PROVINCETOWN — Nothing in life is perfect.
I woke up this morning unrefreshed. The weather has been too damn hot, even at night. I ran out of full-strength coffee and had to drink decaf: it did not do the trick. I wish I could get the shade-grown coffee that we should all be drinking (not just organic, not just fair-trade, but grown-in-the-shade-save-the-canopy-and-thus-the-birds coffee) but I am too lazy to order it online.
The blueberries on my cereal are from New Jersey, and have undoubtedly been sprayed, but I won’t spend the extra dollar for the organic variety. And what does “organic” mean, anyway? How do we trust what we are told? I throw the plastic container in my recycling bin and will dutifully haul it out to the street for the DPW to pick up, but will it really be recycled? Who knows? Indeed, who knows anything for sure?
Breakfast over, I take the dog to the beach. I (again) dutifully put on my mask — the mask I referred to in an earlier column as “better than nothing” — but is it really protecting me? I live in doubt and exasperation. Oh, the tribulations….
Then, I watch the news. What do I have to complain about?
Yet another black man, this time in Wisconsin, is shot in the back, seven times, in front of his children, as he turns from the police. This, after all the other incidents that have been so publicly protested over the last few weeks (and months, and years). How can this go on? Already, pollsters report that white voters are increasingly fatigued with the Black Lives Matter issue. How can this be? Injustice ignored is injustice encouraged.
While I can’t imagine fearing for my life whenever I see a police officer, I do recall a time in the late 1960s when I was officially harassed because of my appearance (long hair, beard, scruffy clothes). On trips down Cape, I was often pulled over and questioned, and once briefly jailed. My friends and I considered this treatment a badge of honor. We quoted Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay “The White Negro”: “Any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day, and no experience can ever be casual to him…. The hipster has absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro….”
We were “hippies” (hipsters) and proud of it. But (Kent State aside) our lives were never in danger.
These times are different. And it is not only police brutality. The stress of being black in America has been statistically correlated with disparities in health status and mortality rates. I do not often, or ever, think about my race; apparently, the average African American does so throughout the day.
But it is not just race. As I write this, there are people — families, children — being evicted, hurrying off to sleep in their cars or under overpasses, or looking to find public shelters. I can’t imagine the indignity of it. There are people obliged to line up for free food. I have never done that. There are women and men who cannot find work to provide for their loved ones. I have never been in that place either. There are businesses, built with years of effort, now going under, taking jobs with them. There are people now without purpose or hope. This includes even the persons who defaced the BLM sign and sent an ugly letter to our own Barbara Rushmore.
Who can pretend not to be affected by these events? Whose heart does not ache? Who does not fear for the future? We must recognize the humanity in each other. That is all it would take. We must see that our destinies are shared.
In this summer of discontent the shadows in my life are pale in comparison to the real suffering around this country and around the world. How do I connect to the pain of all these others? How do I put myself in their place? How do I make a difference?