I’ve been following MSN’s series on Poverty in America. Article after article share depressing, definitive data pointing to the growing effects of systemic oppression, the desperate need for affordable housing, healthcare, living wages and a revision of where the government draws the arbitrary poverty line. Maybe it’s an imaginary line on the white sandy beach between the CEO’s summer home and his plot of sparkling aqua ocean. After his last bonus he decided to buy some liquid assets. I hear Flint is still waiting for potable tap water.
It’s important to note that poverty in a developed county is a different experience than poverty in a place where fractions of people don’t own Escalades, green acres and Monopoly money. If everyone’s living under one hot tin roof there’s no pressure to keep up with the Johans, leaving you to wonder why you’re the one cleaning the big house instead of profiting from it. Prison executives are the new real estate gladiators.
Which leads me to my point: all the articles in the series left out trauma. Yours, mine, ours. Haters gonna hate but the root of all suffering is any experience which separates us from love, aka trauma. In every life a little rain must fall. For some us that means standing in a tsunami with no umbrella. Other people have a plethora of parapluies but paper skin. I’m melting! Oh what a world. Either way, rough stuff. Yet we continue pretending it’s always 70 degrees and sunny. Why? Because it’s nicer than giving birth alone in a blizzard.
When bad things happen in a culture rigged in favor of one fat cat, all the mice are terrified, running in protest at a multi-billion dollar wall trying to find a place to hide and eat. No soup for you! and you! and you! It’s no wonder we declare ourselves disabled, fighting over the last box of Stove Top. My mom refused to buy it. I’ve always wanted to try it. After I publish my book I’m throwing a Stove Top party with huge sheet cakes for dessert. I want that cake, cake, cake, cake.
Trauma, adversity, rainy days and Mondays, whatever you want to call it, are part of the human experience but our floundering fathers avoid it like the plague. Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? The problem with ignorance is we end up living with ghosts. Past, present, future. Oh look. We’re all dead inside. Congratulations on your giant bonus. Again. Sorry, there are no more baristas to make your pretentious $7 hot cup of self-importance to make up for being emotionally extorted by your legacy of generational wealth. We couldn’t afford rent. Based on your list of maladaptive coping habits, neither can you.
Poverty, disability, violence, suicide and the weight of existence are all rising. Meanwhile mental health funding and the time, energy and resources we need to live meaningful lives are declining. Where’s it all going? Who gets it? Who’s ever gotten it and how do we restore equitable division of seemingly elusive assets? Hint, love is an unlimited resource, we just have to get off the couch to go look for it. Ugh, tap me in at the next commercial. On second thought, you go and refill my snack box while you’re down there. I’m soooooooooo tired.
Re-reading Man’s Search for Meaning and forgot Viktor lived a life of relative privilege prior to imprisonment; as had many comrades he lived and worked with during that unfathomable nightmare in our collective history. When I first read it in high school I was obsessed with his resilience and descriptions of hunger, lack of heat, clothing, shelter, comfort, safety, a reason to live; all things I was searching for with an added sick obsession of the place where anorexia and imprisonment converged. Reading this time around I noticed a subtle, perceptive difference. When he’s talking about experiencing the shock of degradation by the Capo he talks about the loss of his human dignity. He had dignity to lose? What’s that feel like? “The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. We all had once been or fancied ourselves to be ‘somebody’. Now we were treated like complete nonentities. The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher more spiritual things and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners possess it?” To answer your question doc, a boatload of us are born into degradation and find ourselves hanging onto the feet of a radical, feminist, socialist, pagan goddess, laughing fat guy or Krispy Kreme for dear life. A bunch of nameless nobodies have survived, thrived even, as a result of possessing almost zero dignity yet have among our trinkets, the ability to be anchored in a belief in something greater than ourselves.
For instance, if my goldfish dies or I’m stalked for a decade by a pedophile and it utterly breaks my heart I can choose to make meaning of it by becoming a marine biologist or reclusive writer. I can be grateful for the gift in the challenge or I can practice radical acceptance and say such is life, knowing death and rebirth are inevitable. Goldfish die. Natural and unnatural disasters happen. Though there’s some emerging evidence suggesting humans have more influence over the environment than we might want to accept. I wonder what Masaru Emoto thought about the connection between anger and volcanic eruptions? If we qualified the wisdom of folklore, baby sister Pele would be all the proof we need. Systemic oppression has a long, albeit sad and tired history. And sometimes the shoes we love are sold out or discontinued. Collective first world sigh…
I have a theory about shoes and feet. We get one or the other. No one’s born with both. The longing we feel, the place where love songs, fairy tales and art come from is what fuels the makings of our stories; every story is essentially the search for a shoe, a foot, or even one of each. Ok, two…five, ten…my husband has more shoes than me and most of them are called Five Tens. If we don’t have legs the metaphor works with head and hat, hand and glove, eyes and glasses, ass and pants. Pick a part and cover it. True fulfillment though, is something much more than perfunctory provision.
What Viktor might’ve been trying to teach the world from the depths of suffering is, shit happens and while we’re all born with an inherent desire to actualize, create, dream , spread our proverbial wings and fly, we aren’t given optimal conditions under which to take flight and must therefore humble ourselves to the possibly destined design of the human condition; the eternal, existential battle of God and evil. Life is pain highness! How we choose to respond to the pain is up to us. Did you know you have a choice? We do. Sometimes the choices suck but that doesn’t make them any less viable.
Where do perception and healing work meet? On a bench somewhere in Central Park? On our knees begging help? In a shrinks office throwing twenty years of living hell on the floor, flushing it through the planet till you can finally look at your own face again? That was a real thing and all I can say is, EMDR is a miracle.
Either way, it’s hard work. How many of us sign up for a job like that? What happens if we don’t? What happens if we do? Is the achievement or hope of wholeness filed under Great (privileged, rare, exceptional) Expectations or are us nobodies allowed to dare dream me too? I’ve probably wrestled with that question most. Berating myself, thinking yogurt, popcorn, a bed, car and really nice winter coat should be good enough. (It’s such a great coat; grey wool, swanky thing. I got it on sale last summer and couldn’t wait to wear it. I got a hat too. Amazon. Twelve bucks with free shipping!) Wanting greater peace, a blue velvet writing chair or to feel safe, calm and joyful in my own skin without doing a thousand mental push-ups is like wanting butter for bread. The bread should be enough, butter glut. How selfish can one person be?
The crazy part is, I want so much more for you.
Viktor, wish you were still here. We’d explore all the questions, seeing ourselves greater than we’d known ourselves to be and I’d buy you a really big lunch. xo
ps: Stayed up foolishly late to finish this piece I’ve been scribbling in chunks between the book, work and wrapping presents. 63,000 words and counting! All I want for Christmas is a publisher and that blue chair!