Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Lately, I have a bad week, and then I hear great news that doesn’t seem to have much to do with me personally but helps to restore my faith in humanity. Having even a tiny ray of hope keeps me going most of the time. So I start feeling better and come back to the conclusion (I've been here many times before) that it’s always personal. We try to tell ourselves it isn’t but that’s just cultural and religious wheel spinning. Blow people up, make them into saints and movie stars, it’s all just a big, futile attempt at trying to disconnect from one another and getting pissed off because we can't.

I read a story today about 826 National, a group of tutors (non-profit) who are helping children develop strong writing skills. Any kid (from 6-18) can walk in, grab a tutor, and begin learning English. Those who've already met English can get to know it better. When I tutored writing in college, I learned that people are often either very good at writing or are very good and just don’t read enough to know it yet. Honestly, it’s just like algebra. It’s all variables and brackets and noise. Suddenly, one day, something clicks. You can spout poetry. Either in numbers or in words, the sentences just spill out of you like wedding tears.

This is a lovely thing to do for others. In a time when people are all about martyred entitlement, sighing loudly when asked to push “1” for English, it’s spectacular.

I thought a lot about being connected last month, right around a time when I felt profoundly disconnected, though not by choice. A friend invited me to attend a lecture at Northern Kentucky University (my Alma mater). At first, I felt completely nervous and freaked out, since being in public makes me feel…nervous and freaked out. But then I was aware of the moment, in a weird way, within it, listening to the speaker (Dr. V. Mohini Giri) talk about the millions widows in India, who lose what passed for human rights for the years when their husbands were alive. They are fucked in ways I can’t imagine. I’ve had a hard life. Those women make me look like Veruca fucking Salt.

Dr. Giri literally saved the lives of millions of women in India and continues to work for the rights of widows there. That's what she does. She has been working for over 40 years, teaching the widows not to put up with anyone’s bullshit (though in a much nicer, Nobel Peace Prize kind of way). Her parents taught her that she is as essential a part of the world as water. It was completely out of the question to expect people to succumb to foolish cultural standards simply because they're widows. When they tried to force those standards upon her, she refused. Despite being ridiculed and threatened, she kept her Bindi when they tried to take it away from her, refused to keep her eyes on the ground, and continued to kick ass. Ripley, Sarah Connor kind of ass.

I was very fortunate in that my friends got me into the “after party” or whatever fancy people call it when you get to hang out with people who lecture at the UN. When I saw Dr. Giri sitting by herself, I went to talk to her. I expected her to be like one of those Tibetan monks that you meet now and again at book stores. They’re all about Tibet and their divine right to be the reincarnation of some other guy (never a woman, of course). Admittedly, all I've managed to reincarnate (that I know of) is the same conclusion. I might feel inadequate if I didn't think that essentially, they’re just damned good at marketing the East to ex-Catholics and stoners. They're the cute guy who listens to your bullshit and gives you that "first five minutes of a good beer buzz" kind of confident euphoria. Pretty soon, the cat gets out of the bag. One of you is annoying, forcing the other one to wander off. I kind of expected something along those lines.

I was completely surprised by the woman who sat beside me and talked to me as though I'd known her my entire life. She almost reminded me of a beauty parlor lady from Kentucky. The kind of horn-rimmed, sweet lady with loads of common sense and resolve. She was attaching a string of beads to my glasses (so I wouldn't lose them) and explaining to me that it's all very logical. I am her sister, her daughter, her granddaughter. She told me, without irony or cheese, that she sees the entire world as her family. Obviously, I live in America. I am as jaded as the day is long but despite my efforts to spin this experience in some way that would make it easier for me to hate the world, she was the most genuinely kind, sane person I've ever met. I was (and actually still feel like) part of her family. As far as she is concerned, we all are. I've met people who think I'm not worth their time simply because I haven't finished a graduate degree. People who get angry when they have to push an extra button at an ATM machine. And here is this woman that I simply have no words to describe, telling me that I'm her sister and fixing my glasses for me.

She knows she’s essential in a way that I think many of us find difficult to grasp. We (Americans, I mean) like to think we’re essential because of who we’ve become or what we’ve made of our lives. I think that's why it's so easy for us to buy into Tibetan monks. They've made something of at least ten lives. This woman knows that we're essential because we simply are. You exist, you're in the club. End of story.

Long ago, I gave up on the belief that there were good people left in the world, so getting it back was a damned moving experience. Jesus monkeyfucking christ. It was transcendent.

So there I was, in the throes of a dismal, nihilistic torpor, thinking I can't walk another foggy mile in this Year of the Tea Party, oddly manic depressive zeitgeist, when a shining outpost of humanity sprouts out of a sand dune and I have to admit that hope is my second-favorite four-letter word.

(Fuck is my first favorite. You got that. Right?)