Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Decline and Fall

Last week one of my trio of elderly cats got very sick. I took her to the vet; we tried some things; it didn't really seem to help. She's old after all, and had been slowing down a bit in recent months. I prepared myself for the worst. This is what happens with animals; they don't generally live as long as we do, but if you are an animal person, it's still hard to get used to. And this cat has been with me a long time. We've been through a lot together, and though I recognize it's silly to call a cat a friend, she certainly has been a wonderful companion.

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...

6 comments:

Daithí Mac Gearailt said...

I always enjoy your postings, Lisa! I particualrly was touched by the memorial of your former boss a few posts back. But this one was especially excellent. It IS a scary thing to be living in the age of decline! I share George Kennan's gloomy assessment with you, but reading your blog reminds me that if we all can each keep working to nurture a little garden of happiness and peace, we just might ride it out. And maybe we'll even learn to enjoy watching our current amped-up America crash and burn it's plutocratic empire and emerge from the ashes a more humbled, saner place...

Other Lisa said...

Dear Daithi,

Thanks for your kind words. A lot of the enjoyment I'm getting from doing this is that people I've never met somehow find their way here. It's sort of humbling in a way, and also very gratifying.

BTW during the first Gulf War I wrote a song whose chorus goes, "living in the age of decline." And I thought it was bad THEN!

Here's hoping you and yours and all the rest of us make it through this with some grace and joy.

JR said...

Lisa,

thank you for the poignant post. Glad to hear your cat is doing better again. I pretty much feel the same way like you about what's going on nowadays. I missed the 90s generally and the happy time living in LA. (I went to LA alone like Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, the movie made an impact on me. It shows how people felt before they killed themselves.)

My friend has moved to Costa Rica, he speaks fluent Spanish and teaches English there. He made it sound like heaven oven there. Another friend is moving to San Miguel in central Mexico. Where would you like to move to?

Other Lisa said...

Dear JR,

Murphy (the cat who was ill) is doing great. She seems completely normal (and in fact is asleep on my lap as I type this). Mags, who has been up and down for the last year, slipped a little while I was taking care of Murphy but is better now (she's the tortoishell, and you know how stubborn they are!).

I'm not sure where I would like to live. It's sad, because I love California. It's a wonderful place in many ways. I'd certainly think about a Spanish-speaking country - I can speak some Spanish and I think I'd pick it up quickly. I've thought about Ireland, Canada, Scandinavia, the EU in general...I've actually thought about China, mainly because I know I could get work there. and also, for whatever reason, I like it, though I'm well-aware of the difficulties...

It's not so much that these places are better than the US - some are better politically, some certainly are not - but that it's too painful to watch this happen to my own country, and I don't wish to participate in it any more. Which is kind of a cop-out, I know...

So I think about it. I am giving myself a few years to really decide, to settle my financial situation, to I hope establish an alternate career where I could leave and have a pleasant life. But I haven't made up my mind yet.

How about you?

JR said...

Lisa,

Do you speak Italian? How about Italy? Did you see under the Tuscan sun? I would prefer to move to warmer climate, so I prefer Costa Rica than Canada. It used to be just $50,000 or $1000 monthly income to get a citizenship in Costa Rica, but now it is $200,000. I think Costa Rica is the best amongst other Latin American countries. People in Belize speak English, and you can bring a car from the US without paying customs but the country is backward and corrupted. There is an island off Honduras, you can buy a beach front property for $5000. The rest of these countries, Guamtemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama are pretty much like third world countries with starving children.

Other Lisa said...

Dear JR,

I don't speak Italian. I think I could probably learn it though (I'm not bad at learning languages, at least the spoken part - Chinese characters don't count!).

I'll keep all of those suggestions in mind...and hope that we head in a better direction here in the US as well...