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Friday, June 5, 2020

We Are Home Again. But We Were Always Home

We Came Home to Apple Blossoms

It seems much longer than a week since we left the little Arizona ghost town where we spent the winter and, as it turned out, spring. Five days on the road (by the calendar) felt about a month long. In light of what was happening in cities across the country, we abandoned the plan to travel I-80 and instead took old U.S. highways, mostly through farm towns, back to Michigan through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, and we arrived at our old northern Michigan farmhouse after sunset last Sunday evening. 

Only six days ago? Is that possible? Those six days feel as if they have been a second long month, maybe two months. -- Now my sister tells me today is Friday, not Saturday. It was only five days ago. Even harder to believe....

As we initially prepared to leave Cochise County, Arizona, crossing the country in the time of coronavirus had been our most serious concern, and that never went away. (With restaurants closed, we made the trip on granola bars, trail mix, dried fruits, apples, and string cheese, with a couple treats of chicken from gas stations and one day a bag of fast food cheeseburgers obtained via the drive-through lane.) But we waited until after Memorial Day to leave, with Wednesday the designated departure day after a Tuesday of laundry and packing the car and cleaning up the cabin, and then the murder of George Floyd occurred on the evening of Memorial Day, which was already the strangest and most surreal Memorial Day in living memory, due to coronavirus….

Important demonstrations. Legitimate protests. There were also, in and near some of the crowds of protesters, opportunistic looters and even outsiders who came into Minneapolis or New York or Chicago bent on destruction. There were bursts of violence from more than one source, and while it was sometimes hard to know what was happening, it certainly seemed that the country, already as politically divided as it has been short of the Civil War and already strained by imposed isolation and shuttered businesses in an attempt to prevent the spread of a global pandemic, was now falling apart altogether. No, not falling -- imploding. 

So while the Artist was at the wheel, as busy as I was consulting the road atlas, I was just as often busy on my phone, looking for news or texting with family, especially family in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and when it was my turn to drive he kept trying to find a clear radio station with news. Had we been here before? In 1964? 1967? 1968? 

Then our little car began to run badly. It is still running badly, but it got us home, limping across the prairies and up along the Lake Michigan shore. Just one more thing to worry about.

So, a stressful trip? But friends, we had it easy! Eating gas station chicken in a parking lot somewhere on the Great Plains, we recalled American history and the days when Black Americans had to travel with the Green Book in order to plan their routes to be assured of finding meals and lodging at all. “And there was no food in gas stations back then,” the Artist remarked. As for staying in motels along the way, we are sometimes challenged to find one that will accept our dog (with or without an exorbitant added fee), but we are never turned away. No, we have it easy there, too. 

(In case you’re wondering, motel clerks were usually masked and gloved, but almost no one else was, in motels or at gas stations, once we left New Mexico behind.)

And we are not homeless. We don’t have to live in our car or in a motel. (One motel where we stayed seemed all the home many people there had.) Our mild ordeal was only five days long, and we are home now.

Friends congratulate our safe return -- by e-mail and text and phone, of course, not in person. Because even alongside demonstrations and protests and political commentary and speeches and outbursts there is still coronavirus, and so we must self-quarantine, which means we remain dependent on others to collect our mail and pick up groceries for us. But we have it easy in that respect, too, with more volunteers than necessary offering to help us. And the weather is lovely, perfect for working outdoors, always my solace in times of stress.

Yes, we are tired. Stress, lots of it. Utter exhaustion. But I know we are not the only ones feeling it because it has to do with much more than five days on the road.

While few people were crossing the country by car last week (on larger highways, trucks seemed to outnumber cars by at least an 8:1 ratio, but traffic was still light), all across the land a relentless tidal wave of news and the weight of our country’s entire history bore down on us all. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” 

“I’m tired of the hate,” one Facebook commenter wrote. I believe, from other things she said, that she referred to hate she feels is directed toward the occupant of the White House, not to hate coming from the White House, which is what disturbs me the most. If only we had a calm, encouraging captain at the wheel of state! But we don't, and what we have there is exhausting, too. The current president, when asked difficult questions, calls the press “enemies of the people” and – well, let’s not review all the name-calling and finger-pointing from the White House. Let’s just remember that it is part of the job of the press to ask difficult questions, and it is the job of the president to deal with that, whether he likes the questions or not. 

When you are president – pretend for a moment that you are -- and you are the one in the Oval Office, the buck stops with you. You don’t shift blame by pointing the finger in every other direction. The buck stops with you. That is the job.

But yes, we all get tired! Overwhelmed! And we are tired of feeling angry and defensive and misunderstood or ignored and insulted. Tired of feeling outraged. The never-ending onslaught of news and the cacophony of Facebook posts is sometimes just too much. There is an exhaustion of spirit, discouragement brought on by repeated failures of a country we love. 

Reminder: There’s nothing wrong with turning off the news for 24 hours. Take a break when you feel overwhelmed. No law requires any American to watch and/or listen. And surely, even acknowledging the addictiveness of scrolling through Facebook posts, you have absolutely zero responsibility to follow that on an hourly or even a daily basis. Or at all!

I received a text the other day from one of my sisters that former President Barack Obama was going to be speaking on MSNBC, so because we don’t have television here at home in Michigan (gave it up years ago), I used my phone to make a hotspot and got online and watched and listened, and it did me a world of good! You can watch it on YouTube (or other places, too, if you missed it last night.) President Obama is an encourager, not a blamer or a punisher. He is calm. And he is optimistic! Good heavens! No one can accuse him of being a Pollyanna -- he gives reasons for his optimism, and as I listened I began to smile, and I thought again, yes, we can. We can be better. I really needed his encouraging, inspiring words.

Because here’s something else that occurred to me yesterday. I’d just read an essay from 2016 by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, a black woman, answering a white male friend’s question about what constitutes white privilege. And then I read comments elsewhere (not on that post) from people who are tired of the news and/or fearful and/or certain there is no hope for the country or the world. And two ideas – the question of what constitutes white privilege and the idea of giving up hope – came together in my mind, and I realized that giving up and retreating to one’s own little world is the supreme white privilege. Not everyone can do that. 

Let me be clear. I’m not saying anyone needs to be out on the barricades every day -- or even at all. You don’t have to join a public demonstration. There are countless ways to make a difference.

And who doesn't need a break now and then?

So when you feel the need, turn off the radio or television or whatever device connects you to the news. Take a break. Eat ice cream. Take a walk. Soak in the tub. Whatever helps you relax.

But don’t give up hope, and don’t stop looking for whatever small ways you can find to contribute to fulfilling hope’s promise. Because we cannot afford the luxury of some self-indulgent, extended period of mourning. There is too much that needs to be done.

It is not saintly to be hopeful or to try to make a difference. It’s human – at least, it’s the better nature we need to summon up in ourselves if we are to deserve at all the gift of life on this planet. Because this is our home, this earth. For Americans, this country. Our home. We are many different peoples, with many different ways of looking at the world, but we must share our home if it is to survive.


Dawn said...

Thank you for this. I was walking in the woods this morning feeling quite inadequate to deal with the whole issue of white privilege, uncertain what I could say or do, feeling like I need to study the concept more. Which I do. But I know that I shouldn't just give up, even though that's tempting sometimes. Out here in rural, quiet, Davisburg there's not a lot to prompt growth in that area of my life. I will have to look elsewhere, but I've been seeing links to places that could provide more information...and I will become better at this.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, you are welcome, and I want to thank you in return -- for so much that you do! Readers, you can learn hear about what has been Dawn's chief focus for change in recent years: -- very important work. There is a lot of important work to be done, in SO many areas, that we all need to keep learning and helping each other learn.

Jeanie Furlan said...

Pamela! Thank you for your insightful and thought-provoking comments. Being here in São Paulo, near my husband’s family, I also called my sisters, brother and our daughter almost every other day to get news and updates on the Covid news, but especially the protests. They happened right around the corner from our apartment in Brooklyn, and they made my eyes and thoughts open wider. The protests and what speakers were saying, made sense and made people think - of course, not the depressing looters and other bad elements. It felt like an earthquake-like fault line that had people saying ‘yes’ and finding or at least looking for a unifying voice. There is SO much to be done. I hope to read Ta-Hehisi Coates (when the book arrives), then there is Ibram X. Kendi, and so many others. There are interviews to read, also, with Robin DiAngelo and Layla F. Saad. When we are able to get back to Brooklyn, I hope to get out and help somehow. Antonio and I have had the Covid19 virus, so let’s hope our antibodies get out there and fight, too!
You had such a difficult trek from Arizona to Michigan! When I heard about you two out there, I was wondering what would be open. But, whew, you made it, even pretty Sarah Girl! Have you opened Dog Ears yet? I wish you and the Artist a wonderful summer, hoping for Northport surroundings to inspire interesting walks, and your books to give us blog readers your Interesting comments on what’s happening in the world.

P. J. Grath said...

Jeanie, such a welcome surprise when you pop up! And I am so relieved that you Antonio weathered the coronavirus, too! I wonder when you will be able to get back to Brooklyn. I believe the Canadian border is closed right now to Americans but have lost track of who can and who cannot and how and why enter the U.S.

Dog Ears Books is not yet open except for deliveries and pickup of special orders. I’ve been doing a lot of work toward opening and should make it by July, barring unforeseen changes in the larger world.

Thank you for reading, dear friend. I wish we did not live so far apart!