despair has its own calms
What an age! Every one is dying, everything is dying, and the earth is dying also, eaten by the sun and the wind. I don’t know where I get the courage to keep on living in the midst of these ruins. Let us love each other to the end.
George Sand, letter to Gustave Flaubert, 27 June 1870
None of us know where this is going. It’s not looking good, but what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing? Being fully alive, being with other people, being in it together, taking risks, being really, really caring, [and] learning to love people even if they annoy me.
Dean Spade, interviewed 2022
The night before the atrocity, I dreamed I was walking through an endless series of atriums that comprised a university of some kind. None of the people streaming past me would look at me. At first I thought I was invisible, but then I understood that the other people could see me, they just didn’t care. No one I loved was anywhere nearby, and I was absolutely alone. I found a bookstore and went in, and I felt better. Well, that was subtle, I thought, and woke up. Then Maik showed me the news on his phone, and there went the day, swallowed whole by a chasm of horror, the way the day had been swallowed whole by a chasm of horror a few days before that, and a few days before that; the way the day will be swallowed whole by a chasm of horror while I am writing this or while I am sending it out or while you are reading it or just after. What an age.
The week before last I went to boat safety school. I got to put out an exciting fire and float quietly in a survival suit for a couple of hours and climb through a cage maze in a dark room while red lights flashed and a smoke machine belched out murky clouds and pre-recorded screams played at a loud volume. The latter was meant to simulate escape from a boat under duress. If I am ever trapped on a boat that is actually a cage maze with fake hazards, I guess I will do fine.
Fig. 20. The gentle void of the survival suit.
The main thing I learned at boat safety school is that there is absolutely no guarantee the captain has any idea what he* is doing or any regard for the safety of his passengers. The second thing I learned is that cruise ships catch on fire a lot. To be clear, these were not the intended takeaways from boat safety school, but I am telling you: I personally would never, ever, get on a cruise ship, and, in general, your trust in the captain may be misplaced. The captain might be drunk. The captain might be incompetent. The captain might be on the phone with his mistress when he drives straight into a rock.
In these sorts of situations, sometimes the passengers eat each other. But often, they organize themselves around mutual aid. The passengers fight off pirates by throwing deck chairs at them while the captain is getting drunk at the bar. A guitarist, a bass player, and a magician might evacuate nearly six hundred people from a sinking ship while the captain sits crying in the dark. Or the guitarist coordinates the rescue efforts in cooperation with the crew after the engine room explodes.
Being fully alive, being with other people, being in it together, taking risks, being really, really caring. And getting other people into the rescue boat even if they’re annoying. We didn’t choose the ship we’re sailing on, but here we are. We take care of each other. We take care.
Last Friday Maik’s band played at a friend’s friend’s wedding reception in a village an hour or so south of where we live. The reception was held in a gymnasium that had been rather poorly disguised with fabric drapery and Astroturf. I am afraid nothing could be done about the smell of old tennis shoe. It was a nice time. Old fellows propped themselves up against the open bar. Children ran shrieking with delight around the linen-draped folding tables. An elderly dog with one healthy eye and the other bulging and cataract-clouded trembled in their wake until somebody collected it and put it in a car. One of the children I noticed in particular. I never liked the wizard-school books even before that woman outed herself as a monster, but when one sees a small dark-haired child with a bowl cut and wee round glasses and a miniature cardigan with miniature elbow patches, one cannot help but be charmed regardless of such imagery’s provenance.
Maik’s band started playing after everybody had had a good chance at the open bar and was quite jolly. I took pictures with my phone and then someone touched my knee and I looked down and there he was, Harry Potter, with his hands stretched up to me. I bent and took them in my own, and we began to dance. Carefully at first, and then with more enthusiasm; that jerky, awkward, straight-legged dance you always see white hippies doing at any sort of concert whatsoever regardless of the music; his little face turned up to mine with a wild grin of absolute rapture. O, my heart!
And I thought, There is only one door but my back is to it, I need to get him away from the door. And I thought, Stay out of the spotlight. And I thought, I am so much larger than he is, that should make a difference if I can shield him in time.
And then I thought, This is not a normal way to think at all.
I almost started sobbing. Those children, those children. But here was this tiny ecstatic person who had for whatever reason chosen me to receive his absolute trust, and he was having the time of his life flailing around with his hands in mine, and I was not going to ruin it for him by losing my shit on the dance floor at a German wedding reception in the middle of nowhere because I come from a blood-soaked country built out of death and cruelty and money, a country hurtling unchecked into the abyss. So I didn’t. I made sure the only face he saw was one of joy reflected. And we moved, wheeling, into the light.
I can’t do anything, but I can do this. Living in the ruins, let us love until the end.
Fig. 21. Into the light.
*I have never heard of a woman sea-captain crashing her ship and abandoning her passengers, but feel free to correct me if you know of somebody I don’t.