It is 4:27 pm on Sunday afternoon. The small convenience store at the corner of Hwy 17 and Ocean Boulevard is packed with customers two lines deep waiting on a single cashier to ring them up and send them on their way. She is a sweet black woman near my age that I chat with every time I visit the store.
I am third in line behind an older white man wearing a scraggly beard and walking with a slight bent limp, and a Hispanic father with two teenage girls wearing shorts, smiles, and sunburns. A young black man and his friend are behind me. The line on the other side of the store has an older white couple, a Hispanic woman talking on her cell phone, an older black lady wearing jeans, a God Saves T-shirt and a ball-cap, and a well-dressed younger couple speaking quietly in Russian.
Two miles away, in the center of downtown Myrtle Beach, SC a protest ends without major violence or rioting after arrests and releases, a few hours of tense stand-off and news reports, and a slow push forward by a police line that encourages dispersion. I watch the local Facebook news feed for hours. Then, make this quick run to the nearest convenience store for cigarettes before the 6 pm curfew takes effect.
I am in line. We are all in line. Each of us trying to observe social-distancing rules and patiently wait our turn in the tiny overcrowded store. My mind is trying to sort the images and realities of the day. I’m looking for a way to make sense of the deep emotions of anger and pain I’ve seen and heard. The questions of meaning and how to address these issues and help heal them in my community float across my consciousness.
How it is possible that we are still battling these issues of race, prejudice, and inequality in the year 2020 my mind asks. I cannot fathom an answer. The sad pain over the reality of these deep, ingrained wounds and behavior our nation and its’ people are suffering is too overwhelming. I am floating between rational thought and simple prayer as I stand in the line, waiting my turn.
A young black man in his 30’s walks in the store and steps in front of everyone, seemingly oblivious to the lines of people standing there. He asks the cashier a question:
I’m lost. Can you help me find my way?
My breath catches in my throat as I feel everyone tense around me. From behind him, the older white man with the limp and scraggly beard, reaches and puts his hand on the mans shoulder. In a deep Southern accent he says, “I’ve lived here all my life son. Maybe I can help. Where are you trying to get to?”
The whole store seems to breathe one long sigh of relief as they talk and the man is soon on his way to his destination. Both men show nothing but respect and kindness to one another during the interaction. I am almost in tears at the gift of this moment. Hope comes back into my heart. I believe we can somehow find our way through this … one person-to-person interaction at a time.
I think about the question, “I’m lost. Can you help me find my way?” It sums up the surreal place the people, our nation, and the world seems to be at in this moment. We are all lost and needing a little help to find our way. It starts within each of us and moves outward. It is the simple truth of Gandhi’s words, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
The Stage beckons but I hold my place with the Shadows
Of dark-corner-ebony-haze Standing on the Brink of Oblivion
Amid the billowing dance of those old velvet curtains of Coincidence.
And the Shadows jump to a wall and leave me Standing
In a Drama I didn’t rehearse for – trying to remember learning lines
Or the Name of the Play
as I contemplate Performance and Gravity
And kick off my Strings again Today.
RE-POST FROM APRIL 2011…
“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“ ~Soren Kierkegaard
We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.
Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in theAmerican Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story. Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier.This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.
But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?
Class Levels and the Battle for Education
America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.
The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.
The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.
Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.
In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.
Who is the 99% ?
There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:
The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.
This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.
The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.
- Stiglitz: wealth concentration will be America’s downfall(boingboing.net)
- America’s Class Problem (beavercountyblue.org)
- Stiglitz: We have a government ‘Of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1%’ (americablog.com)
- Joseph Stiglitz: The Fate of The Top 1% Is Bound Up With How The Other 99% Live (crooksandliars.com)
- Working your Way into the Poor House (skydancingblog.com)
- Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown, the Economic Crisis, and Gulf Oil Spill All Happened for the SAME REASON (ritholtz.com)
- Vanity Fair: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% by Joseph E. Stiglitz (jaldenh.wordpress.com)
I dream of poets –
of their bright-broken bruised
Their plight of speaking tomes
to the dead, to the living trying
to find word-songs to sing.
These ghosts of witness, prophets
caged in a time where prophets are
un-believed, are mere myths residing
in the places of Jesus
and miracles, and antiquated belief
don’t exist beside
economic woes, and woe is
the would-be poet-prophet who
tries to sing songs, speak warnings and
create dirges in a world gone deaf to hearing
and too busy for reading
and, of course, wouldn’t read poems anyway, but
would be more inclined toward
something like an e-book on “How to
Make $10,000 a year from home,” or
”The True Story of Rock Star John,”
a serialized E-special in print. Poets
and their prophecies spoken
in silent voices of white paper and black
letters in books filled with screaming
voices that are silent
upon the unhearing ears
of the world.
I dream of poets —
of their bright-broken
“I think she is telling us what the great writers of the past have always wanted us to understand: that ignorance and terror are never far from possession of our hearts, and so at any time it may be over all of us, ‘like a ton of water,’ the things we don’t know.” ~The Achievement of Gina Berriault, Richard Yates from The Tea Ceremony.
We live in a time of dead prophets. The voices speaking for Divinity, foretelling the future, advocating a better way, promoting positive change – these voices fall silent, no whispers remaining. It is a world stage filled with mediocre talent, all bit players without the charisma or talent of star players. America is mired in gridlock, players bitterly embattled, stifled by the all encompassing need for power. The pendulum of time ticking away the days while the prophets remain silent. We are immersed in the things we don’t know, drowning in a river of partisanship, gulping the water of carnival theatrics.
I miss the prophets and the heroes, the actors who understood the significance of their performance, who recognized the crowds right to a good, fun-loving show. I miss people like JFK, who knew to keep his foibles under wrap, while extolling the valuable American virtues and respecting the realm of the otherworldly:
When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Poetry as the antidote to power, as a cleansing agent that brings clarity and truth of vision. This perceptive recognition of the power and necessity of Other as a primary part of man’s existence and healthy development is a hallmark of the hero/leader personality. This is a thought process, a recognition lost to the people in political power. What congressman or senator has read poetry lately rather than analyzing soundbites? Has one voice found the sincerity and honesty necessary to compose a poem – could any one of our leaders write a speech or prophecy – that rang true and touched the emotions of an American readership? How long will we be immobilized by men who lack vision, clarity, duty, and the ability to compromise?
An atmosphere of ignorance and terror hangs in the air like dense fog over the inlet swamps. Violence and rebellion simmer, the angry cry for justice and fairness grows louder across the different states and cultural boundaries. Ethnicity and income levels even out, become less important, as the strain of an inactive, reprobate government pulls at the fabric of our country. “We the people” is coming to mean something entirely different than ever before. The things we don’t know – the future we may face, the ignorance and terror that threatens to overwhelm us, the lack of action by our elected officials – the outcome we don’t know creates a fearful panic. What will it take? How can the problems be fixed? Is there an answer to the divisiveness overtaking our country? I am waiting for the Poets to tell me. I am listening.