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Words of Wisdom – Deep Despair

November 8, 2004

(archived broadcast )
Deep Despair, by Pat Schneider

Yesterday, after the election that gave George W. Bush another four years of
presidency, someone I love was crying so hard, such a deep despair, grief
and fear, I could say and do nothing to console her. She is young; she is
lesbian; the country voted No on same-sex marriage, No on stem-cell
research, No on a woman’s right to choose abortion, No on most Democratic
congress members, No on John Kerry and John Edwards. Three Supreme Court
justices are due to retire and will almost certainly be replaced in the next
four years. She said, crying so hard I could hardly understand her words,”I
don’t want to live in this country any more. The worst thing is, for the
first time in my life I feel dirty. I want to die.”
I am seventy years old. From the beginning of human conversation it has
been the task and the privilege of elders to give guidance to those who come
after them. What can I say to this beautiful young woman? What can I say
to my children and their children?
When I was a young mother of one child who was two years old, and pregnant
with another baby, everyone believed there was a great probability that we
would be attacked with an atomic or hydrogen bomb. The news was not saying
“if” a bomb falls, but “when” the bomb falls. We had done it to Japan, and
we believed that Russia would do it to us. There was a lot of talk about
“fall-out shelters” — and some of the talk was terribly ugly. How to keep
your neighbors out of your shelter, for instance. One week, the women’s
magazine on the rack at the end of the supermarket check-out counter had a
cover article on how to build your own backyard fall-out shelter.
That week I had a melt-down of my own. I cried and cried: “How can I bring
a baby into this world?” One evening we entertained friends from Alaska,
and I completely lost control; I was frantic, hysterical. I truly wanted to
die, and take my babies with me out of this terrible world of fall-out
shelters and bombs. Peter took me into his arms and held me tightly. Our
friends waited until I could talk again — and we changed the subject from
the cold war.
The next day, or sometime soon after, I spoke to my mother on the telephone,
and I asked her the question. Mama was a complicated person; she did not
have much formal education, but she loved to read history — she read it for
pleasure as some people read mystery stories. She did not even pause to
take a breath when I asked her, “How can I bring a baby into this terrible
world?” She said, “How do you think mothers felt when the Huns were
sweeping down across Europe?”
Then I saw that long-ago woman — that mother in her simple home made of
stones from the fields. I saw her hands rough from hard work, and her
children dressed in clothes she had made by hand by firelight after her work
in the fields was done for the day. And I saw the barbarian Huns coming on
their horses to kill her children, and to rape and kill her. Never mind
that the Huns may not have been “barbarians”. She could as easily have said
“How do you think Indian mothers felt when the French and English armies
swept across America?” What I saw was mothers helpless to defend their
children from the hands of barbarians, and I understood for the first time
that it has always been dangerous to be alive. That there have always been
those who do not pity the poor, who take all they can take, who glorify war
and believe themselves to be empowered by God to make others obey their
wishes and their commands. And I understood that it would take all my
courage and all my cunning to raise my babies, and that I was no different
from mothers from the beginning to the end of time. I saw, too, that the
end of the world is a private thing — it comes to every person once.
I did not ever cry again about the possibility of an atomic bomb in my
neighborhood. Like the Huns, it might come. Like women at the hands of the
Huns, if it did, I would die and my children would die. There was no time
for weeping, no time for despair. What I had to do was love them
passionately, protect them fiercely, and work with all my might to make the
world a better and a safer place.
This is the story that comes to me tonight, after we have elected to the
presidency a man whom I believe to be a barbarian. Barbarous regimes do
terrible damage, but they will not have the last word. They will be
recognized for what they are. They will topple and fall. Would it — will
it — help the young woman whom I love, if I tell her my story? Would it
help my children? Perhaps not, but tonight it seems to be all that I have
to give them.
Today I went to the market to buy leeks and carrots and celery. I needed
fresh vegetables to make a comforting winter soup. As I opened the door to
my car, a woman I did not know at all came toward me, calling “How are you
today? It’s hard, isn’t it? How are you?” She did not explain what she
meant — she didn’t have to. I was loading groceries into a car with two
bumper stickers for the defeated candidate.
“Yes”, I said, “it’s very hard. Someone I love cried all day yesterday.
She is young. She’s a lesbian. She said she doesn’t want to live in this
country any more. She said she wants to die.”
“Oh,” the woman moaned. “You tell that young woman that there are strangers
who care.” We talked a bit more, and as she turned away she said it again,
“Tell her, all across this land, there are strangers who care.”

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  • MV November 9, 2004 3:44 pm

    We’ll get throuhg this somehow. I am writing this because I have to believe it, even though I know that the price we’ll pay for what has happened in the past four years in the world, and the price for what is likely to happen added to the total bill, will have us struggling to keep the minimal payments coming out for decades.
    The most bitter part of it all is that most of the people who imposed this president on us will most likely not be around when the bill arrives. We, who are now just beginning to enter the workforce, we are the ones who will foot the bill. Somehow. We will pay the price, it is inevitable. Nothing is free. I don’t know how, but I have to believe that we’ll be able to do it and at the same time have a halfway decent standard of living.
    The election day was a terrible experience to me, especially because I was even more helpless to do anything about it than the average American citizen. Because I am not one. I have lived in this country for the past eight years, I have a Green card, I will most likely remain in this country for the rest of my life. This is now my home. And i have no way to influence the way it’s turning out, because the INS takes YEARS to process a citizenship application. That is, if they don’t lose it. Which they have.
    Please. Those of you who can. Do something! We will get through this, somehow. But please, must you make it as hard as you possibly can for us to pay for your mistakes?

  • Requiem for America November 8, 2004 10:04 pm

    The Fall of Rome
    The government knew they had us,
    when they could keep the herb illegal,
    although we knew it was medicine.
    The government knew they had us,
    when they could sell us the Super Bowl as something more than a football game,
    although we knew it was just a football game.
    The government knew they had us,
    when they sold us the war, wrapped in a red, white, and blue bow.
    although we knew the Domino Theory was bullshit.
    The government knew they had us,
    when the Warren Commission sold us Lee Harvey Oswald, instead of the coup d’etat,
    although they insulted our intelligence.
    The government knew they had us,
    when they could hide their military budget and use it for, whatever,
    and ask for more, whenever.
    The government knew they had us,
    when they could send their cowboys out to tame the world and just create more terror.
    And so we come to our dilemma,
    to watch TV as the world burns,
    to eat TV dinners and get fat on fast food and watch our children get fat,
    and watch our children come back in body bags from all parts of the world,
    and also die in our streets.
    Oh, Government of the Eagle, once proud carrier of the torch,
    where have your powers gone?
    Your power was with the people,
    and your power went away,
    when the people knew you had them.

  • Ghandi Smith November 8, 2004 10:59 am

    I love the word “motherfucker”–it is such a cute colloquialism–and so aptly applies to those who would deny the power of PEACE AND LOVE–the world can’t escape finding out what an “ass-kicker” these emotions are