Resisting the Killing Tides

Easter 04-12-2020            Passover, 4th day, year 5780 of the Jewish Calendar
Confirmed, known Covid-19 Deaths in the US:  20,473                                 (MSNBC)

Day 1,177 of the current occupancy of the People’s House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Trauma: the complicated, multidimensional psychodynamic, physiological, emotional,
cognitive, and/or spiritual responses to experience—or series of experiences—of
directly, or indirectly, disturbing and/or dislocating events, conditions, or disasters
that are perceived as threatening or destructive to the integrity or survival of
oneself or others.

Compassionate Regard: the emotional and intellectual capacity for viewing the integrity, or wholeness, of another person’s life as being as precious and as vital as one’s own.
(author’s definitions)

rock wall

Sheltering-in-place. Physical distancing.
Nightly news, known death tolls; confirmed cases.
Isolation. Dread. Anxiety. The search for simple intermittent joys.
To buy medicine—eggs and milk, perhaps—or, remain in relative safety?
To have the choice. Or to have the choice made prior, even, to contemplation, because there is no money. Insecurities upon fragile insecurities.
Red bud trees, irises, cone flowers. Dogwoods planted in city parks. Visible. Birdsong. Silent sidewalks. Breeze-blown leaves in trees. Flutterings of wings. Audible as the new quiet deepens.
Somewhere, music in the air.
Phone calls. Texts. Face Time. Live-streams. Longing.
Losses. Sorrows. And gratitudes. Echoes of laughter.
The markings of days. Days, the barely distinguishable markings of weeks.
Nightmares. Troubled sleep. Too much sleep.
The markings of nights. Nights, the markings of time filled with uncertainty.
… __ …

Long before there was a novel virus, well before Covid-19, we—the collective people of the US—have been suffering another continuous, multivalent ailment: a multiplicative malady of social ills. We are plagued by a legion of dis-eases.

Decades-long stagnation of wages. Decreasing availability of jobs. A disproportionate access to resources, increasingly inadequate to the means of a life lived with even a modicum of thriving. Inequity in healthcare, housing, education, and general opportunities for a meaningful, productive life. The pervasive sense of being unseen, ill-regarded, and dismissed by others, especially those charged with the care and administration of our policies, systems, and social structures. Increasingly pervasive social unrest. A rise in conflicts around race, nationality, sex, gender, sexuality, class and religion. Changes in climate. Seemingly unending wars and military conflicts. Increasing levels of incarceration. All while corporations flourish, the obscenely rich get richer, and the rest of us are pacing ourselves ragged on the running-wheels that keep the gears moving on the very same machines that are failing to serve us.

Many of us have seen these ills with a particularly troubling set of perspectives. The unwelcome rise of racism, scuttling out from underground activity after lying-in-wait in the corners and back-allies of our culture, freed now, to answer the call sounded by white supremacist kin folk in places of standing. Emboldened isolationist nationalism lifted to the fervor of religion. The elevation of old, over-fed and over-empowered, white men, once again, to the status of kings and lords—accompanied and attended by supportive women of standing and hosts of others.

Hate, vilification, and judgmentalism the new love of god and country. Imperialistic, predatory capitalism the true god. Truth is lies. Reality is not what is seen, what is heard, what is known. Reality is the shadowy chaos of untruths, propaganda, daily revisionism. Commodification and exploitation of bodies, women, workers, land, and all manner of resources, culled and consigned in service to the lords of luxury-lust, rights-to-comfort, and entitlements. The erection of every possible kind of walls, marginalities, and exclusions made the natural laws, policies, and ideologies of the land. The continual classification of expendable people and natural resources masquerading as national policy. The daily lifting of new hymns to the god-king, the chants of clearly defined us and not-us. The primacy of the presumed self-made individual as the pinnacle of creation. Anti-queer, anti-trans sentiment and policies. Division, the new unity. All this and so much more, the daily utilization of various iterations of separatism, divisiveness, and refined, perfected disenfranchisements as the new means of occupier-colonizer regime change.

Many of us have experienced these conditions as the unmistakable rise of contemporary fascism. That is, many among us recognize our current conditions as the unchecked progression of an already toxic, aristocratic colonialism to a troubling, but—barring intervention—predictable end:
the gradual movement to readiness for, and acceptance of, an increasingly autocratic, ultra-nationalistic, authoritarian, crony leadership, characterized by suppression of opposition, elevation of ruler narratives as governing doctrine, elevation of service to the leader as supreme display of patriotism, international isolationism, classism and social division as means for maintaining power. This regime is also an androcentric, white supremacist, cisgender, heteronormative system. And it thrives within the empire of Christendom.

Still others have experienced these past 1,177 days as the long-awaited answer to their perceptions and experiences of the pre-existing social maladies which, in their view, necessitated the coming of a modern-day, decidedly American king who will set things right—returning us all to the “good old days” when things made sense, were predictable, and secure.

Others among us have experienced this counting of days as a natural—though, perhaps, unsettling—temporary vacillation in the ever-swinging pendulum of a two-party system. Insulating protections of relative privileges, positions, affluences, and comforts serve to create a sort-of sighing acceptance amid hope for better days. As such, the more glaring examples of underlying racism, misogyny, vehement intolerance of anyone not-us, and the moral bankruptcy of elected leaders, corporations, and random regular everyday folks have presented a cumulative, disorienting shock. For some, a horror.

There are other experiences as well. As surely as there as many ways to experience being a person as there are now, ever have been, or ever will be people, there are multiple experiences of these long days within a diverse, spiraling strata of human experience.

The point is this: wherever we find ourselves amid a diversity of locations and experiences, however we view and interpret the conditions of our lives in this society, we the people of these increasingly un-united states have been—and are still—experiencing various levels of trauma. For many among us, the traumas of the past 1,177 days are cumulative, compounded by—and compounding—other existentially dislocating experiences. And this pandemic virus, and all that comes with it, consists of yet another existentially threatening set of conditions piled onto an existing pile of diversely-experienced, trauma-inducing mess.

Throughout these seemingly endless days of occupation, I have been generally holding myself together, amid my own trauma-reactivations and co-occurring novel experiences, by clinging to hope that the grossly obvious incongruence between our daily realities and any measure of a sane, kind, and humane coexistence will not only move into a wider and wider social awareness, but will move us to begin some kind of collective desire for something different. Something toward which, and for which, we will—at last—come together and begin working. I still hold onto this hope.

Yet, even as we bear witness to stunning images of human compassion—even as we receive the gifts of music from front porches, living rooms, and empty street corners; the celebrations of healthcare workers, EMTs, police, fire-fighters, and other essential workers; the live-stream reading of stories; the creative on-line gathers of people of faith; the deliveries of meals and groceries, assistance to neighbors, and more—we are also witnesses to less helpful, less noble behaviors.

We witness friends and family policing the thoughts, speech and behaviors of others. We see people we thought we knew silencing views other than their own. We experience angry intolerance and disregard around us. We witness people calling out and insulting others for holding different opinions or for, worse, God-forbid, “just not getting it.” We see people cutting others out of their lives, not because they have harmed them (response to harm is a whole other issue) but because they have dared to be different, to think for themselves, to speak from their own personal experience. Sometimes, we are the person unfortunate enough to not meet someone else’s view of who we ought to be and how we ought to think. Other times, perhaps, that behavior we witness is our own. Perhaps, the most troubling thing is that most of us in this oddly collected society are good people with good intentions. Yet, amid all the hopeful images and gestures, there is the presence of a predictable—barring intentional intervention—recapitulation of the very behaviors that are troubling and traumatizing us.

In simple terms: if we go into a room with a host of people who have an illness, amid a small number of people who are healthy, we are more likely to catch the illness than to catch the wellness.

And, when a set of unhealthy, inhumane behaviors—symptoms of a kind of social virus—have been normalized by repetition, imitation by others, and a diminishing of contrasting behaviors, the more difficult it becomes to be aware of when we are reproducing the very attitudes, gestures, and behaviors we are responding to and hoping to counteract. This is especially true when normalization of the abnormal, elevation of the most base and demeaning instincts, and glorification of all that is hateful, abusive, and disregarding of others is repeated over a period of days, weeks, and years. It is almost impossible to continually avoid committing the same, all in a vehement effort to do the opposite.

Doing the opposite of harm in harm-inducing everyday circumstances requires an intentional—sometimes large—exertion of will. It takes thoughtful effort to resist the tide of toxic normativity. I know because I, too, have found myself struggling to resist the pull of the killing tide.

But I have also begun to wonder if the underlying nature of the problem is not, also, revealing an overarching path to possible solutions.

To begin, I in no way mean to over-simplify the profoundly huge, twisted, and thorny intersecting causalities of the socio-political realities writ large and towering among us. All of that is a tangled mess for another time (perhaps for other voices among us). I am referring, here, to tensions in between our patterns of relating in communities and our hopes for moving toward something different—something more reflective of our shared humanity; something that might lead us toward moving forward more together and less divided.

           It seems to me that we are suffering from a great forgetting.
Through decades of conditioning and assimilation, we have, first, forgotten that the vast majority of us—by location in a culture built on colonization and imperialism—are living in, enduring, and processing varying and diversely experienced levels, degrees, and expressions of continuous trauma. For many among us, the trauma is generational. This particular forgetting is old and culturally transmitted—again, in various and diversely experienced ways.

Forgetting this, we have assimilated into forgetting how to be in healthy, boundaried, mutually beneficial relationship with one another. Even with people we believe to be “like us,” let alone with persons we believe are not like us. There is a host of tangled reasons for this as well. It is possible this forgetting, too, is old, lingering; transmitted. It is also possible this collective forgetting, in practice, is a huge factor in creating the conditions that got us where we are now.

Especially, we have forgotten how to listen to one another; how to speak with each other, in response—rather than reaction—to one another; how to regard one another as individuated human beings. We have forgotten how to see our differences as particularities manifesting an underlying natural and good diversity and to value that diversity as something essential, pointing to a larger, wider, all-encompassing, all-embracing shared humanity.

Said another way: we have forgotten to value the wholeness of another person, and their life, as being inherently as precious as our own—without the fragile need for their personhood to mirror our own; without the relationship-vexing expectation that they go about thinking, doing, and being just like us. And more, to be curious about and interested in one another.

Recovery of our individual and collective memory of these realities, like resisting the tidal draw to our baser instincts, requires intentional effort and cultivation. I am deeply aware of this truth. However, I also believe that recovering these memories is necessary for our individual and collective survival—precisely because it is a way toward recovery of the defining feature of our shared humanity: the capacity for compassionate regard—for coming to see the life of every single person around us as carrying the same inherent dignity, importance, and preciousness as our own. Recapturing this, we might remember what has been taken from us: the ancient, lingering memory that we, each of us, belong to something much bigger than us, made whole only by the presence and contribution of each and every one of us.

Then, we just might recognize we are in this huge humanity-boat together, but we are not all on the same deck and the weight is not evenly distributed. Preventing it from capsizing, and drowning us all, is dependent upon our understanding, finally—and from hereafter—that maintaining an uneven boat puts us all at risk. Moreover, the fact that we are different, not all the same, is not a failure of social systems or a problem to be corrected, but the source of our greatest collective strength—we all have particular abilities, gifts, talents, resiliencies, and perspectives needful to saving our collective lives.  

           We have an opportunity to remember and, in so doing, re-member ourselves.
We’ve had the opportunity before—in fact, all along our collective history. So far, the unfettered rise of a deadly social virus hasn’t snapped us fully awake and jogged our dulled memory. Perhaps the presence of a biological virus of pandemic proportions will.

Maybe, just maybe, sheltering our bodies will give us space to remember, not only who we are, but who we hope to be.


About liammichael

I am a gender theorist, theological activist, writer, trans activist-advocate, and educator. I also work directly with trans and LGBTQ persons through workshops, support activities, and community-building. My work is informed and shaped by a deep concern for addressing the intersecting layers of disenfranchisement and oppression which stymie our efforts to create a just and meaningful common good. I work with, consult with, educate, train public sector groups, secular groups, and faith groups seeking to be affirming, accommodating, and celebratory of trans/non-binary and gender non-conforming persons. This space is a small part of the work.
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