Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day 2,249: Make America Great Again

Welcome to Trump’s America. There are so many things to say, but I am only going to say one of them.

Now is the time to rage.

I see it everywhere, on social media, in the so-called elite media, everywhere: now is the time for soul-searching, to hope, to pray, to show we are better, to teach our children love. And I am so tired of it. No.

Now is the time to rage.

We live in a false meritocracy. We live in a society hellbent on the belief that people get what’s coming to them, good or bad. If the world goes to hell in a handbasket, it’s karma. We talk about a revolution, and I am reminded of my Iranian professor in college who looked at a bunch of clueless privileged white students and said, incredulously, do you know what happens in a revolution? A lot of people die. She hadn’t seen her family in 17 years. I hear people say, when it comes to cancer, that your attitude is everything. A smile can cure your cellular dysfunction. I hear people say this about giving our children more freedom, not because they deserve it, but because THEY DON’T NEED IT. People say, but bad things don’t happen that often! Our kids should be happy! And I think, happiness is easier to come by if you don’t have to suffer horrific trauma first.

Bad things don’t happen, we tell ourselves, everything will be fine. But they do, and no, it won't, if we don't make it so. Terrible, awful things happen every day, to people everywhere, to most people. All of the horrible things that just don’t happen? Cancer, rape, child abduction, hate crimes, bankruptcy, the abuser winning, all of the things that seem impossible have happened to me personally or someone I know and love. Suffering is real. Chaos is real. Pain that doesn’t end except with death is real. This is not cynicism. This is not despair. This is not a bad attitude. This is an acceptance of the state of affairs of the world and a refusal to think it can be solved by “thinking better.”

White people are so afraid of losing the privilege whiteness has brought them that they are willing to sacrifice the greatness of their nation to defend a social construct. Men are so afraid of losing the privilege of their maleness that they would rather watch the world burn. The healthy, the rich, those who have never lost their freedom, who are used to winning, have the luxury of saying…I am ashamed, things aren’t as good as I thought they were, this country isn’t as great as I thought it was. Because you know what? It was only great for you. And no, that isn’t a way to segue into feeling sorry for those who feel left out and so voted for a person who will make them feel less left out than others. When the white supremacists love a man, when the KKK endorses a man, when everyone in a long laundry list of not good enoughs is suspect (black people, immigrants, Muslims, women, gay people, Jews), my sympathy is so lacking you’d have to scrape it off the bottom of my shoe.

Optimism has been spun the wrong way. Optimism is not what will save us. What will save us is an understanding that the world is cruel, and the only way to combat that is for people to make proactive decisions to combat it.

I haven’t written much in my blog in the past year or so. It isn’t because I have run out of things to say about cancer. I’m not sure I was ever really writing about cancer in the first place. It was cathartic for me, writing this. But I was trying to say something bigger, something about death, and how it is coming, and how knowing that changes everything, but not in the way you think.

I stopped writing because I was enraged at the state of affairs all around me, all the time, and I wanted to have some friends left, so I kept my mouth shut. I was enraged at white women in my age bracket, liberal women, who were so saddened and shocked by Ferguson and were writing blog posts about how they were starting to understand the terror of being black in America. Instead of thinking we had elevated the conversation, I was thinking, where the hell were you for all the 45 years of your life when this is how the world was? Why was it ok for you to not see it? Every time a man wrote something about how he realized it was wrong for unconscious women to be raped, because now they realized, or had a daughter, I wanted to rage at them for denying the humanity of half the world so casually it was akin to drinking coffee all their lives and switching to decaf because gee whiz I found out it was healthier. All of the “but I believe in the goodness of people” just made me angrier. I believe in the goodness of people too. I believe in the goodness of all the people who are deemed unworthy, whose goodness and humanity are denied every damn day. I know the work it took, the centuries of effort, to strip that humanity away, and I know that it will take a hell of a lot more than hope and prayers to make it right again.

Some time ago, maybe a year, a friend told me she had stopped reading my blog because I was so angry. I was offended, but only momentarily, as I’m not easily offended. And I was not offended for the reason you might think.

I was angry, but not about having cancer. If you read back on the six and a half years of this blog, you will not find any anger over that. I was angry at the injustice of how cancer was framed, at how illness and health are juxtaposed as oppositie sides of the morality coin, at the misogyny in treatment, the corporatization of disease. I was never angry for myself. That is the kind of anger we just elected to run this country. I was angry over the injustice, which is collective, never personal.

I was angry because while I could accept that there are things that cannot change, such as having cancer, I could not accept that there were things that could change that did not because people refused to act. People prayed instead. People chose hope. People bought pink merchandise and ignored research.

If we organize over love and harmony, if we focus on the good of the world, we miss something crucial. Not everyone is loved. Harmony is rare. Good is a choice that can be thrown away.

When my children ask me if I will die I do not tell them of course not. I tell them of course. But hopefully not anytime soon. You never know though. When my son asks me, mom, how many ways are there to die, I tell him…infinite ways. But there are also infinite ways to live. I do not ever say “everything will be fine,” though I sure as hell wish someone would say that to me. I say “things will fit into the world we live in, and I am trying to make that better for you.”

I am not enraged at this election simply because it affirms that a large portion of society doesn’t believe in my humanity. Yes, it grieves me that the message is that I am not fully human because I am a woman, because of my religion, because of my disability, because of my health status, because I have loved and fucked people who were not white or Christian, because my husband has been hungry and homeless, because I have been sexually assaulted, because I might die young and not be worth the trouble.

My rage is not for me, or even for my children, or all of the people I know and love who are less protected than I am because of the color of my skin or the zip code of my residence or my ability to pass as God-fearing if I need to. My rage is bigger than that.

I am enraged, as I always have been, that we have been given this gift, of living in this world with a myriad of people and possibilities, and we choose instead to squander it and host competitions over who is worthy. I am enraged that I am so so tired, I have been through so much over the last six years, and all I wanted was some time to relax and focus on my kids, and now I don’t know what kind of world I am raising them in, so I cannot relax.

And so this is what I am saying, what I have always been saying. It is not enough to want things to be better, to believe in a better tomorrow. It is not enough to want the world to be a better place. We have to know that the world is capable of being a terrible place. We have to believe the people who tell us it is so. We have to recognize that much of human history is the story of people trying to will other people out of existence and the rest of human history is the enraged fight of survivors who refused to let that happen.

Years ago, I gave a speech when I left a job. I was the research director of a small nonprofit working to help people who were underserved by the financial system. And when I left, I felt this need to say that I did not do the work that I did because it was right, because I wanted to help people. I did the work because I had been the people we were trying to help, and I knew I could be one of those people again. If the shit hit the fan, I wanted to be a part of a world that made it harder to stick to the wall. And, here is the punchline: I believed the shit would hit the fan.

Boy, did it.

A few weeks ago, my husband became frustrated with me over how obsessed I was with local racial politics in our old neighborhood. Katy, he said, I thought this would change when we moved, I thought you wouldn’t be so focused on this anymore. Can’t we be happy we are here? That we got out?

I will admit we have been stressed, with moves, and me quitting my job. But let’s face it: that’s just a smokescreen for the fact that right then and there, I wanted to divorce him.

How dare you, I said.

And through my anger and sadness I said what I have been wanting to say, what I have been saying all along, what I beseech you to say to yourselves:

This anger is the only force that ever changed things. This anger has kept me alive. This anger is not a byproduct of my experiences or personality.

This anger is my best thing. It is who I am. How dare you try to take that from me.

And lest you think I am lost, I forgave him.

Welcome back to our America. It was never as great as we thought. Doesn’t that make you mad?

It should.

Let’s get to work.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Day 2,243: Fly the W

On September 10, 2001, I ambled past a security line that didn't exist yet and made my way to the front row of the first base side of Wrigley Field, so close I could hear the opposition talking in the dugout, with a man who had a child he didn't want me to know about, and watched the Cubs crush a team from Ohio on the night before the ballparks closed and the planes stopped flying.

As a kid, I didn't play baseball, except the one summer, when I won the sportsmanship award, since I had such a good time watching other people care more about the score than I did. But my brother was a pitcher, and when I was tiny, say, 4 years old, I learned to keep statistics at baseball games. This was back when families considered children differently. I had taught myself to read the year before, so they figured I might as well bring a pencil and paper to the game and make myself useful.

At home, my childhood summers were filled with the sound of wiffle ball games and pinners and the Cubs on TV in the background of everything we did. I traded 45 records for baseball cards with my brother and the neighborhood boys. I always wanted to get Ron Cey and Gary Matthews. Who are they? you ask, if you're not from Chicago.

When I was 20, I lived in Chicago for one semester, and one day, we walked from our apartment to Wrigley, on a whim, paid $5 and sat in the bleachers. No one wanted to go to the games then.

When I was 26 I agreed to go to a Cubs game with my ex-boyfriend, and it was a Cardinals game at that, and he had lost a bet and was forced to wear the St. Louis jersey. It was over 100 degrees and we were in the bleachers, and we waited and waited for the game to start, but it never did. There was no social media then, no texting even, but phones started ringing all over the ballpark, rumors started swirling, and soon enough we learned that Darryl Kile was dead, done in by a heart attack the night before, and they called a baseball game off for grief. I've always wondered if we knew he was dead before his family knew.

I had a professor in college who loved baseball more than was probably rational. He visited Chicago a few times every summer just to watch the Cubs play, and I met up with him once beforehand in a Jewish deli where we had pastrami and cream soda. That day, Kerry Wood, who was 20 years old, threw 20 strikeouts, and after the game, my professor called me to say "When I die, I will be able to say that, if nothing else, I saw that happen."

My 10 year high school reunion was held in one of the frat-boy bars of Wrigleyville about a block from the park in 2003. I'm sure the planners didn't even consider that the Cubs would be playing in October. It didn't turn out how we expected; really though, does anything? That night a guy named Steve Bartman reached for a ball, and our reunion, the neighborhood, our city and our collective consciousness exploded in a fit of misplaced rage and endless, gut-wrenching disappointment for so long we forgot what it was really about.

One day I turned around, and I was grown. It happened slowly and all at once. It was now my job to bring baseball to my kids, so one Saturday I took my daughter to a game and inexplicably caught a foul ball hit by Nate Schierholtz, but I thought my hand might break from the impact and I dropped it. She reached down for it and a grown man took it from her, until another man gave him a Chicago look and he looked at us full of beer and sheepishness and regret and handed it over.

A few years later, my husband and I saw a young kid, only 22, hit a grand slam in the first game of the NLCS.

I found myself knowing there was other parenting advice to give, but telling my son anyway that a triple is the best play in sports, because it doesn't exist. I could have told him something about grace and what lessons there are to learn, but instead I told him a triple's just a double and a guy who ran like hell.

That same son is a switch-hitter, if for no other reason than he started playing ball before he knew you were only supposed to walk to the plate from one side and not the other, and we didn't bother to correct him. This year, right around the time he turned 7, he finally had the chance to play catcher on a day that was so hot his coach poured water and ice over him in the middle of every inning, as the catcher's equipment weighed almost as much as him, and he was dripping with sweat and his face was so red he looked combustible, and the team he played was older and slaughtered them until the game was called early. Kids on his team were crying and exhausted and frustrated and I wondered what to say to him when it ended, deluding myself, as parents do, into thinking I had something to teach. He looked at me and said "That team was really good, weren't they? Wow. And mom! They let me catch for four innings." He was all smiles and I knew if given the chance, he would've started right in again.

For years, we lived on the South Side, and commuted several times a year to watch a team that charged too much for everything, considering. It angered us, the money and whiteness of the crowd, the inaccessibility of it all, the greed, and we kept telling ourselves we wouldn't do it anymore, but we lied.

We had Harry Carray and then we didn't have him anymore. Ron Santo died before he was inducted into the hall of fame. Sammy Sosa blew kisses to his mother and thrilled us while he lied and cheated and our hearts broke. Next year never came, someday sat out in the distance. They built buildings for the sole purpose of selling tickets for a chance to watch a team that never won when it counted, across from the only ballpark anywhere built amidst apartments where people actually lived, where you could watch the El speed past, where you could never forget you were in Chicago, no matter how hard you tried.

And because we are who we are, even our hopeful refrain on its best day sounds like an existential plea: Fly the W. It's the sports version of Fats Waller telling us, let's waltz the rumba, because it's impossible, really, but...why not?

Why not?

In a city beleaguered by its own faults and dealings, in the shadow of our tragic violence and corruption, we made a legend of failure in a beautiful canvass of brick and ivy.

For more than 100 years, we followed a game that looked like ourselves, full of unfulfilled promises, scandal, injury, illness and even death, because we couldn't help it, because we knew that any history is the story of the most deserving people never getting to see their dreams come true, because the possibility of winning would be a redemption for our memories.

And then, next year came, and we found ourselves in someday. The night was long and the rain was imminent and we couldn't decide whether to watch or hide or sleep. And then?

We saw ourselves jump with the joy of childhood, this motley crew of us, this multi-racial group of rookies and retirees, immigrants, Ivy-leaguers, and cancer survivors, and at that moment, our reflection seemed perfect.

In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and we were alive to see it happen.

Holy cow.