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Monday, June 1, 2020

I Am in Mourning For Our Country

In Minneapolis, many bookstores were already closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now more have been damaged in rioting following demonstrations over the brutal murder of George Floyd, but you will not find self-pity in the words of these booksellers. As one of them acknowledged, property damage is the "least tragic" aspect of the story. So while I feel sympathy for bookstore owners and employees, most of my sympathy has to go to the murdered man's family -- and to our country at large.

Since March, we have been reeling under a global pandemic that reached our shores. One hundred thousand Americans died of coronavirus. Businesses across the country closed, and people lost their jobs. High school and college graduates had no graduation ceremonies, and children's birthdays had to be celebrated with drive-by parades of friends waving from their cars. That alone has been difficult. A long haul. Unprecedented, to use a word that has never been used so many times in so short a period in my lifetime.

The absence of meaningful national leadership has been appalling and tragic, but unsurprising. Who could have expected anything different or better, given the last three and a half years? Queen Elizabeth, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and past presidents George Bush and Barack Obama stepped forward with calm words of comfort and encouragement. We could have used comfort and encouragement on a daily basis, but we did not get it.

Then came the murder of yet another black man by a police officer, murder committed by someone pledged to protect citizens, murder captured on video for all the world to see. Rage is understandable. Don't you feel it, too? "Violence doesn't solve anything," many people say -- but tell me, what has? Peaceful demonstrations? Cases of brutality and murder brought to the courts? More extensive police training? Body cameras? 

[Update: Here is what we got from the White House today, since this post first went up.] 
[Update 6/2: Houston police chief weighs in.]

I am in mourning for this country. 

I understand the rage. I understand the impulse to destruction, even knowing it "won't solve anything." When nothing reasonable has worked, what is left?

And yet -- from so many credible reports, much of the destruction was not caused by demonstrators from the Twin Cities but by outsiders who came in for the sole purpose of, it would seem, discrediting legitimate protest. What could be more reprehensible? I do not understand that.

And I do not understand disrespect taken to the extreme of causing death. I don't understand how it is allowed to go on and on. I don't understand why so many white Americans fail to get the message of "Black Lives Matter," misinterpreting it by inserting an "only" that was never there. Black lives matter, too. How can anyone not see? I don't understand the lack of understanding.

Another thing I don't understand -- and some of you may disagree with me on this -- is why the launch of a rocket into space is supposed to fill us with hope for the future of our country. "The heavens are opening"? Great! So now we can go mess the heavens up, too? While the mess here on earth worsens? How is that supposed to make anyone feel good?

I am in mourning for this country. My country. Your country. Our country.

But mourning by itself solves nothing. It is a luxury we cannot afford.


Dawn said...

You've written the post I've had in my heart but haven't had the words to write. I woke up crying this morning...don't know if it was a dream or just the overwhelming sadness of so much right now.

P. J. Grath said...

And yet, Dawn, we can't just pull shrouds over our heads and wail. I have been in ten states in five days so must self-quarantine now at home for a while, but I can still make phone calls and write e-mails and letters. As one of my friends said, heartbreak isn't enough. It never was. This shit has got to be stopped!

Cheri Walton said...

Oh, you expressed it so well. You just think it can't get worse, or it can't happen again, but it does.I must admit that I feel powerless and depressed over the state of our country. It just doesn't stop. As a young adult during the late 60's, it seems we were motivated to work for change, to rant and rave over what was going on, demonstrate, yell and scream in protest. What good did it do, but temporarily change a few things about our society? Now it seems that every issue we thought we had fixed in small ways at least has come roaring back even louder than it was then. This time people have reacted basically by looking away and retreating into their own virtual worlds. Prejudice is too big to handle. There are too many people. The job seems too big to tackle. My father, a psychologist, used to point out that we are all territorial animals, always on guard. It seems to me that the problem just got too big to handle. We learned to adapt to a version of "every man for himself." In the 60's we still thought we could convince people to love and care for one another. We've learned we can't. It's every man for himself. We've become some paranoid aggressive species. When we were litle, my brother and I found some baby birds and brought them home. We kept them in a cage, imagining we would let them go when they were big enough. The did well for weeks, and then they killed each other. I think there just wasn't room enough for them both in that small space. I sometimes feel that is what is happening to human beings. There are too many of us. It's an "every man for himself " world. It really gets me down.........

P. J. Grath said...

All I can say, Cheri, is that I don't see giving up hope as an option. No, there is more I can say. One thing is that it isn't always the most crowded places that are the most contentious. That's a big issue, so I'll leave it at that. The other thing is that we need to keep working for change. This is a message I sent to our Republican U.S. Representative, Jack Bergman, this morning:

"Thank you for supporting the benefits of National guard members, as I asked in my last e-mail. What I ask now is that you and other Republicans stand up for our troops against a president who would use them as personal bodyguards, attacking peaceful demonstrators so he can have his picture taken holding up a Bible he has never read in front of a church he has never attended.

"This president has NEVER been "conservative." He has been nothing but destructive and divisive from the start, beginning with his campaign and should not be permitted to disgrace the American military. It is time for the Republican Party to stop enabling his madness -- or become nothing more than a tragic historical footnote.

"Thank you!"

This is the only country we have, the only world we have.

Dawn said...

I've met Rep. Bergman. He's a party-line Rep without an original thought. I liked him when I met him, he's personable, but he doesn't seem to be able to think outside the party box. I hope he listens to you. If he doesn't, I hope you have a shot at unseating him in November.

P. J. Grath said...

I don't think we need too many original thoughts, Dawn. Right now, at this moment in history, what we need most from the Republican Party is a reawakening of a sense of decency. That would be such a big step forward that it's all I ask for today.