Red Hook, Brooklyn. A gritty/dangerous to gritty/semi-gentrified neighborhood. (IKEA to the left)
It turns out that I broke my shoulder going to the bathroom. A friend said that I need a better story, but I’m sticking to it. As I told him, it’s in the banality of life that I find what to write about; thus, this fall fits right in.
I landed so hard on my left shoulder that, as the doctor put it, “There’s a break where the ice cream part of the shoulder meets the cone part.” A less metaphorical friend said, “It’s the socket.” I need to be in a sling for a few weeks, with limited use of my left arm. Luckily, I’m ambidextrous and my writing these days is done with a keyboard and not with a pen tensely held in my left hand. Luckily, too, I use my right hand to write on the board, so systems are somewhat ready for school days. The orthopedist told that my threshold for pain is high, which, ridiculously, feels like an accomplishment. It is not bad, as things go.
I’m using this down time effectively, in a balanced way. On the negative side: making myself feel bad about my lack of summer accomplishments and how my weight has stabilized at too high a number (according to the scale at the doctor’s office and pants shopping) even after drastically cutting down (home-based) carbs. On the positive side: reading. You would think that a writer and English teacher would let herself relax into reading, terming it an accomplishment and a worthy activity, but I don’t; the exception being if the book brings to life a dark moment in history. I’m on a roll with novels about children during World War II. So that works. Now that the end of summer is fast approaching, I’m letting in a little yearning to read about yearning before it’s too late. (When I was in New York, my sister-in-law showed me the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey and breathlessly explained the story, thinking that it would entice me. It didn’t.)
I’m also balancing the inner reflection part of summer by watching Robin Williams clips and reading about Gaza, Israel, anti-Semitism, Yezidis, Iraq, Syria, Michael Brown, Ferguson, Ebola, and thinking about the deaths of my three acquaintances. My, how this summer has just breezed along! Are summers always so intense, so tragic? As Shakespeare put it:
The day is hot, the [Capulets] are abroad.
And if we meet we shall not 'scape a brawl,
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, scene 1, lines 2-4)
Why is it so hard to overcome evil, sweat or not?
For years I have been reading about anti-Semitism, striving to understand it. But how do you comprehend incessant, violent hatred even if it masquerades as something intellectual or religious or economic or racial? It seems to me that it persists as proof that evil exists and will always need to be fought and defeated. It is not for one generation to create a golden brick road for all of us to prance upon; no, each generation needs to determine if theirs is a generation that will skip along caring or at least tolerating each other, or will their generation tug at that war of good and evil, or will theirs let the evil spill and spread like oil on water.
At a certain point the unendingness of anti-Semitism and oppression and attempts at genocide, of one group being so offended by the existence of another group that it seeks its destruction, is too hard to process. But there is no alternative. If anything, this summer has taught me that we all live with so much pain that perhaps it is this personal-power that can contend with the dehumanizing group-power of hate. From pain surely comes hate, but so, too, may it be the source of empathy, of seeing that we are tied to others by more commonalities than we were aware.
This summer I fell and broke a bone. I don’t devalue my pain compared to other people’s (well, not too much); it does give me a point of partnership. But did I really need it? What does it take to be a good person in a world that constantly veers toward evil? In a car you can adjust the alignment. If only it were so simple.
During a class at the Holocaust Museum a few years ago I learned the concept of the four types of people: victim, perpetrator, rescuer, and bystander. The bystander has been vilified as letting the evil of the world roll on and on. But I wonder if the bystander should be so negatively interpreted. Do I, a seemingly passive person, not act to propel the positive forces of my understanding of life? Do I not live, in my teeny footsteps, as if I am part of a wave that strives for whirled peas (world peace)?
I remember reading that some Holocaust survivors said that they thought their mental rebellions counted as just that, rebellion. I also read about inmates in labor camps de-bombing the bombs they were supposed to be making for Nazi Germany. I wonder if the force of internal resistance is more than we think, and if believing in it, we end up doing more active resistance and insistence. Aren’t we more motivated to push ourselves, to be ourselves, when we aren’t cowering in self-doubt? Isn’t it better to be underwhelmed and, thus, capable, than overwhelmed and non-propelled?
Years ago my daughters laughed at me for being the bag lady when I went to the supermarket. Now I save 5 cents with each bag I bring. I used to have to search for Fair Trade coffee, now it’s available in Costco.
The anguish felt when witnessing pain is the core strength within humanity that has any chance at defeating, even momentarily, the ever-burgeoning cancer of hate. It is not to feel that my pain is not serious enough, my input is not worthy enough, my giving is not valuable enough; it is to live knowing that my compassion is to be trusted as a guide propelling me from pain, into pain, to attempt to banish pain.