If you’ve come here expecting photos and crafty things and cheeriness, please go to the entry after this one, which is actually before this one, but below. There you will find cuteness. If you want how I feel now, which I am certain is all you are interested in at the moment, go ahead and read.
I’ve already gotten myself in trouble today, writing publicly and with abandon. So I’m going to make it worse.
A member of my family went to the grocery store the other day, and as he walked into it, two people came out of it. These two people were, not to put too fine a point on it, exceedingly heavy. So much so that one of them was riding in one of those little motorized sled things. And each of them was happily carrying a gigantic ice cream cone, the kind you have to turn upside-down into a cup to carry it.
The observer of this said nothing to them at the time, of course. And when he related the circumstance to me, he said no more than to have told me these particulars. But the moment was so striking, especially for me in my present state of mind (I’m eating chocolate right in the face of the universe – like the universe is the one who’ll get fat) that I am going to go right ahead and say what I think right now. And I think that human beings, including myself (if I may be so bold) are stupid. Deeply, screwed-uppedly stupid. And I think those two very heavy people pretty much encapsulate The Whole Human Problem.
They say that rescuers after shipwrecks sometimes had to literally pry the fingers of the survivors off the piece of soaking flotsam they’d grabbed to save their lives – no matter how cold the water, how warm the rescuing boat, the person in trouble would not let go, not reach out, not do what he needed to do in order to be saved. Why? Why would he act that way? Preferring the devil he knew, I suppose, to the risk of trying something different? Or so shell-shocked, his mind could not conceive of anything outside his little circle of misery.
Ask those people from the grocery store what they want – what their dreams are. I wonder if they would say, “I want to stuff my body so fully of useless and harmful fat that my heart, lungs, liver and stomach are infiltrated and I have diabetes that I don’t even recognize and I can’t dance or run or otherwise kick up my heels, and my joints ache and I have sleep apnea!!! I SO want to make it so that I can’t get up the steps to my own front door, and my blood pressure is through the roof. But most of all, I want to live about forty years less than I’d otherwise have to!!”
If you ask them WHY they are letting themselves get sick, will they blame their hormones? Or the advertisers of large ice cream cones? Or their parents? Or George Bush or Barak Obama?
Nobody has to buy a gigantic ice cream cone. Ever.
And what has set me off on this, you may wonder (assuming you’ve even gotten this far). Or perhaps the better question is, what has set me off THIS time?
It was the TV news. On the news, they had a fifteen second clip of two older people (older than me, I wonder?) sitting in their dark – and very cluttered – house, probably in New Jersey – trying to keep warm at a table with a big Corning Ware thing full of candles burning in it.
Whether the house was cluttered because of storm damage, or these were just messy, hoarder kinds of people is not my business. What is my business is what the woman said. She started by stating their condition – no lights, no heat for days. She noted her health problems, then her husband’s problems, all in a despairing Jersey accent with which I sincerely and distressedly sympathized Then she said, “We’re freezing here. And nobody cares. NOBODY CARES.”
Which is what set me off.
First of all, plenty of people care. They were on the frigging news, for heaven’s sake. Have you ever been on the news? No, right? Because nobody cares about your normal little life. So somebody cared about these people’s story, or there wouldn’t have been cameras in their living room. And I care. Who wouldn’t care, hearing this?
But it had made me angry. Because she made me feel guilty, like me, standing on my treadmill in my nice warm house, should be doing something to PROVE that I care about her.
I wanted to say to her, “Do not judge me like this. Up to this minute, I never even knew you existed. I have been caring for WEEKS about the people on the East coast. Worried, glued to the news, watching the whole thing helplessly. But I don’t KNOW you, lady. I don’t know your name. I never met you before. I don’t NOT care about you. But what am I’m supposed to do??
“You’re on the freaking other side of the continent. And you are two people among thousands and thousands and thousands of distressed people. I am one little person. I can’t make electric go back on in my own house, let alone in a house on the other coast. If I could afford to do it, I’d try – but not even money can make the power come back up. And if I could do it with money – assuming I had any - I’d have to do it for EVERY person who doesn’t have it, because they ALL want to be cared about.
“I can’t fly out there and find you. I have so many people right here where I am, that I’m responsible for – their welfare, their mental health, their futures – their lives – and then people further out, some of them on the other side of the planet – so many people I gotta worry over and do stuff for and remember, and think about and give to.
“If I had all the money in the world, I couldn’t change this for you. And what money I do have, I gotta save for when I’m old myself, which will be in about five minutes here as it is – because somebody is going to have to feed us then, and we’ll have the same health problems you do, and I’m not going to expect anybody to suddenly show up and pay for all that if I can’t. And I save for my kids, who I also care about and worry over because they work so hard in a time when working hard is not paying the rent. And frankly, We have always given more than we could afford, sending to the kinds of organizations who are equipped to use that money effectively and compassionately. There isn’t enough money IN THE WORLD to fix this for you and all the people who are like you right now.
“It isn’t your fault this freaking storm came along. Not your fault that the ocean came roaring out of its tame little cage and slapped your life all over the street. Not your fault that this other storm is freezing you – or that Con Ed is out all over the place. It’s not even Con Ed’s fault. It’s NOBODY’s fault. But now you said this thing, you make me feel guilty. Like I messed up – like I’m responsible for all this, and I’m having to get angry so I can realize that this is NOT my fault. Not MY fault either.
“From the beginning of time, life has been hard. This last maybe eighty years, things have been so safe, so provided, we feel cheated when suddenly something like this happens. People have always died in storms, always suffered – but not us. Not us. When we were born, God guaranteed us toilets and light bulbs, tame running water and full grocery stores.
“This is why I have put by a little food, a little money for the future. You may not have expected the ocean to wake up one day and decimate the limits of your sense of reality, but we live in Earthquake country. They tell us every month – it’s not IF you have an earthquake – it’s WHEN. So every day, we have this shadow of exactly what’s happened to you (minus the sea bass) threatening us, to the point where we don’t believe in the danger anymore. And when it does happen, WHO KNOWS what conditions will result? You can’t prepare for everything. I am in no way prepared for that day. But it will happen. And nobody will give us enough warning we can drive inland, away from it.
“And we may be sitting in the dark, freezing living room of our cluttered house with no clean water and no flushing toilets, just like you. And I’m going to expect somebody to show up automatically and change all that for me?
“I care about your situation. I care about you. But I am helpless to save you from this. I’d say, I can pray for you – I can pray that somebody can suddenly decide to drive down your road, suddenly choose your house, suddenly give you a generator. But praying sounds like nothing to somebody who’s cold. And it doesn’t guarantee anything. And if it did, what about your neighbors, and the people the next block over? I can pray for a generator for every house in New Jersey and Staten Island and everywhere back there. But you know it doesn’t work like that.
“So what do you want me to do? I’m telling you, you’re wrong. I, personally, do care about you – in an I-don’t-know-your-name, one of thousands of people sort of way. Because I don’t have any power to do more than that, here where I am. I care about every child who is neglected or hungry or disappointed. I care about every person of age – like me – who doesn’t know what to do – like me. I care about the abused, the frightened, the sad – I care. I honestly care. But there are too many people – too much need – and if I grieve over everything and every person, I will lose my ability to function at all.
“And honestly, most of the time, most people are helpless to do anything BUT care. I know that people of my faith who live close enough have bussed in by the thousands to help. And other people, not of my faith, the same. But not everybody can do that. And we will all take our turn being in trouble. And take our turn helping in the sphere in which we can.
“So don’t think nobody cares. It’s just not fair to think that. And it’s not right. Plenty of people do. Knowing that isn’t going to make those candles burn any hotter, and I’m sorry about that. I’m so sorry about the ocean. And the cold. And the fact that you are aging. All those things. I am deeply sorry for your situation.”
I guess what I’m saying to myself and to those I love is this: I told my kids a long time ago, over and over again: if it means a lot to you that you have a great birthday party, then be sure you plan it yourself. You cannot expect other people to be as concerned with your life as you are, or to read your mind, or to have the time in their lives to be able to dedicate to some special thing that’s all about you.
This is why we are taught to pay attention. To make wise choices. To listen when people say, “Get out of there now.” This is why we try to prepare to have enough food and water for an emergency – to have a plan – not to dwell on the inevitability of disaster, but just so, if we lose a job, or something unforeseeable happens like is happening now to so many – we can eat or drink or stay warm as long as it takes till the world rights itself. That we know how to turn off the natural gas if we have to. Or give mouth-to-mouth or unstick a piece of steak from somebody’s throat. Maybe that we have enough, we can share. But even then, the sharing won’t reach far enough before everything you’ve saved is depleted.
There are just things in life that, if you do not do them, nobody can do them for you. Like the pioneers, crossing the plains in freezing times – if you do not pick up your own foot and put it down in front of you, you will not move forward. You cannot expect other people to take the responsibility of carrying you. I cannot expect that. And I don’t.
And when you don’t expect it, you either live like a person who knows you have to plant onions in order that you should have onions later, when you want them – and then you are gifted with the seeds for the next planting too. Or you don’t live like that and you end up not having any onions. In which case, it is not fair to be mad at everybody else because you don’t have any. If everybody lived like they had to depend on themselves – planting and working together, then when something happens to one person, the other person can step up and be there for them.
It’s hard to make that last bit work when the situation is so global. But it’s good in theory. Good for local.
If you need people to care about you, you build yourself a community – a bunch of people who care about each other, so when one is weak, another is strong. You invest in other people, take care of them, make them laugh, be there when they need you. Like a family, where people are different, but determined to like each other. Or a neighborhood, where people don’t judge, but really care about all the people up and down the block and do things like take each other’s garbage cans out to the curb, or bring dinner when people are sick. Or a town, where people get together and think about plans to keep everybody safe, and pool their resources to do that.
And then you have courage and gratitude, and you can afford to have faith. And you will not believe that nobody cares, because you will know that everybody would be there for you if they could. And if they’re not, it’s because they can’t. That’s what kind of people I know. And if they weren’t there for me, I’d have to be worried about them.
This thing on the east coast. It’s so big. So big.
If caring means crying, then you guys out there have mine.
You have mine.