November 23, 2006

The Devil And The Deep Blue Thanks

I didn't make it to see family this Thanksgiving, but I'll be spending it with good friends and I'm grateful for that. But this is one of those holidays that, if I wasn't spending it with people I cared about, would just be too grim to want to think about in the most normal of times. Not that these are normal times.

There are about 140,000 American troops serving in Iraq alone, some on their fourth deployment. In lieu of being able to bring them home, those of us whose finances haven't been wrecked in the Bush economy might want to send them a more substantial thank you. Vice President Cheney, on the other hand, would like to send them to Iran, in spite of the CIA report that found as much hard evidence against Iran as they found against Iraq. Which is to say that they found nothing to speak of, or alternately, that the vice president is a murderous mockery of a human being whose bloodlust it would likely be impossible to sate.

Also this year, nearly 100,000 Katrina refugees are still living in FEMA trailers. Many of them are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the hurricane and its aftermath. If they're waiting for their home insurance to pay out, they may well wait forever, as the insurance companies pretty much tried to wash their hands of the matter to the tune of billions. At least some of this cadre of internally displaced US citizens will have somewhat better accomodations this year, which is both something to be thankful for and something for which this government and its neoconservative sympathizers should be begging forgiveness. There's no way reconstruction should be taking this long, no way any of these people should still be homeless.

And, oh yeah, there are a lot of people that were homeless in the US anyway. About 800,000 of them. In 2005, it was determined that the fastest growing segment of the homeless population was families with children. Welcome to the richest country on earth, little dudes. Not that having a place to live guarantees having something to eat.

In normal times, it would be bad enough to know even a little about the Trail of Tears and other horrors visited on the first Americans. The larger meaning of the national holiday is a giving of thanks for a land that was stolen through unprovoked war and genocide against people who'd already been decimated by a disease epidemic that was likely started when the conquistadors carelessly let their livestock run loose.

And I must admit that a little is all I know about these things. On a typical week, I spend hours reading the news and it's horrible. Sometimes it feels soul-destroying. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I can't put enough distance between myself and stories about the terrors of Iraq or Darfur to not hurt some, to not feel a bit furious over my inability to help in some way. And so when it comes to historical genocides, I've been taking a rain check. Lots of very clever people whose job it is to know these things assure us that there was a genocide against the Native Americans (if one were inclined to disbelieve the descendants of the survivors, which I'm not) and the population numbers back them all up. Just please, right now, please accept my apologies for skimming over the details.

So maybe this all seems a little morbid for a family holiday. Or maybe you're thinking that I'm one of those people with tediously mundane problems who melodramatically feels that their life is so bleak that they have to look for something truly awful and far removed from their experiences in order to feel good about it. Well, no. I'd have a lot to be grateful for even, as my mother used to remind me often, if I didn't know that there are people starving in Africa.

But really, this is just me rambling on about something I've been trying to reconcile for myself. I couldn't accept not paying attention to current events anymore. Not because of any superior morality, mind, but because every morning I'd wake up and feel like I'd turned into an ostrich. Which is how I usually do feel when I skip out on my reading for a while. But there are days when the horror of the situation seems to pose the infernal question. You know the question.

What's the point?

What's the point of trying to be anything more than a bystander at this train wreck, reading about things that I already know are going to make me angry? Terrible things were done in the past. People tried to stop them and most of those people never lived to see even a sliver of progress. When they did, it often meant that the target had moved. Terrible things are being done now. People are trying to stop them, but as it happens, very few of those people seem to have any actual power.

Who the heck am I to think it makes a hill of beans worth of difference whether or not I 'care' about any of this, anyway? Seriously. Nobody asked me, and this is unlikely to change. I don't have the money or power to help anyone directly. I'm not famous, nor am I ever likely to be, so being the next Bono is out. I'm not a trained social worker or something, so I can't always see a clear path to better, were someone interested in my advocacy thereof. Who am I to think that what I do matters?

And that takes things away, once again, from topics I can do anything about. Though the real point probably isn't about how much I can do, and never was. That's just sort of a dodge.

When I went to Costa Rica, I was offered a heartbreaking level of hospitality by people who had comparatively nothing. I was greeted with extraordinary kindness and cheer by all my hosts, including the two sisters who let me stay with them in the capital because of a mutual acquaintance. I was fortunate in who I met. And at first, I wondered what I'd done to deserve that kind of treatment, except that in the beginning the answer was of course nothing. They wanted to be a certain way, wanted to respond to a stranger with trust and kindness that I hope I repaid.

They wanted to live in a better world and so they lived as if they were already there, as much as they could. It was about trying to be someone still capable of thanks, compassion and generosity for its own sake. Finding things to be happy about not because their world was all peachy keen, but because it was a good way to live. Being good to others because after everything else, it's a nicer way to interact than the alternatives. Having hope that things could be better because that's the only way they ever could be.

So, you know, I'm going to be thankful today. And hopefully not just today. Otherwise that would make me an ungrateful sod, and the world doesn't need anymore of those.

Happy Thanksgiving :)

"Whoever kills one person unjustly, kills all of humanity, whoever saves one innocent life, saves all humanity." - The Koran

Posted by natasha at November 23, 2006 12:14 PM | Random Mumblings | Technorati links |