A new nation

Etna-Volcano-Sicily, by gnuckx on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I didn’t want to post today. Hell, I barely even wanted to get out of bed. I know many of you feel the same way. And some do not. However you feel, you should know that so many people had hoped this day wouldn’t or couldn’t arrive, that even our nation’s laws might somehow prevent it… and then the day arrived anyway.

This post has nothing to do with my health.

I was just out doing errands and the hush over my little corner of the city was absolute. It feels empty. It feels like it did after the election, and after September 11, although the fear of imminent physical danger is perhaps not as acute.

After September 11, in the climate of fear and heartsick grief that permeated NYC, I happened upon a book on my shelf that I hadn’t read before, and it was just the right size to carry in my purse, so I took it with me on every subway ride. It was Robinson Crusoe. I had bought it at some point with a view toward self-improvement via filling in the literary gaps I created by not majoring in English.

It was a strange choice. But I found solace in it while traveling underground. A narrative of post-traumatic stress and shattering loss that spoke to me deeply:

I walked about on the shore lifting up my hands, and my whole being, as I may say, wrapped up in a contemplation of my deliverance; making a thousand gestures and motions, which I cannot describe; reflecting upon all my comrades that were drowned, and that there should not be one soul saved but myself; for, as for them, I never saw them afterwards, or any sign of them, except three of their hats, one cap, and two shoes that were not fellows. (from Chapter 3, “Wrecked on a Desert Island”)

After a particularly stressful time of waiting for scan results in July 2015, I visited the Morgan Library, and J and I gawked at the treasures on display there. One of the emphases of the collection was editions of Robinson Crusoe, in different formats, editions, and languages. Several shelves of it. It was good to be reminded of it again.

I wasn’t intending to find a companion read to the post-election, but then the library recently notified me that a digital copy of a book I’d requested was finally available. I downloaded it and am reading it on my phone, which is even more portable than that pocket edition of Robinson Crusoe. It is also aimed at filling a knowledge gap, this time of American history. It is Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, the story of the opening of the American West from the perspective of the Indian peoples who were massacred and displaced by it, starting with Columbus.

The massacres begin immediately. There are brief, sometimes hopeful alliances which are always shattered by wanton greed and propped up by Manifest Destiny. There are tests of endurance which boggle the mind. I’m still at the very beginning of the book, but I am already astonished and inspired by the determined survival of Manuelito, the Navajo war chief who succeeded in resisting military oppression and the removal of his people via forced march to the Bosque Redondo reservation. After several years, a surrender takes place, a treaty is signed (Manuelito is one of the signers), and the Navajo are allowed to return to their lands. This is the haunting image of Manuelito after resisting surrender to the military as long as possible:

… Manuelito limped into Fort Wingate with twenty-three beaten warriors and surrendered. They were all in rags, their bodies emaciated. They still wore leather bands on their wrists for protection from the slaps of bowstrings, but they had no war bows, no arrows. One of Manuelito’s arms hung useless at his side from a wound. A short time later [Chief] Barboncito came in with twenty-one followers and surrendered for the second time. Now there were no more war chiefs. (Chapter Two, “The Long Walk of the Navahos”)

I worry about fatigue and whiplash. I worry about sustained resistance to the things that outrage us, over the long term. There is a lot to worry about, and it feels difficult to situate myself, so I’ll focus on what I know and how that can be projected and emanate out into wider spheres. Among so many, many things:

My health is important – Access to quality healthcare for all is important. I am an immigrant – We must continue to value immigrants in our nation. Language(s) and culture are important to me – Culture must remain an American value. Peace, security and prosperity are important. I have reasonable doubts these values are prized by, and can be achieved by, a narcissistic kleptocrat.

America, from today we now star in a reality show of our own making. We must try however we can to change the script.

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