We Are the World – and we don’t know what the words mean

The other day I almost lost my mind over a traffic ticket.

I will not to go into the mundane details of what I realize is a ridiculously common experience. I could write a whole post on how it made me feel, but suffice to say that the last time I was beamed down by a traffic cop was about 40 years ago. I stayed calm during the immediately stressful – what felt like a a cave-person threat level seven – experience. I reminded myself that at least I didn’t have to worry too much about being shot, that I just had to be concerned about being sexually harassed, belittled, and having an unmasked stranger’s face pushed next to mine through the car window to mansplain my payment options like I wouldn’t be able to read the pretty pink form for myself.

What followed was an unexpected Ingmar Berman dive into the worst part of my psyche that I don’t often encounter. My family and emotional background is decently privileged (not Ivanka Trump privileged, but you know what I mean), so I was unprepared for how quickly I spun down, especially since it was in front of my adult kid who has their own mental health challenges and doesn’t need to see me in my dark place. Enough about me.

Before my descent into the spin cycle, I had talked with two clients earlier in the day who volunteered that they were not able to keep up with their usual routines – opening mail, doing laundry, finishing projects started earlier in COVID. I was troubled by this. After all, for the most part we are learning to live in a politically unstable environment of potentially fatal disease that can hit anyone, aren’t we?

I had also watched the first segment of Coastal Elites, in which Bette Midler as a nice New York lady rages about how she doesn’t want to be so angry, but if she stops being angry, she will be tired and give up.

Although Coastal Elites is being critiqued for being too, mmm, elite, the weariness and emotional black hole that the character describes is accurate, if self-indulgent. We don’t know how to feel, and yet there are so many feelings. Because the feelings that we can’t identify are too much, we end up tired and unable to keep up with our daily lives. We are one unexpected incident away from hopelessness.

We knew that the pandemic would change things, that life as we knew it would not return, that our post World War decades of mowed lawns and household appliances would not mean as much in the future. What we did not expect was that our lives would become what they have been for very long so many other parts of the world – a daily struggle for supplies and safety; an overhang of fear that someone we know will die before their time; a not unrealistic paranoia about danger everywhere. Among our many privileges has been the one of not having to live with perpetual crisis and threat of personal safety.

I wish I could say that this is not the case in Canada where we have a reputation for being polite, but we have our proportionate number of COVID deniers and Confederacy supporters and their compilation of right wing beliefs adding to the growing insecurity of our daily life; yes, actual Confederacy Supporters™ who are Canadian and like their American counter-parts don’t know that they lost the war.

We have mass shootings and police brutality, and most of us live within an hour’s drive from the American-Canadian border which is supposed to be closed but citizens of both countries are crossing. Trump wants to annex one of our provinces with the promise of a $22 Billion railway. While it is not our constitutional right to bear arms, there are still plenty of gun toting right-wingers here, so synagogues, mosques, casinos, protests and restaurants are no safer here. And of course, we have COVID.

We the People of Privilege have had our eyes opened to what the rest of the world experiences every single day – authoritarianism, land disputes, fascist secret police – and when we come face to face with these realities we are challenged to know how to feel. Where we used to be able to enjoy rock stars singing our guilt away to meaningless words, we now struggle to feel something that most of us have never really had to rely on – hope. Unlike most of the rest of the world, we have lived a happy-go-lucky existence where excess-consumerism has been our biggest worry – is it OK to get another MEC jacket? Yes because we will use it for healthy outdoor activities. How about that SMEG toaster? It’s expensive but the holidays are coming!

At a socially distanced COVID pool party before the second wave hit, (yes you heard me correctly, and no I am not repeating myself) someone talked about former travels in Vietnam. They were out looking for a restaurant they had seen just the night before but couldn’t find it. It was daytime and things looked different, but they knew they were in the same location and the restaurant was not. Finally a local told them that during the day it was a tourist shop, and changed to a restaurant for the evening.

Running two business from the same location, whether it’s the same owner or two owners sharing a space, in a challenging economic and political climate – now that seems like hope to me. Beyond hard work and having to feed people and trying to get ahead, it takes hope to keep on keeping on. We don’t have that right now, because we don’t know how to do it. We’ve never had to.

It is new to us to hope for things that matter and are not to be taken for granted – daily health, safety, shelter – and that has made us angry and tired. I think we need to recognize that what we should hope for is different than it has ever been. In my world without daily threat, I hoped that my retirement fund would do reasonably well, that I would stay out of debt, that my Amazon order would come early, that this season’s pants would fit again.

I looked up the lyrics to “We are the World” and was dumbfounded by how dumb they are. Incomplete thoughts, bad grammer, poorly thought-out concepts – “it’s time to lend a hand to life” – what was that supposed to mean? “There’s a choice we’re making/We’re saving our own lives.” The whole song is very indicative of how little understanding we have had of the plight of people in other parts of the world, who live every day with uncertainty of their health and safety; how we have no idea what hope is or how important it is when just living to tomorrow is a challenge.

We have to actively hoist our hope standard up to things like: I hope my child/spouse/friend doesn’t have COVID; I hope that I can still pay for my home a year from now; I hope that young people can work and have homes that are not tents in a parking lot; I hope that people of colour will not have to keep fighting for things they shouldn’t have to fight for; hope that future elections don’t bring out the worst; hope that future elections continue to be; hope that there are no new wars even when we know there always will be. Without learning how to hope in real time, our lives will be a wasteland of resentment, fear, and inertia. We have to learn from the rest of The World how to keep living and hoping for a better time.

But start small, so you’re not overwhelmed with the bigness of living today, and remember that most of the world has been living this way all along. Be happy that your encounter with law enforcement was brief and … brief. Be hopeful that those two officers met their daily quota and won’t be pursuing an indigenous teenager later with tragic results.

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