As the World Burns

It’s a breezy overcast spring morning shortly after curfew has expired. I didn’t sleep much last night. I live in an older suburb of Minneapolis in a little ranch house with a little yard on a little street. We’ve quarantined here for months, leaving only for grocery pickup, and my daughter’s followup medical appointments. Life and time has stood still, frozen in an endless loop of a mundane activities. Outside a global pandemic continues barely abated and neighborhoods are burning and being looted a few miles away.

Yesterday I cried when my cat’s ashes were delivered. It seems disproportionate to the world at large, but my grief is layered and dense. Some days it feels like I’m a matryushka doll, with sorrows, large and small stacked one inside the other. Too many personal losses and traumas in the last year, too much going on in the world that I felt powerless to make better. To even say it out loud, when people of color are dying at the hands of those hired and trained to protect all citizens, seems the height of a privileged existence, but my experience is the only one I can tell. Of all others, I must listen and learn.

At 2am I heard the nonstop sirens. I check the news. Police station burning, more businesses looted and burned. The National Guard sent in. I worry that it’s near the area where my daughter has her oncology followup appointment next week. Will we touch the rage? Will the rage touch us? For some people, the world has always been burning. I’ve spent a lifetime tiptoeing around rage and violence. Growing up poor with alcoholism and domestic violence taught me how to live on eggshells. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t talk back. Get through the moment.

In spite of, or perhaps because of my military stint, I don’t trust uniforms, guns, authority. But I live under the radar, the color of my skin unsuspected, unburdened by stereotypes except those of gender. Passive and uninteresting. Just enough activism to soothe my conscience. Memberships in the ACLU, NAACP, League of Women Voters. Little cards sent to me to make me comfortable, even when I know that there is no such thing as moral purity, blamelessness. The little cards aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, but they’re all I have.

I signed up to be an election judge this year. I thought, before the last few months, that this would be the only way to right the ship. To help legitimize the election. Doubts plague me and I don’t think anyone, from sociopathic capitalists to fuzzy socialists to bellicose anarchists have the right answers. Like most things, an imperfect system with good intentions requires a good faith effort by its participants. We’re too busy egging each other on and dehumanizing each other to manage that. My own efforts to remain a decent human have faltered in the face of willful ignorance and cynical exploitation. I am constantly talking myself down from self-righteous anger these days.

Another round of sirens. The national conversations have begun about this place that I have come to love as my first real home. The president weighs in, as usual, with ugly, violent language meant to sound tough and designed to throw more meat to his ugly, violent base. Most of the protests are peaceful, but the violent ones will be all that are talked about – a way to further cement the ideas of “us” and “them”. George Floyd called out for his mother before he died. Mama.

I’ve been researching for a story I’m working on. When I was at Glacier National Park a few years ago, I read up on the history of the area. I’ve been learning more about the Piikani Blackfoot Indians and the Marias Massacre of 1870. The massacre of nearly 200 women, children, and elderly men was covered up, lied about, reframed, and revised over and over again. I think about that story every day now when I read the news. Everyone has an agenda, a perspective, an opinion, a reason to highlight this fact and downplay that. But the video could not lie. Mama.

The unrest is not over and like everything else at the moment, outcomes are uncertain. Today I bury my cat’s ashes. This I know. I call my mom in Kansas to let her know we’re okay and to make sure that she and my 93 year old grandma are staying safe from this virus. I follow up on my daughter’s chemo med refill. I know that things will not always be like this. I will try to spend my day thoughtfully, get through more tears, find grace and joy in moments, knowing that the world burns outside. It’s the only existence I can manage at the moment.

19 thoughts on “As the World Burns

    1. Thanks, Fransi. It’s amazing how different life is between night and day. It’s turned into a beautiful day. I spent the morning gardening and people are out mowing their lawns and barbecuing – this is an old school suburb day. Still, things rang false when I waved and smiled at my neighbor, a black Muslim immigrant. You could be living the same kind of life right next to someone and have it be two different worlds. That really is America.

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      1. It surely is surreal Michelle. An image comes to mind of America, seen in real time, through split screens. Parallel universes. To some degree it exists everywhere, but not to this extreme. Over the last couple of days I haven’t been able to get Martin Luther King and Elijah Cummings out of my mind. And, for that matter, John Lewis. They are desperately needed.

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    1. Thanks. I see a lot of premature discussions and I’m either not that prescient or quick-witted, because I really don’t know how this story is going to turn out. It’s not going to be good for a long while, though, so learning to live in this space of uncertainty without chronic depression is a real challenge.

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  1. You certainly have more than your fair share of heartache this last year. My heart goes out to you and to your community; to all troubled souls. This is such a difficult time in our human existence and in our country. At times I wonder if our American experiment will survive this onslaught, but as my 88 year-old wise mother points out, we’ve survived worse in our 250 years, including a civil war, so it is likely we’ll survive Donald Trump and his heartless cronies somehow, but I wonder at what price? We’ve seen the worst of our fellow citizens, and so knowing who we are – really, not who we pretend to be – how will we go on as a community? How did Germany heal after Hitler? How did neighbors look past their divisions and go on? So many questions, no answers, and no leadership. I think, like you, the only way forward is one step at a time; do what you need to do in each day to keep yourself and your family safe, and trust others to do the same. More than that right now is just too much. I wish you and your family well. Take care and be safe.

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    1. I really thought that the linchpin would be the elections in the fall, but there are forces at work that I neither understand nor fully comprehend the scope of. What if we’d had social media during the Civil War? Every period of disruption is fraught with rumor and disinformation, but there is a concerted effort from foreign entities, domestic terrorists, and even our president to spread fear and bad information. We have become entrenched in our politics to the point that people can’t have a logical conversation, with everything seen in binary terms. I’m faltering in any sense of certainty that this country will survive what we do to each other.
      That being said, I’m no psychic and may just be experiencing some depression from a personal perspective – it’s hard to see things clearly then.

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      1. I think you see very clearly. I honestly don’t see the path through the next year. COVID-19 is the least of our problems, IMHO, and I really don’t have much certainty that our country will survive. I know that there’s more hope if Biden is elected, but that’s not going to solve all of it. You’re right – I believe we are more divided now than during the Civil War. I’ll be honest and tell you that my plan is to leave this country as soon after my mother’s death as I can. I’ve had it. This is not the country I grew up in, or the country I was proud of. It makes me so sad, but there it is. I would pray for all of us, but honestly, if there is a God, the last few years have proven to me that he/she/it is not worth the effort. I send you hugs and all manner of good mojo, Michelle. Good, smart people like you will help us find our way, if there is one.

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    1. Thanks. We’re not venturing out (there’s a curfew at 8pm anyway) and have no reason to be in dangerous areas. There has been some vandalism and looting near us, but all we can do is hunker down and wait this out. Virus, riots – next is floods. The rapture people must be feeling pretty giddy right about now.

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  2. Thank you for pouring your thoughts, experiences and feelings out to us with this post, Michelle. I sat here this morning grateful for writers like you who can put so much into a few paragraphs. Have as peaceful of days as possible. I’m saving “As the World Burns” and will read it again and again. As is said in many a circumstance, ‘This, too, shall pass.’ Take good care.

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  3. I bought the ‘Modern Classic’ book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to reread a few months ago. I usually gobble up a book that I love but, I’m savoring each word, reading it more slowly than usual. When … when will we ever learn?

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  4. Heavy stuff, this life. It is the outrage that undermines my spiritual intentions. Then I pause and remember that ‘ they’ have no right to cause this anger and separateness in me.
    In a village in Cambodia, after most of the violence had passed, Thai Forest Monk Ajan Cha and hundreds of people gathered, against government warnings, to chant:
    ‘Hatred never ends by hatred, but by love alone is healed, this is the eternal law’
    They wept for their loss and opened their hearts.
    I will not let the hatred of some unbalanced humans remake me in their image. I will not.

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  5. We all saw the murder of a man by an officer of the law. We all saw three other officers stand aside. I think for civilians that would be accessory to murder. We also saw a black man hunted down and murdered on the streets down south like a scene from Mississippi Burning. We know that nothing happened to the perpetrators until the video was released to the public. We know that minorities are suffering terribly from the effects of the Covid virus. No wonder people have taken to the streets, their pain turned to frustration turned to rage. And our President has absolutely no moral authority to speak to this situation, even if he had the courage to try. And while I question the existence of God daily, still I’m praying for justice, reconciliation and peace. I’m sorry things have been so raw for you. On top of all the uncertainty and unrest around you, it really has to make things worse.

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  6. So sorry for the many layers of grief, Michelle. So sad to lose your beloved cat too, during this national prolonged crisis, not to mention the atrocious recent events. May your daughter heal completely, and hoping that better days area ahead for your family, as well as our nation.

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