Hangover

ImageHangover was Merriam-Webster’s word of the day today. I was struck by the first definition: “something that remains from what is past.” Further into the email, the word is glossed as “something that remained or simply survived.”

I was surprised by how many people chose to share the last entry I wrote, it being so bleak. One thing I took from that is there are more of us than I realized, perhaps, who know that no matter what Merriam-Webster says, there is nothing simple about survival. There is nothing simple about continuing to embrace the will to live.

Personally I take comfort in that. Strength in numbers.

Last night I was at a friend’s house. I only get to see her on holidays, really, and every time I go over there lately the family is larger: someone has gotten married, someone has had a baby. Now one of those babies has become a toddler, a source of much delight. His grandmother held out an animal cracker for him. He took it, then decided to give it to me. He wobbled over and handed it to me. This became a game, as his grandmother would hold out a cracker and tell him to give it to a different person each time. He would wobble over, take it, and wobble over to the person, no matter how far away they were.

This was an inexhaustible game, as most toddle-games are. There was never a flicker of irritation on his face when he was told to be a delivery man again. Nor did he laugh or squeal about it. He just took it and gave it, every time the same way. It occurred to me that if he had been faced with those million matchbox bulldozers I spoke of, he would have picked one up, moved it, and gone back for another, over and over and over. Watching him was the first time I really felt I understood the Buddhist concept of “joyful effort.”

There is also a newborn in that family. Now. There’s an old joke that people have kids so they can have something to talk about at dinner again. And I’ve made about every argument in the book against having children in a world like ours. But I cannot escape the fact that I woke up this morning with a pretty strong hangover. By which I mean there was something that was making me want to hang around, to come over again.

I realized I’d like to know what she will be like when she grows up. I’d like to watch her grow into the fine qualities of her family. I’d like to talk theology with her.

One of the Newtown-related articles that I liked best was written by Ross Douthat. He used Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” sequence from The Brothers Karamazov. It’s a passage that puts exquisitely beautiful and painful language to that question we were all asking weeks ago: why?

I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking the 20th century invented true horror, but the stories collected by Ivan Karamazov chilled even my cynical blood. A similar thing happened the other day while I was reading Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. In her discussion of Confucianism, a single sentence stopped me in my tracks: “In 260 BCE, the army of Qin conquered the state of Zhao…massacring four hundred thousand Zhao prisoners of war, who were buried alive.”

I had to read that twice.

Faced with this sort of thing, Confucians went back to a tradition started by men who “realized that the only way they could end the intolerable misery they saw all around them was by a huge intellectual effort that began with the transformation of their own selves.”

The other day, a friend asked me if I had a reason to keep living. You know, just over coffee. I thought about it, said a few things, and then said that I’d like to keep working on being a person. Because when you come right down to it, there’s a lot of work you can do there, every single moment.

It’s like in improv, which I’ve been practicing. Improv is all about the present moment, and how much work it is, really, to be in it. My teacher has this wonderful way of referring to “Partner” in the proper noun sense. She’ll say, “You really have to learn that it’s about making Partner look good. It’s about supporting Partner.” What can I do to make Partner’s work easier?

The secret you find out is that when you do that, it actually makes your work easier and enjoyable, and it makes you more present. And yes, you can both be doing it at the same time. Somehow it just works.

And when you’re at a dinner table with 7 or 8 Partners, as I was last night, there’s a smorgasbord of work to do, of support to give, of brilliance to uncover, and hangovers to give yourself.

The other day I went and had a psychic reading. You know, just over coffee. And when it was over, my reader said, “It’s 2013. No one expected us to make it this far. We really have a chance this year to show what we can do.”

I resisted rolling my eyes over over the 2012 apocalypse thing. And I’m glad I did. Because I keep hearing her say those words.

“No one expected us to make it this far. We really have a chance this year to show what we can do.”

We have remained. We have survived. We are each other’s hangovers.

Now let’s go get drunk.

Bulldozer

kidsWhen I was a senior in high school, George W. Bush was laying the PR groundwork for an invasion of Iraq by lying about weapons of mass destruction. One of the idiots who sank his teeth into this bullshit was Thomas Friedman. Better safe than sorry, he said, even if there’s only a small chance that Saddam has the weapons.

I wrote a response and read it in my AP English class. I said I’d rather die. I would rather be a civilian casualty of a terrorist attack than be a participating citizen of a country that goes in and blows things to smithereens because of a CHANCE that someone MIGHT have a weapon that they COULD use.

I felt it then, when I was 18. I’m not sure, looking back now, if I really believed it, but I felt it, surely. And now at 27 I very much believe it.

Because I came home from another lovely morning at Sarah Lawrence and I saw the news about the Connecticut school shooting and I thought, okay, I don’t want to play this game anymore.

Like, you’re playing video games with your friend and you’ve been playing one for two hours and your eyes are dry and you’re antsy and bored and tired and you just don’t want to play anymore.

I don’t want to play anymore.

Last week a friend of mine posted something on Facebook, a graphic going around that essentially says if we’re going to regulate guns we should also regulate baseball bats. I found it, though I respect that person, to be completely fatuous. I responded. Others responded. He and I even apologized to each other and smoothed feathers later. No minds were changed. I probably further entrenched people who disagree with me in their own beliefs.

I led a bullying workshop in an elementary school last week. We had been told to prepare for hostile audiences, kids who were real troublemakers, etc. I in particular was sent to a class for the worst of the worst. And all of the kids were just amazingly angelic. They were all so beautiful. Heartbreakingly funny and kind and eager. Even the bad kids; they were so alive.

In researching the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail, who was killed in Savannah in 1989, I became obsessed with what bullets do to bodies. I wanted to re-sensitize myself to the idea of gun violence. What did each bullet do – to his jaw, to his teeth, his lungs, his vertebrae.

Death is something I forget about. I forget what it means to have something be alive and then not alive. I understand it as a concept but I forget really, really, what we talk about when we talk about death.

I have to remind myself.

Rachel Corrie is a hero of mine. She was a 23-year-old American activist who died in Gaza when a bulldozer ran her over. She did not believe the Israelis should have the right to bulldoze the homes of Palestinians. Say what you will about her politics, about her idealism, about her naiveté even. But sometimes I really envy her. Even her death. Because she had her bulldozer. She had it, she saw it, she knew what it was. She could stand up in front of it. And let it run her over.

And when you come home and you read about what we’re still just learning about in Newtown, and when you realize you can’t even keep up with all the shootings, and when you try to imagine what each bullet did to each little jaw, it FEELS like the walls are closing in, it FEELS like the ground is going to swallow you –

But it isn’t. The sun is shining.

You live in this limbo where you feel all of the bad things and yet cannot find a bulldozer to step in front of. Because most of the time it’s not one big one it’s a million tiny little Matchbox dozers, and you have to spend a whole lot of time and energy to get even one to change its course. And there is a nobility in that and perhaps that’s all there is and all we can do and should do.

It’s just exhausting and frustrating and sad, and a lot more tempting to throw down your controller and say, I don’t want to play this game anymore. What do you have for snacks?