I haven’t been posting very much lately for lack of a personal computer, which should be remedied this weekend – at which point my regular lengthy, frequent posting can recommence. Until then, though, a few things have been bubbling in my head; not particularly coherent or uplifting thoughts but rather a kind of submission to tragedy in the world. The 9/11 jumpers. Troy Davis – an injustice so grave it can only be tragic. The daily confrontation with need beyond what any single person can offer in solution.
Of course, it’s not all depressing. Working in any kind of social service can be draining, a constant uphill battle against an impossible scale of need, but the struggle to live one’s principle is also invigorating beyond imagining. Troy Davis’s death calls all of us out as accomplices to a system which offers justice in name only, but our participation is also hopeful: that by our actions we might change what we have created.
It is that sense of participatory community, that bottomless well of possibility, that I drew from this article about Cleveland; those who would abandon a difficult place recuse themselves of their own role in its decline, throwing their hands up against the notion that they might offer improvement.
Questions of participation animate even seemingly passive engagement with the world around us. This essay examines how our interactions with place differ when mediated by GPS; this piece discusses the unanticipated joys of shedding a car altogether.
Generalizations are a dangerous game, but generally speaking, Americans like efficiency – our reputation for it is less than Germany’s but we loathe waste, even as we perceive it all around us. Driving versus walking versus GPS; government spending; Rust Belt decline and state executions – these things seem to have little in common and some may be trivial but they are all interrogations of value, of doing things well versus efficiently, of savoring and participating versus escaping or overlooking, of confronting fact versus abiding comfortable fictions.
Of how we might live our principles, in a thousand unconsidered ways.
I’ve never been particularly prone to 9/11 commemorations. My own experience of the event was indirect enough that I don’t think myself entitled to it. But I found myself, this decade later, reading – rapt – the stories and controversy surrounding those who jumped from the towers, leaping to wind-borne freedom and shattering impact rather than death by fire and choking steel. Last week I attended a county event where, among other things, Bay Area firefighters who traveled to New York to aid that city’s decimated urban search & rescue squad were honored; it was like a crematorium, said one matter-of-factly, describing the structural collapse.
The jumpers, I’ve learned, are controversial because their actions are widely considered cowardly. Families who lost someone have defended publicly against the idea that their loved one might have stepped from a ledge in the moments after the planes hit.
Troy Davis spent his last words in prayer for his executioners.
To be faced with certain death is to be stripped of the choice from which we all map the landscape of our lives. Our decisions reveal us, in time, to ourselves and to the world; whatever we may claim our principles to be, ultimately they are the sum of our actions, entangled in our relationship to the world and embedded in our response to it.
I do not know what it is to know death so immediately. I can only imagine. I can only think that alongside the regret of unsaid goodbyes, of leaving behind, there might be a horror at the forced passivity, at the lack of choice, at the foreclosure of so much hopeful participation in the world we have no choice but to care about. And I can only consider: in that shorn moment, might not the only courageous choice – indeed, the only choice left – be to reshape an unwavering end into such form that we may be able to face it?
In life, we can blend such acceptance and persistence together and call it bravery. Should it not be any different in death?