Writing during the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems obligatory to talk about gratitude, but fair warning: this post might be more dystopian.
There is much to be grateful for, of course.
I can still pay attention to the Thanksgiving Holiday even though every store and lamppost is already celebrating Christmas – and some were decorated before Samhain / Halloween.
I can be grateful that the mandatory computer training for my new job is nearly complete, and that the required on-line portions are clear and understandable (even if annoyingly redundant).
Things Women of a Certain Age Share About
Earlier this week a group of us sat in a circle sharing thoughts, feelings, responses to the world in which we are living. We are mostly women of a certain age, though not all of us have gone gray yet. Some of us are married to men, some to women; some are dating, some are single. Some of us have children and grandchildren, some have neither. Remarkably much of what we shared sounded the same.
We’re concerned about the weather, which has been sharply colder this week but promises to be unseasonably warm again in a few days. We’re concerned about rights we thought were settled, that now are threatened. We’re worried about our local school systems, some suffering upheavals and others threatened with another round of budget cuts.
We’re concerned about children and young adults making choices that aren’t the ones we would have selected for them (of course), and we’re concerned to respond appropriately, with good boundaries, to announcements that strike us as foolhardy.
Each of us mentioned something about holiday preparations. One is cooking a huge meal for a huge guest list. One is cooking a single dish to take to the home of a young couple hosting for the first time. One is cleaning house to host a family potluck, but not cooking at all. And one leaned forward to whisper, “I’m not doing anything for Thanksgiving. For the first time in 70 years, I don’t have to cook for anyone,” she said, grinning, “and I don’t have to travel anywhere, and I don’t have to eat something someone made and tell them it’s wonderful. I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas.” She looked so happy, it was a revelation.
Made me think about how much of our lives is governed by a sense of obligation – to family, to neighborhood, to school, company, profession, social class, religion, tradition.
So even though I’m writing on Thanksgiving Day, this post isn’t really about the holiday. It’s not even about gratitude, really.
What’s actually on my mind is The mutability of modern society.
Generations United in Terror
Some young people I know recently expressed frank terror at the state of the world today, with our polarized politics, the disappearance of privacy, the increasingly obvious vulnerability of all this ‘paperless’ banking in an atmosphere where clearly the people charged with ‘protecting’ and ‘securing’ are not the smartest people in the room.
As they spoke, I was reminded of my own teens and young adulthood, when we were equally terrified at the state of the world, with the polarization of the cold war era, the disappearance of the safety of non-combatants in the wake of the atomic bomb, the increasing vulnerability of the US Mail to theft and interference. Everything about the conversation was the same except the nouns.
I wonder if every age has its terrors? I wonder if the reason this feels so shocking to so many is that the young among us have never experienced fearful change before, and the old among us have forgotten the last time at the same part of the cycle?
I also wonder if my present complacency simply reflects my age, or perhaps my age plus an awareness of mortality from working in the ICU and hospice. Maybe it’s just that I don’t expect to have to live through whatever the worst part of this cycle is.
Someone else in my vicinity, a person with plenty of privilege along most of the present axes – I mean race, and gender, and social class, and economic clout, and a clean-handed office job, and so on – casually remarked that it didn’t really matter what happened in our national government because “we’ll live through it, whatever it is.” I sat stunned, unable to think of a response. (Those who know me in meatspace may find that shocking.)
Certainly many of us will live through it, whatever ‘it’ turns out to be. I’m just stunned by the callous disregard for the people who inevitably won’t. And for the groups of people who are currently being positioned, yet again, as the ‘usual suspects’ by the people in power.
I can’t march in the streets – my feet won’t take it. I write letters and donate money and participate in useful local pursuits when I can. And I comfort myself, quite selfishly, with what personal progress I can occasionally make.
Changing the Fatal to the Chronic Is a Difficult Blessing
I’ve been culling the books today, trying to let go of the ones I know I’ll never read again, to make room for the ones I’m trying to read nowadays. Some are readily forgotten, but some remind me of earlier times.
I once believed that humankind would soon solve all infectious disease. But then there was AIDS. Today both AIDS and cancer can often be made ‘chronic’ rather than ‘fatal’ diseases, with a combination of good luck and good treatment — but now we have MRSA and VRE and multi-drug resistant TB.
I once imagined that lifetime partnership was possible, and fulfilling, for me – but now I’m separated from my third marriage and discovering just how much we damaged each other by moving in together. And how much we stopped talking frankly to each other because there was somehow so much more at stake.
On the other hand, in those same days I didn’t believe in magic, nor in anything I couldn’t see or touch – and now I talk often with invisible friends and guides, spend at least a few minutes almost every day in a state of trance, and use magic and divination on a regular basis. In those same days I stayed away from churches as if they were toxic (out of a single difficult experience in adolescence), but now it’s 19 years since I first signed the book in a UU congregation, and I’m still here.
Prophesy From My Mother
The Witch wants to know what I’m not saying.
My mother, who was 28 in Paris when it became time for even rich Americans to leave Europe, who was 30 when the US entered World War II, used to say – in the 1990s – that it looked to her as if our national government was slipping toward fascism. I thought that idea was ludicrous; my brothers and I quietly called her ‘paranoid’ behind her back.
Now, though, I just think she was seeing the early signs.
I guess what I’m not saying is how aware I am that my country is not the haven of freedom, liberty, and justice for all that I was brought up to think it was. And how clear it is to me that our turn as the leading superpower is coming to an end. I wonder which country will take over that job next? I wonder how much of a mess we will make before we yield the field?