Yesterday, on an excursion to a place called Grassy Hollow where Carl and I headed for some much-needed nature, I read an article on the worldwide webs about the enormous hardship of our migrant workers, how they are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, even as they pick the food we eat, pluck the chickens we roast, slaughter and package the meat we barbecue. I won't regale you with the statistics, but it's gross. This country is foul.
How do we unhook from this culture?
This morning, I lay in bed thinking over-thinking wondering lamenting the usual morning fare. Professional basketball players are housed in what's being called the "Disney bubble," quarantined together with their families, at Disney hotels, kept safe and fed and tested constantly for the virus even as they are getting ready to finish the season of basketball that was so abruptly stopped and that fans so desperately await.
Do can will basketball players play without anyone watching?
Does a tree make a sound when it falls if no one is there?
I'm reading an article in the newest New Yorker by Lawrence Wright titled "Crossroads." The subtitle is "A scholar of the plague thinks that pandemics wreak havoc -- and open minds." The scholar is Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine, at Johns Hopkins University who has returned to her hometown, the old city of Bologna, Italy. She compares Covid-19 to the bubonic plague of the 14th century -- "not in the number of dead people but in terms of shaking up the way people think." She says, "The Black Death really marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of something else." We know that something else was the Renaissance. Pomata also says, "Chroniclers of the plague describe the crumbling of the family. At the same time, human beings are creative. They react to this perceived moral decay by creating new institutions." She's less optimistic about what's going on in our country, a country that she loves, where she lived in and worked for over thirty years. "What I see right now in the United States is that the pandemic has not led to new creative thinking but, on the contrary, has strengthened all the worst, most stereotypical, and irrational ways of thinking. I'm very sorry for the state of your country, which seems to be in the grip of a horrible attack of unreason. I'm sorry because I love it, and have received so much from it."
I just can't help thinking about the migrant workers picking my fruit and the basketball giants in their bubble. I can't stop thinking about those who are both ignoring the necessary actions we need to take and those who want to "get back to normal" or "learn to live with it." I am aware of the absurdity and privilege of my own lamentation.
Again, how do we unhook from this culture? Maybe you don't want to. Tell me why?
After wandering around Grassy Hollow, Carl and I drove to La Cañada to try to see the comet in the northwestern sky. We parked on a street called Sleepy Hollow and walked up a dirt trail to a peak that looked out over the entire Los Angeles basin. We watched the sun go down in orange flame, a thin crescent moon rise, the lights of the downtown skyline appear out of a thin haze and then the Big Dipper. There, Carl said, just to the left of the ladle. I saw only a very faint smudge, my night blindness preventing any real recognition. There was the comet, so aptly named Neowise, just barely visible to the naked eye, a cosmic snowball made of ice, rock and dust. I read that there are about 13 million Olympic swimming pools of water in Comet Neowise, that it's nearly 3 miles long and travels about 40 miles per second. When asked what she wanted to do when the pandemic was over, Gianna Pomata said that she longed to see her mother who lives in Sardinia. She wanted to swim there again. "Older people need exercise," she said. "I don't spend time at the beach gossiping with friends. I don't even take the sun. I just go immediately into the sea."
On Carl's super-camera, Neowise was a green blur with a fuzzy tail, 70 million miles away from the Earth where we stood.
I am grateful for my life. For life. I marvel and mark my own insignificance in this world. And I love the world and its people. But how do we unhook from this culture beyond going out into hollows and onto peaks to bask in and gaze at its mystery?
Here's a poem:
For the Sake of Strangers
No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another—a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.
Dorianne Laux (1994)