We are not yet dead

Dear reader,

Hope transcends despair in an anxious world, the expected fulfillment of the undefined and idealistic future, a human yearning, describes for us the approach to the daily task. Hope offers definition and a purpose to the nebulous everyday, as our memories grant recognizable bodies to ghosts. We remember the dead as they lived. I stared at my grandmother in the casket in February and said, “I do not know this person.” I wish I had said more. At the wake, family and friends were each given two minutes to speak, to remember, to sing by the flowers and recite the inscriptions inside her rings. I said nothing. Weeks later, grieving on the subway, I imagined myself back at the lectern. “She gave us pride,” I said in this second stab at a home-going for the matriarch, “and she gave each of us life.”

She decays underground in New Jersey, as America itself reveals to allies and enemies the secret erosion of a fabric, a veil, as essential to our national history as the flag, as powerful of a symbol. Today is the first day I wished to leave the country. This is not true. In college, I had designs in place of a future manifested in some other country—Canada came to mind, once—but these were mere whims and inconclusive hopes. Now, policy aligns with nationalism, with populism, as citizens eager for extinct jobs install their hopes in politics that will rob them of finance and health.

I do not understand these people, nor do I wish to listen to their reasons why, in their minds, a huckster, irresponsible and deranged, should represent them—us. I adopted as self-preservation unhealthy habits necessitated by the rapid cycle. Day and night I defer to the screens. They show me simulcasts of news and opinions, and they speak of the national mood. It is bedlam on Twitter, as much his domain as Hell inspires in Satan the pride behind his fall from God’s grace.

“This is not our America,” one pundit tweets, and what shall we make of such notions? Are we to believe the virtuous America is now soiled after one election? Did we not ask for this world? With every whiplash and slur, and by our eventual acquiescence to tiny humiliations devised to brace illusory security, from body scans to metadata, was it not us who abided by abject citizenship?

Sensual pleasures unlocked by my thumbprint cede position and order of importance to undisputed racism emboldened by agenda. And these same people, his supporters, pose in photographs for the profiles, the essays, explaining their politics. If soullessness agitates inside their husks guilt’s first light, they should seek Christ or healers in the expanding desert. They need not appeal to our intellects only to cut our throats in our sleep.

This, I fear, is the impossible work before us. For it is evident by our fractured politics a widening chasm made more grotesque by economic inequality, a cause, you would agree, many of us, independent of electoral allegiance, can support. Our infrastructure crumbles. Most Americans have less than $500 to our names. We protest against those who will see us dead and empty-handed if it means more wealth for them. I do not mean to preach sedition to the choir, but hope in an anxious world seeks new fashions. Sedition is rebellious hope against a cruel state.

Children seek from us the rationalization of the total world, and it is our generational failure to do so that girds the traditional misunderstandings between parent and offspring, old and new epochs. In tandem, my partner and I guide her twins, my stepchildren, our family through the uneasy and increasingly volatile transition. Our unfiltered conversations dissect the North Korea issue, and Russia, and a nationalistic Europe, and the economic apartheid in South Africa, the rapes in South Sudan, the drought in Somalia, the hungry in Venezuela, the drone strikes in Yemen. Children bear witness to their parents and remember. Our children will thrive in the approaching and future world.

One must find the will to gamble away his life and society if in the final analysis, it is determined that life and society are dead to us anyway, and this is the heart we must press and squeeze. All I have in my possession is my life, guaranteed to be taken from me anyway. All my futures conclude with annihilation bookended by the years before my birth and the years after my death.

Hope, then, is absurd, but have you witnessed a hopeless man? He appears happy with the daily task, his earthly needs and pleasures more or less sated, and his family thrives. And yet he turns away nauseated by his own illusion, so terrified by his entire imagination, lest he projects onto others his anxiety. Death arrives in the shape of Syrian children seeking refuge. The hopeless man would rather gun them down or watch them rounded up if it protects his impermanent standing among men he crowned as his gods.

Here, Brooklyn retains its charm, the city overall unnerved by the day, every day, reputed by the hopeless as yet one more day in a series, but I cannot live this way. In graffiti lifted from the comics, the words who watches the watchmen are spray-painted on the Manhattan Bridge, which I cross twice daily. If this is a question, I am not the one to answer; if this is a statement—the declaration of a void—then our grave and unstable situation approaches the existential, disarming our hopes.

This is as it should be. Two months before she died, my grandmother retained hope. I sat beside her in the hospital room. Eighty-nine years was the extent and depth of her hope before relinquishment. If we are to die humiliated, let it be on our own terms, with hope paid to annihilation as a toll to cross. You are not crazed with anxiety. You are not alone. You are alive, and this is real. If you receive this message, illuminate your screens and orient them toward New York, in the direction of the Verrazano and Liberty. Young drifting light, said Thundercat, drift on by, and shine on me. From the depths of the borough beneath the colossus, I say, I will find you. Let us collude. We are not yet dead and hopeless.

Originally written for The Rumpus’ “Letters in the Mail” series