New York — In wanting to hear the world, to feel connected to and unplugged from the machine, I’ve stopped wearing headphones while commuting daily to work via mass transit, mainly the subways though a bus is now used occasionally due to construction; our local subway station has been closed now for months. Renovations they say. Work appears to occur as the corner where our closed subway station is positioned is cordoned off with cones.
Warning signs to wear hard hats are all around. Sometimes in lieu of the bus I walk the extra fifteen minutes north to the next subway station, but I have not participated in this walk without my headphones; this is a new occurrence, a recent change.
Whatever messages from the universe I may miss because I’ve stuffed Beats into my ears to drown out the everyday droning come to me in other ways, I am hopeful, but if not it is good to listen to the world from time to time, as a friendly reminder to those of you who, like me, live in the modern world and regard it as something needing reconciliation.
It is indeed a mad world, but it is not so bad. Just yesterday, I saw a four-year-old girl run with open arms toward a woman smiling with open arms, ready to receive the sprinting baby, as an older woman, the grandmother perhaps, patiently made her way toward the child and the younger woman, the mother, that is the grandmother’s daughter.
Three generations sharing a pleasant moment under the shadow of the Flatiron; meanwhile, minutes earlier, various messages from the internet, the other universe, suggested that the world has gone and remains mad, where, in Puerto Rico for example, food and water and electricity and dignity are reserved it seems for those who can afford the privileges, despite absolute need inspired by catastrophic loss.
The president makes jokes, makes it all about himself, says he was treated well by the Puerto Rico governor, and also says he plans to visit the island sometime next week—better late than never—and when asked why the aid, the food and the water and the electricity, the medicine and the diapers, is taking so long to arrive to the island, why is the government delaying its response when it showed swiftness weeks earlier to Florida and Texas, the president noted, correctly, that the island of Puerto Rico is located in the ocean, away from the mainland, so of course one cannot expect a fleet of trucks to drive to Puerto Rico, given the Atlantic.
One is miffed by the obtuseness expressed by an elected leader, to say nothing of the cold and careless disregard to brown life, seen as objects, but then one cannot be surprised either. What America deserves is an existential question for the nation, really. At some point over the summer, perhaps as a car plowed into peaceful anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, I thought that the United States deserved quite a great deal, specifically because of its unreconciled relationship with black people, and by extension every other member comprising the non-white population, but predominately because of what is still owed to black people first.
Baldwin concluded that America’s ongoing immaturity in relation to the rest of the world is directly connected to this unreconciled relationship; it is difficult to expect a country to grow up and become a mature version of itself, something like a thriving democracy in flux and change rather than what is currently on offer, something like a frozen world, a heavily demarcated frozen world, with red lines everywhere, when the nation cannot admit certain truths, truths which are recorded within its own history, sometimes captured on film.
For example, The Vietnam War, the new documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I recommend that each and every one of you watch this documentary, even if just one episode; I believe there will be ten in all by the time it concludes. You can watch it on PBS. We watched it last night. The episode covered the years between 1969 and 1972, shortly after Richard Nixon’s first presidential electoral win, when everyone believed, Nixon included, that the new president would inspire fear inside the heart of the enemy, and when people, for a time, expected a swift end to the war.
Instead, something like forty thousand soldiers were killed; Life magazine—and here, I say, we need a new Life—printed the names and photos of the two hundred American soldiers who were killed, the first time such a spread was made and published to the public in a mainstream American magazine. The two hundred American soldiers were all killed within the same week. Massacres and desertions and mutinies were common among American ranks, or at least not so uncommon to military leaders back home.
Speaking of which, here there was Woodstock, which was nice—footage of Jimi onstage warmed my heart—but there were newsreels from the cities where homegrown anti-war protestors began to hurl bombs and kill police; the Panthers denounced the violence; at Kent State University, the National Guard opened fired on college students, killing four and paralyzing at least one other, at a time when Nixon sat in the Oval Office in front of the television cameras to make appeals to the silent majority to support his decision to expand the war despite campaigning on the promise that he would not, an expansion necessitated by the need to bring home the boys, including the prisoners of war, and to call for unity under one flag, under god, principled in its execution of mass murder.
President Nixon’s televised speech was a success. His job approval numbers skyrocketed to 65 percent, if not higher. Rallies were held to protest the anti-war protests. The killing continued, even as the peace talks in Paris—such as they were—languished. So again, it is a mad world indeed but it is good to unplug and hear reality, the warning sounds.