Posts

I have tried many times to write another piece about what is happening in America today only to fail in delivering anything remotely cogent or meaningful. I keep trying to analyze it all in an effort to make peace with the insanity, death and destruction that I witness. Anything short of that has left me feeling helpless, struggling to accept the utter devastation that is occurring right in front of our faces.

BABEL

Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion, albeit temporary, there’s no sense to be made of what is occurring right now. Like the mythic Tower of Babel that God strikes down, forcing different languages on humanity, so too have we been struck incomprehensible to one another. Given this failure to communicate, it is the emotional and ultimately spiritual space that is the most appropriate place for my heart to reside.

Lately I’ve been re-reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, a phenomenal depiction of humankind’s struggle to plumb the depths of one’s soul to survive extraordinary circumstances. While the current Pandemic and decimation of American society and political institutions can’t be compared to the Holocaust in any literal way, there are parallels to its “helpless/hopeless” effects on our psyches, as well as promise on how to endure it all with less damage.

PROVISIONAL EXISTENCE OF UNKNOWN LIMIT

It has become quite trendy in recent years to meditate, to practice living in the now, worthy practices to slow the mind and energy systems from the frenetic pace of modern life. A tension presents itself of course when one resumes daily activities that focus instead on some measure of future: Goals, activities, deadlines, etc. Without some aspect of ‘later’ or an endpoint, even if it’s a simple future orientation such as what to have for dinner, we are hard pressed to stay only in the now indefinitely.

With the pandemic we have lost a recognizable endpoint, a goal or destination of it being over, with a return to life as we have known it. In the Holocaust, prisoners lost all reference to the future or any endpoint. Similarly, though monumentally far from being as degrading as concentration camps, pandemic populations know not when any recognizable endpoint will occur. There’s always the tease of one, yet the infections rage on. Further, the chaotic and degraded democratic institutions and structure in America at this time makes nothing reliable. Nothing.

MAROONED 

Added to this dynamic is the disconnection of physical presence with others—particularly painful for pack animals such as humans. We know we are not alone yet feel alone regardless. Besides this psychic chasm, we struggle with an altered concept of time. Purpose for and faith in some goal or intention, has to be reimagined. Is it even possible for humans to not strive for something? And in what timeframe? Without these instruments from which to steer by, life seems rudderless and a kind of moroseness or depression sets in.

Frankl’s wife, imagining, remembering her without even knowing whether she was alive or dead in another camp became his salvation, at least in part. But it was more than her. It was the field of Love in which she resided that he cultivated access, to make it through the days, through the smallest and largest degradations of daily survival. A different perspective, a deeper one, was identified on which to focus, a new horizon from a different vantage point on which to set one’s eye.

A COMPASS

A few years ago I had the astonishingly good fortune to meet and work with Bennet Mermel on his memoir, an extraordinary man who survived the Holocaust himself. I witnessed first hand the field of Love—the goal or drive to help his younger brother, Kalvin, to stay alive as well. By trying to save Kalvin’s physical life, Bennet also helped save his own. It was a symbiosis that fueled surviving a horrific “now”, driven by suffering yet with a dignity that defied comprehensive description.

Yet there was still depression. Besides staggering constant physical exhaustion, depression was the emotional current that constantly served as undertow, threatening to suck him under due to death and degradation that was pervasive in the camps. Had Bennet not had Loves’ compass for his brother to steer by, he may never have made it. The magnet was challenged constantly by the sheer magnitude of a sense of no end in sight. Still, it was the engine that kept him going.

THE EXAMPLE 

I was very heartened by the fact that Michelle Obama and Michael Phelps have recently addressed the problem of depression and mental health issues consequent to the pandemic and the breakdown in our society. In many ways a sorrow for loss is the most appropriate response. Like losing a limb, one cannot help but feel sad for the absence of the thing itself, but more importantly for the value and use that predictability and hope heretofore provided to one’s life.

To share that sorrow with a wider audience is huge. It feels personal, intimate, communicating we are not alone in what we witness and feel. It recognizes our shared humanity and binds us together, exhausting out grief to arrive at the other side. Ultimately, we are left to acknowledge it, to discover our own compass and help others find theirs if at all possible. For while we may not perceive an endpoint to the pandemic, let alone imagine how to rebuild America, life continues and is made better in the process. On the other side of grief is an acceptance that facilitates a language all its own: a non-Babel speak that connects us all.

Rosalie Cushman is the author of several books, The Man Confused By God and Vibrating At The Speed Of Love. They are available on Amazon and at fine bookstores everywhere.

The Man Confused By God https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733802320/ref=cm_sw_r_em_tai_wAyoFbRKCWEQT

Vibrating at the Speed of Love https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733802304/ref=cm_sw_r_em_tai_3ByoFbX6ER6QT

I don’t even know what day it is sheltering in place. Maybe day 75. Regardless, I have become very bored, increasingly more despairing about a reasonable and sane recovery.

The medical community including nationally renowned experts, has been trashed by the administration and far right troublemakers. The democracy is in shambles, with little to no check and balance on the Administration. 

WARPING THE CONCEPT OF FREEDOM

It’s actually hard to make sense of it all, the decline has become so precipitous. Forget about going back to an old normal. We will be lucky if we can stagger our way to a new normal that’s fair and just and healthy for the economy, the democracy, and the society at large. 

Just like it’s hard to watch a person die, it’s very hard for some of us to watch a democracy die. At best, if it is to survive, it will take years of rehabilitation just like a body would after suffering catastrophic trauma and deterioration.

GRIEVING: THE MACRO

Even though I have some understanding of the pathology of extremism, the resultant degradation of institutions is heartbreaking to witness, a cause for grieving and despair to be sure. 

It is also hard to stay mentally engaged right now since the focus has been so narrowed to stay physically healthy, sheltering in place. We cross fingers and toes in the hopes that we will survive both physically and economically, pinky-promising with eyes shut tight America will be able to claw our way back to reason as well as health.

COPING: THE MICRO

I’ve done some projects around my little apartment. Including some cleaning and culling of sorts. I’ve called and chatted with friends and family, and I continue to read. And write, at least when I’m clear-headed.

My worst activity has been binging on television and food. Oh God, please help me to stop with my incessant palliative mental and physical self-comforting. Remarkably, not only do I know I’m not alone but sometimes I feel happy at the absurdity of it all. I actually laugh. Out loud. 

These are hardly healthy coping mechanisms. Ironically, I seem to lurch uncontrollably between far better palliative care of the spirit. It is this latest impulse that is my salvation, when I can hitch myself to the vapor trail I actually feel hope, joy. It is remarkable, a wonder. And yet…

THE PENDULUM 

It seems I’ve heard it all—from the right, from the left, from the professional uplifters, and the doomsayers. It’s exhausting. Dispiriting. And while occasionally I really do recognize the absurdity of the human condition, generating belly laughs and believe it or not, an uplifted spirit, I cannot seem to stay there long.

The space between despondency and hope is precarious and narrow indeed. Things are so broken, there’s so much ignorance, so many nefarious players, sadly it all seems to overshadow the potential for regaining some sort of equilibrium. It presses in on the heart. Can’t you just feel the tension?

HOPE, ALWAYS

But I trudge on, knowing ultimately in the end, things will right themselves regardless of how long it takes. Just like when a body dies those that are left behind find a way to not just cope but ultimately to survive and create a new life. So too democratic nations that die, staggering into insidious corruption and decay. They will either rise again, be overrun, or discover a new accommodation in the world.

Time will tell what’s in store for our lot in America for tension always stops when it has been spent. I know one thing: the decline phase is not over and I pray on this Memorial Day weekend we can lean into hope both individually and as a nation for better days. And with that, I’ll say a little prayer. Then I’ll go have a cookie (or three) to celebrate.

What be this thing called hope, this state? To wander back-and-forth between hopelessness and hopefulness, why at times it feels as crazy as the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It is amazing how it seems to swing so slowly for a period. Yet at others, it lurches uncontrollably in staccato fashion between the two states. 

THE NATURE OF LIGHT

We sit confined, in a prism of our making. Yes, that’s the correct word: prism. Besides the traditional definitions of refractive light, the case I make for the word thusly is, “prisms can be made from any material that is transparent to the wavelengths for which they are designed…prisms can be used to reflect light, or to split light into components with different polarizations.” These latest words depict a state of both a claiming and rejection of elements of ourselves, as well as the implied polarization that is its consequence.

We will not always be home-bound. At some point we will be set free to roam the social gathering places, like gazelles to a watering hole but will not feel the same. For many, it may pale in comparison to the interior depths of ourselves we have plumbed during confinement, finding solace and comfort in a more authentic manner with those we hold most dear, including our own hearts. 

THE TEMPORARY IS JUST THAT

For others, being let loose will provide only temporary thrills, acknowledging a lack of appetite for the shallow and trite, intoxicating though it may be for a time. Somehow freedom to wing-spread will undergo a new definition, an acknowledgment of sorts. Given enough lack of interior sustenance they will begin to miss what began in their heretofore home-bound state, that unnamed itch for growth that has been awakened.

There will be those that carry on as if nothing has altered their perception of the world (and those in it), behaving like drunken sailors and raucous wenches, repressing the recent sting of social isolation, only to behave as before. Yet a seed will have been planted for future enlightenment, ripening once they have germinated long enough, whether in this lifetime or the next. 

ITERATIONS

Regardless, many things will be redefined, restructured and changed, for a quality left to the living will capture enough people’s imaginations to speak it, to live it differently. The “it” is that intangible and beneficent regard for others that acknowledges the depths of connections we all share as a species, regardless of malvescence by some, dependent on heroism by others. Those that have harmed the herd will endure accounting of it, there is no doubt. But with any luck, the subtle change in the refracted light of our better selves will triumph with enough heat and pressure of the current moment. 

And it is this process, the evolution of us as individuals and groups, having come out the other side to a new order of things that hope births. I see glimmers of it already: in nurses, doctors, deliverers of goods and services, in some public servants, and in the ordinary of us carrying on, socially isolating not just for ourselves but for the good of the whole. We KNOW inherently these acts are “in the service for more than us, they are for others too.”

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Many will not be able to see this change but more folks likely will than not. Of that I am confident, hopeful even, regardless of the human, political and social “infection” we will have survived. Or because of it? While it may not be loud, there will be evidence. There already is in fact, in that subtle shifts are visible in the compassion shown by some media leaders, medical individuals interviewed, common neighborhood helpers and many ordinary people. The angry ones, the bitter and noisy gong people, critical and venomous will pale in comparison.

Not all moments seem to call for hope. There are times that call for despair, and we will have experienced the state far too often during this pandemic. Yet despair can be temporary at best, ultimately fostering hope from which emerges a slow but sturdy light refracted from the prism. After all, we do know why the caged bird sings.

AND SO MUST WE

And so we stand on the edge of sorrow and joy, despair and hope with the intuition that there will be better days, better angels and greater things to come. 

For we are not just refracted light. We are reflected light as well, created from a nature that in the end claims us all. Whether one believes in the divine or not, nature has its way with life, always continuing onward. Groaning though we may be in the current morass, hope is greater than even itself for it reflects something more. Out of it springs a faith in things unseen, of the promise by and for the living; for life ongoing forever after.

I sit here on a gloomy-stew Sunday, just me and the rain. It continues to feel like such a surreal existence, the social distancing, the subtle fear of others—could they have “it” or could I infect them, crossing my mind all too frequently. The odd wariness of people, be they strangers or even friends, it’s disconcerting, but a near curiosity nonetheless.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

Through no fault of their own, everyone is suspect, including myself. The rain makes me think the earth is weeping for us. But maybe not out of sadness. Maybe just maybe, it’s a way to cleanse the world and metaphorically, us in it. How many mistakes we  humans make. If I wasn’t so personally involved and engaged in the whole pandemic, from a distance it presents as a puzzle, curiosity about the human race, however briefly. Oh, the folly of us.

It’s impossible not to judge although as quickly as I do, I try desperately to chastise myself for doing it. I watch people walk around without any protection, though not too many of them, and marvel at governors who still don’t have statewide orders to social distance. They are making an assumption because they only have four people in the state who are infected, that they are exempt from tragedy somehow. Oh, the folly of human thought. And the arrogance.

I LOVE ME WHO DO YOU LOVE

Arrogance is as arrogance does, or so they say. So too ignorance, and too many Americans, certainly suffer from it. Sadly, both conditions are part of the human experience, part of each of us in unequal measure. We either think we know best, think nothing bad will ever really seriously happen to us, or believe in wacky political ideas that are naive at best, nefarious at their worst. 

Then there’s the greed and selfishness of people hoarding, sometimes out of downright fear I realize, but all too often out of a belief system that “I’ve got to get mine so I won’t lose out” mindset, strutting their behavior like terrified peacocks. I, I, I! It is the bane of our existence.

COVID-19 RISING

They say the next couple of weeks could be very grim with the contagion spreading like wildfire, infecting many more people, with a rising death toll as a result. It will be an uneven contagion no doubt, much like it has been to date. Still, there’ll be some in disbelief, denial. Still there’ll be people who think it’s a conspiracy, some absurd plot. For what end? What global purpose? Remarkably we still live in an age of the superstitious. Still!

And so we soldier on, trying as we might, to protect ourselves as best we can from “the others” be it person or germ. What lesson is it that we must individually and as a collective learn? What spiritual, ethical and social nugget have we yet to break open and discern? Can it result in a “dear God please let us be better than our former selves, please let us think of our brothers, please let us have compassion and caring,” at least those of us who are capable of it. To expand that intent and cover, not just this nation in an atmosphere of love, but indeed the entire world, is our mandate besides the practical behaviors we all must exercise. 

If only…