Contemplating the end of her companionship led me into a thicket of reflection on loss and attendant grief. It's been a sort of death-oriented couple of months for me - a memorial for an old boss and mentor, and most significantly, the death of a close family friend after a long illness, a woman I'd known all my life, my mother's best friend since childhood.
We grieve for the loss of such people because they were dear to us, because they enriched our lives, and huge pieces of our lives go with them when they pass. Because they were people who truly brought light into the world, and when they are gone, the world seems a little more cold and cruel.
And with that, blam, the world hits you. And all the days you sort of skated through in a haze, maybe a pleasant one but a haze none the less, evaporate into a hard-edged, more lunar sort of landscape. It's not like I don't know this every day; every day I read the paper and absorb the latest outrage, but on these days, the sheer madness into which this country seems to have descended is less an intellectual contruct than a punch in the gut, or perhaps more accurately, a shiv, something that stabs deep and bleeds slowly.
Drilling in ANWR and giving Humvee owners tax breaks. Blathering on about democracy while torturing people and calling it "professional interrogation" and "extraordinary rendition." Passing a federal law to keep a nearly brain-dead woman on a feeding tube while threatening to cut the Medicare and limiting the kinds of lawsuits that have provided this woman with her medical care. Passing bankruptcy "reform" that will keep victims of extraordinary medical costs in endless debtor penury. Passing laws in Texas that allow medical facilities to disconnect life support of black babies against their indigent mother's wishes! Hell, killing people in Texas prisons on a pretext of justice, even born again Christian women who have repented their sins. Should I even bother to talk about the war? A war fought on the flimsiest of pretexts, on a foundation of lies, whose architects thought they could do it for cheap and wasted thousands of lives - thousands of lives are over, gone forever, as a consequence of their arrogance. And George Bush talks about "erring on the side of life?" Please.
This country is becoming something that I might understand but don't want to accept. Something shameful and stupid and cruel.
Last week, George Kennan died at the age of 101. He was widely regarded as the architect of American Cold War policy. He later came to regret that his ideas of containment became his legacy. No doubt he felt that what applied to the Soviet Union at a particular point in history did not apply universally to all regimes which we might find distasteful. He became a leading advocate of arms control and the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Kennan, in addition to his career as a diplomat, was a historian and scholar, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
In the epilogue to "Sketches From a Life," one of his later works, he wrote:
"I am startled to note the bleakness of the impressions of my own country…. I view the United States of these last years of the 20th century as essentially a tragic country, endowed with magnificent natural resources which it is rapidly wasting and exhausting, and with an intellectual and artistic intelligentsia of great talent and originality of which the dominant political forces of the country have little understanding or regard. Its voice is normally silenced or outshouted by the commercial media. It is probably condemned to remain indefinitely, like the Russian intelligentsia in the 19th century, a helpless spectator of the disturbing course of a nation's life."
I think about leaving the country. I think, in a few years, when my geriatric kitties have passed and I have fulfilled my obligations and have a small sum of money as my reward for years of work and compromise, I will leave America behind and go somewhere else, someplace where I won't be responsible, where I can have a decent life and mourn the decline of my country from a distance.
But not just yet. Kitty and I went back to the vet last night, and the vet tried something new. And now the cat is running around, eating, climbing up on things and sitting on my lap like she's done for the past 15 years or so. I don't know how long this recovery will last, but at her age, I figure any additional quality time is a gift.
These are the things that hold me back. Family, friends, animals, a comfortable cottage, a pleasant life. The days where the lunar landscape of Bush's America is obscured by the soft atmosphere of love and kindness that swaddles my own little corner of the world...