Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mercy Now

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. 


  1. Well said, Elizabeth. I remember that drive well. It was different seeing it through your eyes--beautiful and disturbing.


  2. I am heading out the door, will return to watch the video,

    but Mercy.


    I'd like to say it's a bit of coincidence that I'm finally reading Three Cups of Tea, the essence of this as GM 's message, along with education, or because of it.

    But it would seem so much like nothing has ever been different, or ever will be and that is so terribly depressing.

    I think I think I think
    and sometimes I just want to know what to do.

    love more ? learn more? pray more?

    ( and might you send this somewhere? it's remarkable )

  3. Thank you for sharing all that. Beautiful. And sad.

  4. Beautiful, hopeful, disconcerting.
    Mercy- one of my favorite words.
    You. One of my favorite people.

  5. Elizabeth you are a truly amazing writer. We have driven that stretch of the 5 many, many times. It is a gorgeous place!

    What were you doing there? You should have stopped by our house on the way. :)

  6. It is indeed a crazy, mixed-up world, full of beauty, full of pain and ugliness. I am coming to believe that the only hope lies in the heart of each one of us: To love, and do, the best we can, each day we are given to live. You are doing that for Sophie and your family, as well as for your community, on this drive, and with your words. May God bless your efforts and give you peace, and Sophie, healing.

  7. right now it seems there are no roads, views, vantage points that are without need of mercy.

    she says slowly, sadly from disturbing arizona.

  8. Wow. What perspective.

    Having a very frustrating experience this week with the lack of mental health services in our country. It's scary. And not fair. And scary.

  9. Such beautiful writing and such a finely tuned sense of the ironies and contradictions and sweetness and ache that we live with every day. I so loved this:

    "And it was much, she thought, but not too much."

    We keep on. We bear our burdens. We see the glory that is there in spite of the hard. That is the mercy, and today, you gave us the gift of it. Thank you and bless you and Sophie and everyone you love.

    I am so happy to be able to come here.

  10. well, I cried of course,
    that song,
    her voice

    I can't thank you enough Elizabeth.

  11. That song is an incredibly moving poem.

  12. unbelievable writing. blow-me-away beautiful.

    keep driving.
    keep writing.
    keep holding out for mercy,
    and much more.
    love to you and your crew,

  13. Such a haunting and beautiful post. I know the stretch of highway of which you speak and can now picture your poignant description of its beauty and ugliness. Thank you for this.

  14. Wow...love the song and Mary has quite the bio.skissb



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