For Becky, who; over thirty, or so, years has almost helped me to become nearly human.
I stood, some years ago, watching the repairman working on my furnace.
“Dead,” he said.
It was maybe 40 degrees in the house and minus 15 outside. In previous years my underground powerline had died in subzero temperatures. My waterline to the house broke after a period of heavy rain and flooding.
“Things,” I told him with a feeling of personal aggrievement, “are always going wrong at exactly the worst time, why is that?”
He looked at me as if he was a man trying to tutor a small child. Evenly and matter of factly, he said, “Things always break when they’re under maximum stress.”
“Truth,” a voice in the back of my head said. A grand and simple and unassailable truth. One I had never put together. No conspiracies, simply science, simple cause and effect. The next day driving home in the continuing freeze I noted many houses with repair trucks in the drive.
How many other simple, and yet important, truths had I missed?
Why was I so certain that my malfunctioning furnace was a matter of personal insult? Why had I taken this problem personally? Where do we obtain these basic principles which rule our lives, which we accept as truths and so seldom examine?
And for that matter, where do our opinions come from? From where do our values, our preferences, arise?
Why do we favor concord jelly over peach butter; the Yankees over the Astros; or even hockey over football? Why do we, as children, want to be ballerinas over fireman; and ultimately why do we become nurses instead of lawyers?
And more to the point, why do we come to identify so completely with some of these choices- big and small- that we sometimes lose ourselves, our common sense, our intelligence; and in some cases our humanity in making those choices?
Why do we become threatened or enraged when those choices are contradicted?
Why, for instance am I willing to beat your ass for wearing that Philadelphia Flyers jersey? I am a largely sane and very educated 54 year old man, so why do I lose my mind, on occasion, over relatively unimportant matters?
The fact that someone chose not to use a turn signal should not, on very bad days, cause me rage; cause me to speculate on the likelihood of that person’s lifestyle choices; cause me to speculate upon- despite the complete absence of all credible evidence-the willingness of his or her family to fuck sheep over the preceding generations.
Such behavior, on your part, on my part, is stupid and unacceptable, and, presumably, we know this. And yet, especially of late, we have collectively, as a nation, sunk to new depths ugliness, despair.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but our nation, which is now under maximum stress is very fucking broke and we are taking it very fucking personally.
Why? Why when we are forced to make truly important decisions- such as Trump or Hillary- do we identify so completely with that decision that we are willing to denigrate our fellow man, if not actually cause her harm? Why are we willing to kill or maim strangers- or at least advocate for the harm, their murder, even though we know little, if nothing, of their circumstances and beliefs?
What do you know of Hillary or The Donald- or Brad or Angelina- beyond what you, I, have been told by well-paid propagandist with very obscure and inchoate objectives and agendas?
Literally what do we know of these people?
Again, why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated? All these issues are, all so often; inchoate, if not illusory. Yet, we treat such oblique and obtuse issues as a matter of life or death as if these problems threaten our very physical security, our lives.
In reality, even when we are forced to make very important and basic decisions, we remain the same essential being no matter what choices we make. Democrat or Republican, pro-choice or not; no matter how we choose, we remain essentially the same as prior to that decision. We remain human, similar, to those around us no matter how important those choices
We make our choices and the sun comes up tomorrow, the wind blows through the trees.
Unless we are forced to decide whether we, or others, should remain here on earth; unless, for instance, we’re deciding whether or not to continue living, to take chemo for instance; or to remove life support from a loved one, our choices do not fundamentally change us.
And yet, we act as if we are at death’s door. We scream and rant as if our very survival is on the line. How does the excess drama we create around these decisions help us to make these decisions?
How does hatred improve your life, my world? In almost every case, such drama does not help. All too often it only causes us to suffer. And yet, all too often, we let these states of pain and suffering- these optional states of pain and suffering- dominate our humanity, our very sense of identity. Why?
Some of these choices are very important. You may very well be correct that Hillary is a traitor, or that Trump is a clear and present danger to the future of our Democracy. Both facts may be true. But shouldn’t these decisions, all decisions in our lives, be made free or such ignorance and animus so that we can be certain that we are making correct and enlightened decisions?
You have that power. I have that ability. We have the power to collectively refuse to be used. Do you really believe you’re not being used?
Do you really want to sell these animals your humanity for pennies on the dollar?
And yet so many of us cannot get to this place of intelligent contemplation- why not? Why can’t I, you, look at our basic unenlightened states and do better?
What would happen to us, as a people, as a people, if we could look clearly at our madness, discerned the reasons for that madness; and made an attempt to move past that madness- or at least contain, minimalize, those irrational feelings so that we might make a better, more informed, physically and mentally healthier decision?
Why let others control us? Some, undoubtedly, are motivated by less than honorable motives But the rest?
Maybe at the end of the day some people are just fucked up and can’t do any better.
Have you ever been there? Fucked up, incapable of- at least for a short period of time-of being unable to do better? Maybe, at the end of the day, you’re, I’m, just as fucked up as anyone else and maybe you should get your house before you decide how others should think, live.
Why is it in this alleged land of freedom that so many, from all across the political and social spectrum are absolutely incapable of letting anyone live according to their own dictates, values and morals? Have you ever sat down and contemplated what that word really means? It doesn’t mean that the universe revolves only around you or that you get to tell everyone else what to do with their lives.
Maybe the actions and decisions that others make are a reflection of their relationship with themselves; and, not a personal attack up you and or your values. Maybe I am not the center or the universe, nor are you.
Maybe we should all check ourselves. Maybe we should all go to a quiet cabin the wood and, unplug; make whatever important decisions regarding your life, our lives, in a sane and reflective manner. I write these thoughts from such a place, in the 5am quiet, and I am a better person for having done so.
Maybe, you, I, should admit that while we are limited creatures, that we can do better. Your life is hard as is mine. But we are, you and I, capable of doing better. We must do better or my sons, your daughters, are in very large trouble.
Let’s agree to hate one less person today. Can you get there?
The portraits in this series are of your fellow human beings. I took these portraits over the last six months in various places around the country. I did not ask for any information from these people beyond their permission to take their portraits.
I did not find, over our brief encounter, any reason to hate, idolize or disparage any of these people- though statistics dictate that some of these people, like you, have done horrible things.
Please look carefully at these portraits and tell me what conclusions you can draw about these people, from their portraits. Are they lazy or stupid because of the color of their skin, or their political affiliation? Are they mothers, fathers, sister or brothers?
Choose which of these people should have their first amendment rights abrogated or their lives shortened secondary to your second amendment rights. Let me know which of these people deserve to live and die for their actions, for their beliefs. And then look in the mirror.
Or maybe just take a close look at these people in a quiet place and then look at yourself and vow to try to do just a little bit better; no matter who you are or what you think. Try and find one good thing to say about your worst enemy.
For our sake, because we deserve better.
Choose not to wage war on others, on yourself.