We stood in front of plaster walls painted white. There were no pictures hanging, no paintings, not even wallpaper, or scuff marks to show that we had once lived between them. The photographer takes two pictures in front of us: One we will send to grandma, where it will sit on her mantel next to the others – pictures of grandpa and of mom when she was young – and the Christmas decorations she forgets to put away. Though she doesn’t put up pictures of Jesus or the manger. She prefers the fantasy of lights and colors; the notions of goodness within herself rather than from the Long Book written by men.
She does go to church – but she goes for the people, and for the coffee. She goes to see her friends and to talk about the neighborhood.
Nessa and I stand arm in arm. Nessa weeps softly with her head against my shoulder. The photographer steadies his camera, keeping his head down and covered so as to keep the whole thing impersonal, distant, professional.
But I know you, I think and tell him this with my eyes, I know you from the streets. From the alleyways. From the pictures of crimes and rapes behind buildings that you captured and published next to boxes of text trying to explain what happened to our world and all of the people in it.
I can hear the sounds of streets outside. Restless movements. The sun shines now brighter than it used to. A year ago the streets were empty and dusty and alone. There was no one. Feral dogs pick through trash bins next to people with beards and long coats. A year ago the only shouts came from rooftops, conversations between windows, arguments over telephones, the distant sound of sirens and (more often than the state would like, I would think), the shouts of police officers and the wails of someone who broke curfew trying to see their lover or friend or a family member sick with the flu.
Nessa’s tears are those of happiness and joy, but there is sadness there as well. There is always some sadness when something comes to an end and will never again be as it was.
These feelings of sadness and joy are ridiculed on the discussion boards and online forums I visit when I get a chance to use the computer. To feel is to fail; caring is weakness. Today they laugh and point from behind computer screens and keyboards, faces stuffed with Cheetos and Mountain Dew laughing about the misery and sadness and plight of others because it is not them, not this time.
And if it ever is them, by god they will be ready.
They have power in this. This is why morality does not prevail: It cannot go to the places of cruelty, mockery, and evil untouched; the places of darkness and immorality that have no need of patience or the goodness of people.
“Fools rush in…” as they say, but the world seems like a foolish place no matter where we go.
They say that people don’t talk to each other anymore. But I see them talking more than ever. Not to one another maybe, but at one another instead. And at the subject they’re on, not about it. But we just never really knew who we were before. Just because a cup of sugar was borrowed didn’t mean that the world was seen eye-to-eye. And if it is going to be addressed, it is going to be addressed today.
And so the discord is being addressed – we’re talking about the ugly things. We’re being forced to discuss the ugly parts and confront our differences. The bad is being dragged out into the sunlight from the dark corners of un-had conversations. And everyone knows that it is light that kills the dark.
So we can remain optimistic about tomorrow, the future, we can still be tall and happy there.
Tomorrow (A Long Ways Away)
Nessa is pregnant and her stomach is the size of a watermelon begging to burst. She sits on the couch and breathes and watches television while the coffee pot whistles in the kitchen. I take the pot from the heat and pour two porcelain cups full. Grandma’s porcelain cups.
“You shouldn’t be drinking coffee,” her mother tells her. “Caffeine will leave your child a runt.”
Nessa waves her hand. “It’s only a little bit.”
I pour a third cup. I pass them steaming around the room.
The president is onscreen, talking about war. This has not changed. There are men and women standing behind him. The American flag in the corner. The voice of the president is loud and bold and no one thinks twice about it. The last president had a softer voice. But we go back and forth: One and then the other. Loud, soft. Violent, peaceful. Right, wrong. We go back and forth as people, and we can never really decide what we want.
We are still shortsighted, and selfish.
We wanted to be better, and to grow, as people and as a society. So many of us thought that maybe people could be (or already were) better than they are; that progress was an inherent piece of humanity, that someday we would shed the chains of petty self-righteousness and finally move forward together, and that the general populace placated by television and still thinking with their stomachs would someday realize that it is their minds that will save them and nothing else.
But this isn’t true: People need a leader, as they have shown time and time again. They need rules, and simplicity, and always will. People are subservient creatures, happier with notions of law and order and familiar things than with the innate creativity with which they are born.
Anarchy is a beautiful thought, perhaps, for a species other than ours.
Read this next: The Persistent Appeal of Fascism