What’s it like to look out into the world and see nothing? To see nothing but confusion? To see a maze of possibilities all intertwined and crawling like ants, one over the other, each blocking the other’s view? Where hope is a four-letter word that is impossible to reach? Where it is imperative that impulse be dissolved away?
For prisoners who have been incarcerated, we must imagine that this is the norm for them. There is no room for hope and impulse is contained within bars and cinder blocks. In March of 2020, the world was all imprisoned inside wooden walls, concrete walls, vinyl siding. People were placed in suspended animation inside the vessels of their abodes and told to stay. An evil hunter was outside hunting for kills and the only way to ensure that hope rested in possibility was to stay cocooned within. This small creature, millions of which could rest on a pinhead, was confining the supposed most evolved creatures on the planet. If this miniscule warrior won out, would that flip the grid? Would it take over the throne of planetary inherent design?
It’s nearly impossible for humans to remain still for long periods of time. Life was made to move about, to explore, to experience. Time was created by people to measure their experiences, to give those experiences alignment and positioning, to enforce reality. Small creatures changed the processing and interaction of time. Time slowed, and humanity was forced into long-term considerations for survival. Michael Bennett and Dave Zirin say in the opening to their book Things That Make White People Uncomfortable that “It’s not about the short-term satisfaction of responding to every impulse”. What Bennett and Zirin pined about was that blacks didn’t need to respond to every provocation of whites. When faced with this same challenge of not responding to everything, humanity had to realize that the safe and only path was the one of avoidance, of careful measure, of consideration.
I am a fan of civil rights literature and nonfiction. Jon Meacham formed a collection called Voices In Our Blood: America’s Best On The Civil Rights Movement. Inside was a collection of some of the best civil rights thinking available. Howell Raines, one of the contributors, wrote a short story called “Grady’s Gift”. Something he said in this story spoke to me this week as I discovered that, yes, children are susceptible to this miniature warrior: “…in every childhood there is a moment when a door opens and lets the future in”. Every day when I rise from bed, I think about children and when this door will open once again for them. When will they rise from bed, dress, and go back to school? When will they experience friends again in groups greater than ten? But they shall rise, I shall rise, we all shall rise. We shall because we know we can wait. We aren’t weak by hiding from this small invader. In our collective efforts, we are strong and we will rise!
There is talk that adults must lead and allow children to follow. We must leave behind a legacy that includes a healthy, sustainable Earth. There are many paths that can be charted. Some lead to the depths of the inferno and others to the reaches of health. Some humans like to tempt fate with their wild actions that place all of us in peril. Hisham Matar’s narrator in his book The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land In Between fights against himself in his struggle to reposition another person on a better pathway. Matar’s narrator says “…I rebelled against those early perceptions of him. I did so because I feared the consequences of his convictions; I was desperate to divert him from his path. It was my first lesson in the limits of one’s ability to dissuade another from a perilous course.” If we were to survey young people, teenagers perhaps, about how they’d respond to a friend who was destructive, many would say they’d help. They’d stop their friend before he even neared the vicinity of death’s doorstep. Adults (most) would say the same. But then, when faced with reality that put them in doubt and denial, many adults and teens would fold. They’d watch the reaper chase people, nipping at their very heels, chomping to gain ground. Rather than help, they’d rather roll the dice, take a chance, watch the fray. Limits. Limits kill, but they kill only when we are afraid to apply them. If we face those limits, we win the challenge and move forward.
We choose the pathway. We choose where it starts and we choose where it ends, or perhaps we don’t. “Thus I seduced myself, taking one of the many wrong turnings I have taken on a road that looks true but has delivered me into the heart of a labyrinth.” J.M. Coetzee raises this in his novel Waiting For The Barbarians. The novel calls into question who the true barbarians are: the civilized society that exists in cities and towns or the roaming bands of people who change location nightly. As the narrator processes his role in the societal side, he is transformed by the power of the supposed barbarians. He walks into the labyrinth, at first unable to see beyond his societal blinders, but adapting and finding that indeed, barbarity is defined in ways beyond his scope. Is it barbaric, this small thing we call COVID19, the scourge on humanity that has invaded and taken victims? Is it barbaric because it has taken life and to take life is evil, something only a barbarian could do? Is it barbaric only because we don’t understand its actions or like its ways?
Could it be that as people we are undergoing a transformation? We have been viciously entrapped in the COVID prison, barred in and walled in, stuck with our electronic addiction devices, because we needed a correction? We needed to get back to our families and realize true worth and values? Or is it something much more simple? Simple like the basic virus, an RNA virus that can only replicate with the help of our own cells. It can only destroy us if we help it. Is it that, like JMG LeClezio states in Onitsha that “the people follow their invisible path.”? Humanity must recognize the world’s randomness. We must learn to live within boundaries that flex and change. We must adapt to an ever-changing and invisible path.