|Border fence on I-5, San Diego County, facing the ocean|
There's a stretch of Interstate 5 between San Clemente, in Orange County, and San Diego that epitomizes the dichotomies of the world as I see them. I have traveled that stretch of highway hundreds of times over the last fifteen years, first as a visitor with my baby strapped into an infant car seat in the back of a rental car, the air I breathed filled with hope and expectation. Later, as a resident of the huge city of Los Angeles to the north, I traveled down with three small children in a family car and now, today, with my fifteen year old daughter, doped up on her eighteenth anti-epileptic drug, exhausted and wasted from daily seizures that seem to defy all treatment. I'll always remember the first glorious glimpse I had of that coast, the surge of joy and recognition and release when I came down from the north and the road panned out in front of me, the ocean glistening blue on the right, the black specks of surfers here and there. And today was much the same despite my heavy burden. I was listening to Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now, yellow flowers dotted the green hillsides and scraggly medians, nurtured by the soaking rains of early winter. Hawks wheeled overhead and the water shimmered silvery blue. And it was much, I thought, but not too much. It wasn't too much as I squinted into the sun and spoke softly to Sophie who looked out the window, silent.
My church and my country could use a little mercy now.
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That's gonna take forever to climb out --
That short stretch of The 5, as we call it, covers about ten miles or so, ten miles, again, that serve as backdrop to paradox -- the flowers dot the hillsides but one of the largest Marine bases in the country shares the space. Enormous silvery tanks sit by the edge of the shimmering sea and dun-colored helicopters circle with the hawks, their maneuvers a grim exercise for something distant, not discernible. The surfers bob up and down in the waves of San Onofre, the nuclear power plant a bulbous mushroom rising out of the sand, its tentacles reaching over the highway and into the vast tracts beyond. Past the camp and past the plant lies farmland, right on the coast, acres and acres, the aching stooped backs of migrant workers picking the country's fruit, the strawberries, the dark chard and lettuce, stooped from the sun that glints off the mirrored lenses of the Border Police who stand in line at the checkpoint in their dun-colored uniforms, waving our cars through. I saw all of this and have seen all of this over and over, have always puzzled and marveled at the obvious, and today, I thought about Arizona and that young man, whose twisted mind had brought so much horror into an ordinary day at a grocery store. I thought of his mental illness, the Glock pistol, the ease with which he bought the gun, the arms to make it go, the difficulty of mental illness, of the treatment for mental illness, of the country, our country, that might make it impossible for him to be treated, that call tyranny at the expansion of health care but treat him to the right to have the gun, the liberty that he was defending and will now have taken away. I thought of all these things on the I-5 as I drove down with my daughter.
Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don't deserve it
But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle 'tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now.