The other morning I was driving my car along the street pictured above. This four lane thoroughfare is one of my frequently used routes. At this particular time, the pavement was still dotted with patches of snow and ice, vestiges of a storm which passed through two days earlier. Traffic was moving surprisingly slowly before stopping altogether. In the narrow lane divider, I saw a woman kneeling over another one who was crumpled on the ground. She was trying to pull the fallen one to a standing position which was proving to be difficult. I was instantly alarmed. I didn’t know whether the limp person had simply collapsed or whether she’d been struck by a vehicle. No matter what had happened, I was certain that moving her was a bad idea. Within a few seconds, another woman got out of her car to help. Even with two people trying, the woman was too weak and unsteady to support herself. All four lanes of traffic were stopped. I pulled out of my lane into the median and approached them. I told them I was going to call an ambulance but they insisted they were going to help her onto a public bus which was in the line of stopped vehicles. I was sure what they were doing was a poor choice but the time was hardly right for arguing. I quickly pulled away, not wanting to further obstruct the traffic flow or to cause an accident. I pulled over at the first available parking lot, feeling traumatized and anxious. I wanted a little time to think and clear my head.
I knew immediately that my reaction to this incident was outsized, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back kind of response. Unquestionably I was feeling the impact of the cumulative dystopian experiences of the past five years. Since January 31st, 2017, the date Michael was diagnosed with the devastating brain metastases from his Merkel cancer, I have felt the juxtaposition of the increasingly dark macrocosm over the shifting microcosm of my little life. Although I can’t imagine that there would ever have been a time when losing my beloved life partner would have been anything resembling “easier,” the truth is, living through his death and adapting to being on my own, was made infinitely more surreal, first by the utterly toxic Trump administration, and then the subsequent layer of the Covid pandemic entering the world. For virtually my entire adult life, through wretched political administrations, wars, social injustice and personal crises, I had the safe haven of my partner. I could share all my thoughts and feelings, lightening the load all of us carry as individuals. And after those purges, I could set those aside, to rest and find solace and comfort in the warmth of intimate human contact, so crucial for defusing jangling anxieties. For almost half the years since Michael’s death, I’ve jousted with the challenges of true emotional and physical isolation, the consequence of the pandemic. I’ve managed fairly well but these last few months have been especially wearing.
I was in my teens when I started using a frame-of-reference approach to life in a very big way, while trying to make sense of the complicated happenings in the big world. In 1969, I found myself in an ambulance tearing down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, my grandfather lying in the back after passing out in his apartment, my grandmother sedated after becoming hysterical when she found him. I was home from college on semester break and was the first person to arrive at their place after my grandmother called for help. I saw all the people in their cars looking at us as we sped past them, sirens whining. I remember being one of those on the outside looking in many times. Inside that zooming vehicle, I was thinking how different things felt from the inside looking out. From that point forward, when I felt overwhelmed by circumstances, I’d remind myself that at these very moments in my life, people everywhere were dying, being born, making love, getting murdered, working, sleeping, crying, laughing, warring and so much more. I’d use that perspective to get balanced, to keep going. I was knowing that yes, I was unique while simultaneously being exactly the same as everyone else, next door or far-flung. Most of my years, that process has worked for me. Now, though, having moved closer to the front of the mortality line, the problems of the world seem far less pedestrian and common, infinitely so much more cataclysmic than they once did. I think that’s because they really are, and that the trajectory of the way forward seems darker. Look at these headlines.
Humanity has a ‘brief and rapidly closing window’ to avoid a hotter, deadly future, U.N. climate report says – Washington Post
UN: 13 million face hunger in Horn of Africa as drought worsens – Al Jazeera
Ethnic cleansing’: Ethiopian allies accused of Abala massacre – Survivors and witnesses say the Ethiopian allied forces went door to door for five days straight, targeting Tigrayans.
FEBRUARY 2, 2022 – SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE Is China Committing Genocide Against the Uyghurs?
2022 begins with bloodbath for journalists in Mexico – Reporters Without Borders
Flags, rifles and fingers: ‘The People’s Convoy’ trucker protest rolls through Oklahoma – The Oklahoman Statements on the group’s website called for the lifting of all COVID-19 mandates in the United States.
Yes, there have always been dire crises. But. With the existential threat of climate change threatening to upend the planet, afflicting the most impoverished nations with the worst consequences. With millions existing under the threat of starvation from drought. With powers all over the world expunging people whose beliefs and customs are not in keeping with their own. With a totalitarian tyrant actually going there, back to the horrific land war countries vowed would never happen again. With evidence mounting that desperate refugees from that onslaught, including people of color caught in the wrong country, being pushed off escape trains in favor of native residents. With NATO countries welcoming white refugees when they closed their borders to “other.” And in my own country, when individuals construe their personal, no mask-wearing freedom as more important than the public health of their communities at large. Is it any wonder seeing a collapsed woman on the street of my hometown can feel unbearable?
Right now in my little world, I have a family member struggling with a lethal cancer. I have friends who are faced with that challenge as well. A woman I know has been living terrified as her daughter with health issues recently delivered a premature baby. That little one’s home has been a neonatal intensive care unit for weeks. The tiny person has had sepsis, surgery and more drugs than you can count. Who can count all the dramas playing out every day? This is life in the microcosm, encapsulated by the horrors concurrently playing out over the thousands of miles in the aching world. I guess there are people who can navigate their days without this constant awareness of the big picture which eats at me, nibble by nibble, as I go through mine. I’m jealous of them. For me, the aching world is not to be ignored. But, oh, I do get so very tired. How does it all end?