Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I am fighting with an affection-starved cat for use of the keyboard. Forgive my typos today. She really shouldn't still be starved at this point as I've been home a full day now, but Acorn is insisting on sitting close enough that her tail interferes directly with my reach of the keys and she is gradually getting more and more irritated at me as she does not like her tail nudged. It flicks back and forth more rapidly, her signal of displeasure and the approaching likelihood of my hand getting bitten.
For the last few days I've been lighting a candle in prayer. I pray for my niece, and I pray for the tsunami victims.
On my flight home, I was seated next to a fifty-eight year-old Vietnamese woman who was intensely evangelical. This I would not have found so difficult, I can usually wade through the persuasion to acknowledge compassion that sometimes leads a person who feels so blessed by their faith to share it with me. That is until they start to condemn others. After about 20 minutes of miracles sharing (of which some of the stories were somewhat interesting in their human dimension) she started sharing the sort of simplistic, hateful sorts of statements that I find so hard to believe anyone could really believe. Things like her belief that "all colored people" rob and steal because their hearts were made black by Satan. Preserving the Arctic and even the basic concept of protecting any wilderness is stupid because God made plants and animals for people to use. At the point where she tried to draw some connection between the earthquake and tidal wave and some divine vengeance God wanted to wreak on all Muslims for following a faith that celebrating killing, I cut her off in anger, then buried myself in a book. I could have explained to her that there were many thousands of non-Muslims in those areas, patiently dealt with her massive misperceptions like I had with the other statements of prejudice, but it was obvious that this woman was permanently lost in a sea of ignorance. She stood up just as the plane taxied up to the airport door and yelled "Happy New Year, God Bless You" across the heads of the surrounding seated passengers. "Accept Jesus into your heart, he loves you! Love him and you will be saved" she continued, failing to recognize that the only people who responded were the very "colored" people around us who she had been so sure were all criminals. She asked me as we rose to leave the plane "Do you know Jesus?" My response, "Apparently I know a different Jesus than you do."
There is a "Star" magazine now tidily tucked deep into the recycling bag, out of sight. Star magazine is one of those celebrity tabs which caters to an audience that will want to know what the supermodel was wearing when she was pulled out to sea by a tsunami, and whether her lipstick stayed unsmudged through the ordeal. The magazine was the last visual reminder of my niece's brief stay at my house after Christmas. Now I feel somewhat like an accessory to a crime, a part of a conspiracy to deceive and kidnap a naive girl, even if it was for her own good, even if she was guilty of far worse crimes, and I'm sure the need to bury the magazine reflects a sense of guilt and desire to remove any evidence of her stay on my part.
I read the growing death tolls, and wonder at the strange way the Western press focuses on the tourist resorts in Thailand as if the hundreds of missing Americans and Europeans and the stories of celebrity survivors mean more than the tens of thousands of Indonesians, Indians, Sri Lankans... The loss of their livelihood and homes haunts me as I read of planes arriving from Western countries to evacuate their particular survivors. It all pisses me off despite the fact that as humans, we just tend to put our "own" faces on a tragedy to make it real. I guess it bothers me because it reeks of the same like-preference that makes a woman sitting next to me on an airplane write off entire countries of people assuming they are expendable if they are not Christian. I say this, but have to admit at the same time that my family stress this week has not disappeared in the wake of the bigger tragedy. Do we ever really feel a sense of perspective?
Now Acorn is standing directly in front of the monitor, making it impossible to see what I am typing without removing her to my lap or the floor. She will jump back up though, this will continue until we both get mad and nasty - she will sink her claws in as I lift her away the umpteenth time, I will carry her to the door and unceremoniously dump her out on the porch, wincing from the scratches. Years of this and I still haven't figured out a different dance. I put her on the floor.
There is something confusing about processing the scale of a distant tragedy the size of the one in the headlines this week, and processing this tiny but personal tragedy of loss and separation in my own family at the same time. One is incomprehensible and horrific, dwarfing any concept of misery I might have imagined. Having visited some of the places devastated does not make it imaginable. On the other hand, I can all too well imagine each moment of my niece's journey, which I have never trod. The fear, the feelings of betrayal, the coming months of loneliness and anger, the denial and the pain of waking up to her much needed reality call. The fact that my niece had many apparent opportunities to avoid her current fate does not mean she could control the eventual fracture along long unstable fault lines, avoid being engulfed in an emotional wave when the influx of hormones and culture of media-driven superficiality conspired to drown her deficit self esteem. After months of acting-out in dangerous ways, pre-dawn yesterday we placed her in the hands of escorts, nice but firm strangers who would drive her to a residential program, the whole thing such a shock she was sure she was having nightmares as it unfolded. That I believe we have saved her life is, I suppose, enough rationale to offset the stain of a long string of half truths and deceptions told in order to insure she did not run away. I think she will hate us longer than we hate ourselves, but being a loving family member means we must not worry about this and put her safety first. Now she will spend a year away from her family rebuilding herself from the inside out. There will be no Star magazines there.
Meanwhile, a world away, millions face such terrible fates. Act of God? I don't think so. Certainly not the act of a vengeful God. Our little family disaster is miniscule in context. Our choices, our actions, our mistakes so inconsequential. I recognize this is both privilege and fate. I send money. I offer to pack supplies. But amidst it all, I can't escape the thoughts of my niece waking up in a strange dorm room hundreds of miles from home and the long road ahead of her as well. I write her cards, letters, tuck in meditation cards and small stones for strength. In both cases, it is so little. So I pray for both and release any sense of perspective.
The cat has now wormed her way up onto my shoulder and it is comforting to pet her. I am aware of the smell of her fur, the texture, the warmth against my chest. Maybe I should go make some tea.

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