The Front Line

“A little resistance ensures a lot of progress.” – Richard writes to me. He suggests that I dig holes with straight lines, sharp corners – so the roots don’t curve in on themselves.

So much has happened since you wrote to me. There are little fires burning everywhere. I don’t think any of us were made to take in all this hurt. I feel the edge of apathy tempting me like a daemon hovering off the edge of a cliff, while beasts and bleeding bodies are rushing toward me in a nightmare. Well, not toward me, but toward us all. I am coincidental.

Are all individuals coincidental?

What can I do but sit on the ground where I am, and breathe? I am irrelevant in the bigger picture of things. And yet integral to all of it.

I am not on the front lines of anything, as you say. I’m not tending to the ill, not protesting in the streets of my homeland. I don’t speak for the suffering, or the dead.

There has to be a way to accept the fact of one’s own helplessness- or uselessness -and not give into likegyldighet. I’m drawn toward the word in my second language because the unfamiliarity seems to put the word’s meaning in relief. The literal translation of the word: the same-validity. Two equally legitimate realities. Facts. It is not a matter of “alternate facts”, but conflicting facts. True phenomenon that coexist necessarily in a state of conflict.

Facts. Disconnected from desires. Desires are interpretations, and there is nothing solid about them.

The fact is we are human. The fact is humans desire. The fact is little good comes from automatic writing.

You are on a font line, Richard. Your day job. It is tending to the vulnerable. It is working towards a kind of justice.


I think the chimp studies suggest our craving for justice is an instinct, not a dogma. And I believe have a conflicting instinct to arrange ourselves in hierarchies. But I think those hierarchies should shift continually to be healthy. In class, we use a talking stick. (And I cringe because I know it is appropriated from indigenous people – but renaming it would then still be appropriation, right? And it is a brilliant tool.) Are you familiar with it? The idea is that everyone is heard and that everyone understands they have a voice, and they learn when to use it – and when not to. I’ve learned myself as a teacher that it is often hard to be silent and defer to more relevant voices: to learn to give up wanting control for the sake of control. I’m learning it as a partner in my marriage. And as a parent.

How does a whole culture borne from an arbitrary and brutal division between the privileged and the exploited change? Has any culture ever transitioned into a just society? Or do we simply break down and rearrange the oppression? Last year I kept cutting off my co-teacher when he talked about the “Greeks”. I kept qualifying: free, land-owning men in Greece.

I am still learning about the necessary qualifying when it comes to the facts of my own country of origin: “…The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave“.

Today I hear this as the truth: The Free and The Brave are and have been two separate populations.

Ah, Democracy.

I used to think that wisdom was knowing the answers. Maybe it is. Maybe wisdom is knowing there are no perfect answers and that suffering is the only truth. Maybe it is why so often I wish I had my childhood faith back – to hand it all over to someone else – all of the responsibility.

But for now, I will sit where I am and breathe. And listen.

I apologize, because I feel that I am talking at you, not with you now.

I am feeling helpless.

Home now from two days in hospital. Once again, my body is out of my control: a mystery. They’ve looked inside my chest, inside my tender throat, under my skull. I’m healthy. My brain is apparently unscarred. So nothing explains my loss for words earlier this week. Unlikely a stroke, but I will be on blood thinners again for another year. I nearly laughed out loud when the neuroligist told me – the irony of my blood being so thick, and my family ties so weak. It’s almost as though my mind/body is desperate to compensate for a lack of kin.

At least it makes for a rich metaphor.

“Acceptance is not indifference. Breathe,” I tell myself. I read your letter and think that “You and E. and M. and I” sounds like a song, or a chant. The kind of sounds that roll through my mind on runs or long walks. It is sound of a small circle of awareness that allows for a kind of peace. It is difficult sometimes to find that in-between circle in this time of social distancing. We are pushed to the edges of our little selves or the great big world, with no middle path.

Soon enough we’ll be able allowed to move through the world without face masks. To smile at strangers. Tomorrow I’m going to order a bottle of Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll stash it in the basement until you get here – or we get there. And we’ll all four sit together in the garden. We’ll leave the talking stick in the living room a while.

You can talk about cricket, though. You’ll have been back at it by then, and cricket-talk seems appropriate for an evening in the garden.

Much love.

6 Replies to “The Front Line”

  1. Just thank you. Always that. Always gratitude for your writing. It keeps me sane.

  2. Well, you have left FB again, but you have not unfriended me there, so I call that a win. I do, every time, understand why. But it hurts me each time because I care for you and this, FB, is my only source for the most part to reach out to people, like you, that I care about. Your thoughts move me, though sometimes they task me as well. I frown as much as I smile with you, yet I still look for your posts because I am challenged and made thoughtful and sometimes I smile. I love you.

    1. I deactivated for a few weeks because I was feeling overwhelmed by all the anger. And with the school year over, no other place to focus my nervous energy – it was taking up too much room in my head. I am still on messeenger and still connected to you 🙂 Love to you, Patrick. Sincerely.


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