of our own kind?

Relationships with other human beings are difficult. But don't we have to figure it out? I mean, we can't live without each other. We're either going to sink together or learn to swim together.

After a lifetime of living around violence, I am nearly always on the lookout for it. It's understandable. In every group of women I've ever been with, nearly all of them have either been raped or sexually abused as children. Nearly all of them have been a victim of some kind of violence over the years. I am wary most of the time--and I think it's smart to careful.

But there is a difference between being careful and hating other people.

A few days after the shooting at Safeway last Saturday, Mario and I went out to a movie here in Tucson. I had brought a stone with me, a little moss agate. I dropped it in the middle of the movie. After the movie was over and the lights came up, I started looking for this little stone. Immediately, three or four people started looking with me. These complete strangers were crouched down looking at the filthy floor, trying to find my little fifty cent stone.

I was so moved by this act of kindness and I felt such love for these strangers that I wanted to hug each and every one.

I restrained myself.

We never did find the stone. But I felt buoyed by the experience.

I don't know what I'm trying to say.

I'm sorry there's so much violence.

I'm sorry all those people were killed.

I hope beyond hope that the crazies out there will settle down. Take a chill pill. Help someone find their lost rocks.

I am going to try to be better at forging relationships with people. It's difficult. I have to learn to go with someone else's flow. I'd rather hide sometimes. Or at least I'd rather write a book. That seems much easier.

So often when I'm around people, I feel a little seasick. But then, even when I'm not around people, I feel a little seasick. Maybe it's not them; maybe it's me.

In either case, I'm going to dive right in.

Maybe I should learn to swim first.

5 comments:

Comrade Morlock said...

It's a strange, strange time. If there's anything we can do, don't hesitate to say so.

reclectica said...

When I worked in international development, I worked with people's organizations in the Philippines. Filipinos tend to live in close quarters with other people. They are so good at living and working together. You hear lots of laughter and see heaps of creativity. When a group of them visited here in Ottawa, we walked from their B&B (in a residential downtown neighbourhood) to our office, they said, "MaryAnn, it's nice here, but where are the people? Are they shut behind those doors in their houses?" It struck them as so odd that people would choose to isolate themselves from their neighbours.

We do isolate ourselves. And yet, look at the success of social networking sites. People crave connection too. Isn't it strange?

reclectica said...

When I worked in international development, I worked with people's organizations in the Philippines. Filipinos tend to live in close quarters with other people. They are so good at living and working together. You hear lots of laughter and see heaps of creativity. When a group of them visited here in Ottawa, we walked from their B&B (in a residential downtown neighbourhood) to our office, and they said, "MaryAnn, it's nice here, but where are the people? Are they shut behind those doors in their houses?" It struck them as so odd that people would choose to isolate themselves from their neighbours.

We do isolate ourselves. And yet, look at the success of social networking sites. People crave connection too. Isn't it strange?

kerrdelune said...

Strange, sad and crazy times, Sister Kim. Don't know quite why, but this evening I find myself missing you and the Old Mermaids too. I'm off to find my copy and read the whole thing again.

VQ said...

Some of us in the chilled Pacific Northwest find warm comfort in the company of Oldfool down in Louisiana. (www.oldfool.org) He sounds like you in his January 10 post, under "Meanwhile". Take Winter Ease, you Lovable Creature. Peace and Art.

 
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