A Feeble Flapping at the Edge of the Quagmire

I stop to talk with a few of my students—the older ones, the ones who are not quite so sure they’re going to explode with guaranteed success on some future scene —and then I walk across campus to my car. I toss my book bag onto the floor on the passenger’s side; I snug my water cup into the drink holder. I take my phone from its purse pocket and put it in the crook of the arm rest, and then I start up the engine.

I listen for a minute, appreciating—it is good, this responsive power—and then I turn on NPR and pull out of the parking lot on this chill gray day.

And, from the radio, I hear this:

Rant rant venom

Rant rant venom

The impeachment trial has begun. An august senator is almost spitting in his rage at the other team.

I give it a minute, but he doesn’t waiver from his course. He doesn’t talk about the facts of the case or try to counter what’s been presented; he simply sticks his hand into a bucket of hot tar and smears, smears, smears.

I am sickened, and I turn off the radio. I get on the four lane and wend through the edges of this small gray city. It is quiet. I miss the interesting afternoon chatter of NPR, the only station that reliably comes through where I’m driving.

I think I should remember to get a book on CD to listen to while I’m driving.

I think it might also be worth looking into subscribing to a radio service.

Cityscape quickly melts into broad country fields and farms, and the silence gets to me. I turn the radio back on.

The other team has the field now, and this is what I hear:

Accuse whine whine

Accuse whine whine

So much for that. I turn it off in disgust., thinking there is no one here to be proud of, no dignity on display, and no compassion for the people these folks are pledged to represent.

I imagine the floor of the Senate opening, kind of like the dancing scene in It’s A Wonderful Life; I imagine all the senators falling into a swimming pool and flailing away.

I picture the floor closing back up and new people coming in. These people—there’s a rainbow of tones and gender and ages and accents here—shake hands and sit down together at long tables. They share information that often makes them frown and sigh, but they struggle together, trying to understand the truth, the right, the meaning. They are sitting at these tables until they can figure out the best way forward.

That fragile daydream pops softly and disappears as I pull off the four lane onto familiar home town streets. It’s replaced by a feeling of sickness, by this thought: There is nothing good here.

I am by nature a foolish optimist. I don’t want to believe in the absence of good.

**********************************

I make the short trek from carport to house, and I see a scuttle of bugs zipping and flying. Bugs in Ohio in January. This is outlandish.

This is because it hasn’t gotten cold enough to send those bugs away.

This is because of global climate change.

My stomach clutches, and I climb up the two steps to the back door and wield my key.

************************************

I ponder, as I wash out my lunch dishes, what to do. Nothing is surely not an option, but what option will make a difference?

I can write letters; I am good at writing letters., and I think I will do that—write to my senators, one on either team,–and tell them of my distress.

I realize the letters will be read by some team member and never make it to the senator’s view. But I’ll do this, even if it’s only symbolic.

What else? What else? What action can make a true difference? If a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China, how can I flap my wings? How can I direct my energy toward a more specific spot—toward Washington, where contention simmers and the work of the people—for the people—doesn’t seem to happen?

I can’t think of one single thing that might make a difference. I go downstairs to poke around in the freezer, think about dinner.

*****************************************

Jim is at home, at loose ends. He started this young year with high hopes for a great-fit job; but the organization interested in him opted, finally, to adopt a software solution instead of a human one, and Jim didn’t quite know how to process that, his filters tentative and undeveloped. It took him a week to work it through…to struggle from disappointment and anger to a realistic acceptance. There is grief in the emotional mix; there is a blow to confidence and self-esteem.

But he is back at it now, considering different kinds of jobs; his high hopes have fluttered down to a hard-nosed reality.

“I just want to WORK,” he says grimly, and he and his job coach scour the postings for anything remotely suitable.

And the days at home, waiting, are long. Jim creates projects and organization plans and tries to keep himself busy. By the time I come home, he is pacing, the walls of the house closing in.

Fuel to my malaise: why are so many disabled people sitting in front of flat screens, pushing the buttons on their game controllers, when they could be out there contributing?

HR Magazine tells me that 66 per cent of adults with autism are not employed…and that the 34 per cent with jobs are subject to a rising workplace bullying culture. And, the article adds, 500,000 more young people with autism will launch into the job market this year.

These are quirky people with varying levels of challenge, but people with considerable computer and organizational and other skills—people who could be enjoying detail-driven repetitive jobs that neurotypical folks abhor. To hire autistic adults, though, means shifting workplace attitudes and rules and culture.

While this is happening in some places, those places are all too rare.

What world is this I live in? I wonder, and I am angry and sad, and deeply, deeply frightened when I imagine the future.

****************************************

I bag up the garbage and take it out to the bin, and I toss in the bag—made of compostable plant products. The week is half over, and there is just one other bag inside; since we started being plastic-aware, we have reduced the amount of trash we create by more than half. That at least is a hopeful sign, I think. We’re doing better, and we’ll keep figuring out how to do more.

****************************************

“Do we have any outing-and-abouting to do?” Jim asks hopefully, and I consider quickly. This was buy-a-new-dishwasher week; there is not much disposable cash to be spent. But we could go to the library. And, I remember, Mark found a Panera gift card in the thing basket. There’s fifteen dollars on that, and I think I have another one in my wallet, with a buck or two left to spend.

We decided to take a trip to the library and then stop at Panera. We’ll buy a little treat for a gray afternoon, and we’ll get us each a bagel or two for tomorrow’s breakfast: something for now, and something to look forward to.

In the car, Jim gets music ready on his phone, and says, “Hey. There’s an email.”

It’s from Kelly, a creative job coach in the program that works with Jim. She wonders if he can send along his resume and a letter of recommendation from his supervisor at the college library.

His eyes light up.

“Why do you think she wants that, Mom?” he asks, and I tell him what I believe: that Kelly and her team have some possibilities in mind, that they are exploring new routes and different employers with the potential to become Jim’s workplace.

“But, remember,” I say, “this can take some time.”

“I know!” he says, but there’s a flicker there, like the pilot light has come back on. He picks a sprightly Abba song to play; we bop along to the library, while Jim talks about the Mama Mia movies, which, despite his penchant for fantasy and horror, he really enjoys.

At the library, he fills a bag with manga and DVD’s. On top of the stack is that wonderful redemption film, Chef, with Jon Favreau.

********************************************

At Panera, the young cashier checks the gift card from my wallet. It has $1.45 left on it.

We choose carefully. Everyone likes an Asiago bagel; we get three of those. Then we choose an everything bagel for me and cinnamon crunch bagels for Mark and Jim. We ask the cashier to throw in a little tub of cream cheese. That takes care of breakfast.

For a sweet afternoon treat, Jim opts for a frosted cinnamon bun. I order M&M cookies, one each for Mark and me.

The cashier rings us up, and grins.

“That’s $16.45,” she says.

And that’s exactly, to the penny, the amount on the gift cards.

“What are the odds?” I say to Jim, and he shrugs and rolls his eyes, offers to get the bag, and we shlepp home the spoils, where Jim gets out a video game, and I light the fire and take my cookie and a book to the reading chair.

**************************************

This is not to say the world still doesn’t stink. Free bagels and vague possibilities don’t add up to serious solutions to big problems. There is evil and there is tragedy and there is a huge and sucking quagmire of self-interest and power-craziness and the absolute pressing need to be acknowledged right at all cost. Children die and people are mistreated, and instead of howling in grief, we howl in blame.

I cannot hide my head and avert my eyes; I have to do something. I need to face each thing I encounter and think it through, find a way to act that contributes to healing instead of chasms.

It makes my stomach churn; it keeps me awake at night.

There is a heavy, pressing bank of clouds. There’s a dirty, pouring rain.

But there is, too, a tiny crack in the cloud bank, an infinitesimal suggestion that hope is still possible. Light pours through that crack, and, at certain angles, I’m pretty sure a small, bold rainbow shimmers.

Tonight I am writing letters,—a tiny wing flap. But I’ll know I’m adding to a greater flapping—to the actions of caring, concerned, and committed people, people who stand at many vantage points and have many different views of the situations we face. People, these are, whose hearts are good and whose concern is real.

They are people who can band together for the good of all.

*********************************

There is work to do; I know that, and I know that what I have to offer is not very much. But hope tells me to offer it anyway.

And evil, I believe, triumphs only when hope is hidden away.

9 thoughts on “A Feeble Flapping at the Edge of the Quagmire

  1. Sue

    You couldn’t have created a more fitting moniker, Pam, & I, also, can totally relate. NPR is the only station that comes in on my office radio~most recently serves as little more than ‘white noise’ …
    Let’s just say that my colleagues & I have been devouring more than our share of chocolate lately!
    Best of luck to your son with his job search.

  2. “If a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China, how can I flap my wings?” – oh how you weave your stories together!! 🙂 SUCH an important topic – so distressful – but there is hope – even if little bits like free cookies and bagels and the ability to write letters! Keep up the good work great lady!!

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