It was a dark and stormy night. Well, it was a week of dark and stormy nights.
As the glories of the holidays — meals with family and friends, decorating sugar cookies, trees alight, wrapping and unwrapping present, and, even in unlikely places, snow angels — fall away, we find we are left with those long grey days of winter. The holiday distractions: buying presents for Uncle Bob, sending cards to Aunt Betty and the families on the other coast, pulling out those “ugly” sequined sweaters and Christmas-ornament earrings have given way to the post-partum blues.
2017 was certainly a wild ride, and we woke on Jan. 1, 2018 with — who knew? — the same leaky roof, the same breakfast cereal, and the same government. With all the political brouhaha in the White House so far, 2018 looks about the same as 2017. Will the wheels come off the bus in 2018?
Even in my backyard things don’t look much changed. My garden has not done any self-weeding as far as I can tell; and the sparrows and jays have not yet learned to fill their own feeders. I suppose I should see this as upbeat — my domestic activities still have a purpose in the new year; and these first quiet days of this first month present a time to reflect on those purposes.
Reading by the fire
I’ve taken advantage of our weather to simply read by the fire — a favorite winter activity. The end of December “New York Review of Books” included several eye-opening articles, as it generally does. Pankaj Mishra’s article, “Gods Oppressed Children,” (Volume LXIV, Number 20) introduces us to the writing of Sujatha Gidla and her memoir “Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.” (An interview with Gidla here: tinyurl.com/y6wpztg9 )
Now a conductor in the New York subway system, Gidla grew up in an India family of the lowest caste — the untouchables, the Dalits — a group of people who “fill their palm-leaf baskets with excrement and carry it off on their heads five, six miles to some place on the outskirts of town where they’re allowed to dispose of it.”
India is the largest democracy on earth, with 1,346,797,980 people (as of Friday, Jan. 5, 2018), equivalent to nearly 18 percent of the total world population. Yet it is the most hierarchical democracy: one out of six Indians is a Dalit; and though the India constitution of 1940 included language consolidating equality principles, the institution of class remains the most formidable obstacle to [India’s] egalitarian ethos.” (This is very like our continued struggle in the U.S. over the long-terms effects of slavery.) “The Dalits’ destiny has been so incorporated into the weave of Indian culture that most feet it is their duty to society to work for the happiness of their country by carrying sewage.
But this is changing, as Gidla writes about in her memoir. Her story is a reminder that even with our best human efforts, we still have much ground to cover in creating democratic societies that are humane, fair-minded, and caring. Surely a laudable goal for the new year.
That old trope, “Think global, act local” couldn’t be more relevant today as we watch our own Peninsula neighbors disappear into the clutches of ICE. Did we learn nothing by the ignominy of the Japanese-American internment camps? Our country is based on the vitality of immigrants. Those who have only trespassed by coming to our country to better themselves and their families by working with us should not be locked up as criminals. (Gidla’s achievements could not be more representative of this.)
Many us have been following the excellent Chinook Observer journalism of Sydney Stevens in capturing the stories of our immigrant families and their tribulations. (Due to her efforts, this information has made its way into statewide media.) We have on one hand the injustice to our Hispanic families; and, on the other hand, the courage and expertise of a professional writer illuminating us by telling those stories. Last week’s 2017 round-up of hysterical and pathetic police “Dispatches” illustrates yet another side of the crazy whiplash mix of human activity that will most likely continue into the new year.
Tender and terrifying
To this mix, I add another story. Last Friday evening I decided to attend a reading of world-class writers as part of Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts conference taking place at the Best Western in Seaside. (Running through this week are readings by Vievee Francis, Ellen Bass, Frank Gaspar, Marvin Bell, and Kwame Dawes among others.) And, yes, it was a dark and stormy night when I hopped into my car for the hour-plus drive to Seaside.
The reading was marvelous. Driving back in my trusty Volvo wagon, windshield wipers going like crazy, I was nearly home when mid-Peninsula on Sandridge I heard a couple clunk-clunk-clunks. Then boom. I swerved to a stop on the side of the road and turned to look out the driver’s side window just in time to see my right rear tire zip past me, cross the road, and roll through a notch in a hedge in the direction of the Cranguyma bogs.
I sat in the silent dark for a couple counts taking all this in. No other cars anywhere around. Soft rain falling.
Then I caught my breath and called triple-A road service. Having registered my distress, I scrounged a flashlight out of my glove-box and, stumbling through the hedge, began searching for my tire. It had come to rest about ten yards off the highway. I walked it back.
At home, post-tow, the what-ifs began. What if I’d been on the Megler Bridge in the dark? What if I’d had a string of cars behind me? What if I’d been on that always-busy commercial stretch between Warrenton and Astoria and my tire whizzed off into on-coming traffic? It took me a couple hours to get to sleep.
In the morning, for some reason, I wanted to revisit the scene. I drove down Sandridge (in a borrowed car) to the spot where I’d left the road. Suddenly out of the gloom, the sun appeared and added to the light rain an astonishingly complete rainbow which, on its east end, touched the exact spot where I’d skidded to a stop.
It was one of those exquisite and inexplicable moments that startle one into a deep wonderment. The world is terrible, terrifying and tender all at once. Isn’t it remarkable to be alive, to see what else happens in 2018?