Anger or hatred is like a fisherman's hook. It is very important for us to ensure that we are not caught by it. --His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Anger... or anguish?
Lately I've felt an eerie kinship with those who lived through WWII: The gnawing worry, the necessity of living every day without any guarantee of a happily-ever-after ending. History is being created and lived as we speak. We are history, and it is unfolding all around us. But it isn't history yet: it is the now. History is 'safe,' because the outcome is already ascertained. Real life is much more frightening.
After the 2000 election, I was so horrified - and felt so betrayed - that I turned my back on government and politics. I felt, and I have heard others echo this sentiment, that perhaps we deserved what we would get. I was angry with Al Gore for not demanding a total recount in Florida and felt a real darkness closing in on our nation. I couldn't perceive the nature of that darkness, but I did know that our election process had been gravely compromised and that this election process is the basis, the vehicle, for our participation in our 'government of the people.' I was disgusted, most especially by our media.
And so I walked away.
Katrina brought me back, and with a vengeance. I was outraged, but more than this ... I was wracked with guilt. I saw the residents of New Orleans standing on their rooftops waving American flags and holding signs that said "save me" and I saw the faces of America: these were the people paying the price, and no, they did NOT deserve what they got.
Since Katrina, I have tried to make up for lost time; first by angry blogging Then, I signed petitions; I wrote weekly, sometimes daily letters to my representatives; I started digging out whatever 'real' investigative journalism I could find online. I vowed to make a difference, somehow, if only in some small way.
But I underestimated how painful, how hard it would be to look deeply into the state of our government.
The truth is a nightmare. It now appears that every one of our mechanisms for citizen protection and corporate oversight has been compromised: FEMA, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, the FDA, the EPA, the USDA, the Department of Agriculture... all are now run by partisan Bush insiders and corporate cronies.
Americans are still living under a misconception that we are 'safe' and protected by this government. And with collective memories of greater presidents such as FDR and Eisenhower, we still believe our government actually cares about our best interests and wellbeing. But as each of us awakens to our new treacherous reality, one by one, city by city, state by state, I wonder -- what will remain in the wreckage?
Lincoln once said:
"If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem."
Will we ever trust again? Should we ever trust again?
One minute, fear. Then anguish. Then anger.
It is impossible to be impartial. Too many have died and are dying -- and too many of our own ancestors' sacrifices can be rendered meaningless by what we allow to happen on our watch.
I often remember an evening a few years ago, when I arrived at the Antietam battleground just before sunset.
No one else was there; not a park ranger in sight, and so I started walking out across the fields, through the gathering dusk.
A feeling of heaviness, of gloom, hung over the place, and it was unnaturally quiet and still. The air was heavy with humidity, and it was hard to breathe. I actually felt the tiny hairs prickling on the back of my neck, as though someone, somewhere was watching me. The place was eerie, but I felt no danger there. The sensation of the place was of a great sadness, or perhaps an endless grief.
I wandered over to Burnside's bridge, passing through the mist that was rising out of Antietam creek. I stood in the middle of the old stone bridge for a long time in the gathering darkness, watching the mist form and unform shapes within the shadows under the hanging branches of the trees. I have no idea how long I waited there; the place was timeless. At some point, a lone park ranger walked out of the shadows and told me I would need to leave the park at dark.
As we walked back to the parking lot, he told me stories about his experiences as a battlefield 'local'; a long-time resident of an old, Civil War home on the battlefield grounds. He spoke of soft, unintelligible voices murmuring under his window, occasional shouts and horses whinnying. He told me how he, and apparently many locals, would find some excuse each year to leave the area on September 17th, the anniversary of the great battle.
That park ranger, and many from that area, shared personal experiences and a connection with those who died on that ground. I pondered that idea... that perhaps the Union and Confederate solders who bled and died on those fields were in effect fighting there still; locked in endless, mortal combat in some other twilight dreamscape. War without end.
To walk the fields of Antietam at dusk is to feel the presence of the dead.
I cannot seem to shake that memory. It rises up in my thoughts these days, unbidden but not unheeded.
When I ponder our Constitution and our freedom as Americans, I think about the sacrifices that these 23,000 men made in the course of one September day, on the fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland. They died for an idea: soldiers on each side fought for freedom and for liberty, for themselves and for future generations.
We owe them something... our best, our citizen oversight. I think at the very least, we owe them our vigilance.
My own question is, simply... how to do this without succumbing to grief or without being torn apart by anger and partisan hostility? How do I walk away from partisan attacks? I don't want to be an angry person; I have never been a partisan 'hater,' and it is not my nature to be endlessly sad. At times I walk away from the computer and say, NO MORE.
Then I recall the ravages of Katrina, and my shock when days, then weeks went by without any apparent Federal aid or presence other than the heroic efforts of our Coast Guard; not even water bottles. I remember watching Harry Connick Jr. walk into the New Orleans Convention Center and pray by the body of an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I recall watching an anguished and outraged Anderson Cooper, no longer able to sustain his journalistic impartiality, demanding an answer to the lack of Federal response.
How could this have happened in America?
I cannot forget what I have seen, and I cannot shake my sense of shared responsibility. As I type these words, American soldiers and Iraqi citizens are bleeding and dying... and for what? Certainly not to 'make us free.' Free? Not while habeas corpus is suspended and the Patriot Act remains in effect, mocking the sacrifices and unheeded warnings of our nations' founders.
I'm tired of arguing with hate-filled, partisan hardliners; I believe that all of us are victims of a hostile, government takeover. It is in the best interest of those who remove our freedoms that we fight amongst ourselves. What a waste of time... we should be working together for our common good.
We sink or swim together. Unfortunately - even under a flag of truce - we cannot talk to one another if everyone is screaming and no one is listening. We are, once again, a house divided; this time along partisan lines.
I cannot walk away from my belief that each of us has a responsibility to speak out in a free society, if there is any hope that we are to remain a democracy. And so I stay, I grieve and I write-- an unwilling participant in a dark and living history. And I try each day to find a little solace, a little hope and patience, and a little common ground with my neighbors as I await some sign of light at the end of the tunnel.
I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. -- Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address
Maire Quilter: Holds a BA in Journalism and English from Indiana University, with 20 years of experience in Information Systems, Internet and Graphic Design.
ePluribus Media contributors: jenn718, cho, Aaron Barlow, GreyHawk, standingup and Roxy