August Has Been the Month of Paralysis: His, Mine, Ours

On the last morning of our vacation, Dan woke up with sciatica. We bundled him and all of our gear into our rented SUV and headed back to the city. It took three and half weeks, pain meds, physical therapy house calls, acupuncture, muscle relaxants and lots of patience for him to become ambulatory again. I somehow managed — without killing either one of us– to get him in and out of the bathtub and to his required COVID test and weekly cancer treatments.

Photo by Naveen Annam on Pexels.com

Daily life for me became an endless cycle of caregiving, dog walking, meal prep, laundry and trips to the pharmacy or the grocery. Our usual division of labor no longer existed. His immobility meant that he needed me to help him with every life task, including fetching the microwaveable heat pad or the ice pack or the resupply of water or snacks or pills. We both had trouble sleeping, he on the floor and me in the bed. Exhausted by the middle of week three, I wondered whether I would ever have the energy to work on my book or my blog again. I too felt paralyzed.

Of course our personal melodrama was taking place with the backdrop of the dumpster fire that is our current political morass. Just one example: the Post Office dysfunction that I wrote about in my last post got very personal when Dan’s prescribed pain medicine took two weeks to arrive, by which time it was unnecessary. It was infuriating to listen to Postmaster General DeJoy insist that his “reforms” had created greater efficiency as I watched Dan suffer needlessly. Now, during this last weekend of August, my fatigue is finally lifting, but I am struggling to regain my usual optimism.

Dan will be fine. I will be fine. We will recover our energy and our routine, such as it has become during this time of so much restriction due to COVID. But Jacob Blake will not. His paralysis will be permanent. His partner will have to take on the life that I have had for the past month, with no promise of an end. His children will never get over watching their father crumple under a hale of bullets fired at point blank by a public servant sworn to protect not traumatize them.

Police brutality like that which led to the death of George Floyd and the paralysis of Jacob Blake has been going on for decades. And so has police brutality toward protesters. 1968 was a turning point year filled with racial violence, civil unrest and antiwar demonstrations. I was nineteen years old then. It was a pivotal year for me personally too, the year that I lost my innocence, if not my virginity.

The Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the ensuing riots had shocked and mobilized many young people, myself among them. Protesting peacefully against the war and my university’s racist policies towards its Harlem neighbors, I was kettled and beaten by the tactical police force of the NYPD, resulting in a fractured collar bone which healed in time and an even more broken trust in law enforcement, which did not.

That fall I lost a close friend in Vietnam. The Black short order cook at the restaurant I had waitressed in that summer shared weed with me during our breaks, confided in me about his dream of going to college, made sure the Irish waitresses who resented me didn’t steal my orders. After work we talked for hours about music, politics, books. We were the same age, and I daresay equally bright and ambitious, but our lives held such different potential. I went back to school in the fall. With a low draft number and no hope of buying a medical deferment like President Bonespurs did, my friend was sent to Vietnam, like so many of his Harlem peers. Months later he was dead, a beautiful soul wasted in a senseless, unwinnable war.

Nixon’s November victory and George Wallace’s strong showing on a platform of white supremacy rounded out what until 2020 was the worst year of my life. I felt paralyzed then too. I hadn’t been old enough to vote; the Twenty-Sixth Amendment wasn’t ratified until 1971. The next semester I decided to major in U.S. History, trying to understand how all of this had not just come to pass, but been accepted.

As bad as 1968 was, this year, this summer, this election season feels so much darker, so much more foreboding. Donald Trump is reprising both Richard Nixon’s call for “law and order” and Wallace’s white supremacy, hoping to turn white suburbanites and small town or rural residents against those protesting in urban centers. We seem to be sleepwalking into disunion, distracted by the kinds of personal trials that Dan and I have been navigating, or fighting to keep a larger, more optimistic perspective in the midst of a lost job, a lost relative, a lost dream. And of course, social media and Fox “news” are the “X” factors that didn’t exist in 1968. And then there is the pandemic.

It’s hard to feel as if my story, my memoir, my blog post matters in the face of the enormity of the problems the nation is facing — or refusing to face. One of the slogans of the Second Wave Feminists of the 1960s, “the personal is political,” gives me the resolve to claim space for my experience, to battle the numbness, the immobility that threatens to overwhelm me. Writing my story can be, after all, a part of resisting invisibility, impotence, dehumanization, SILENCE.

When Mitch McConnell chastised Elizabeth Warren like a schoolgirl for refusing to yield her time during a heated Senate debate, his effort to discredit her became the rallying cry for women across the country who felt silenced, their righteous anger minimized. I bought my daughter a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Nevertheless she persisted,” and printed the words in big block letters inside my writing journal. My first presidential primary vote was for Shirley Chisholm; I hope that my recent primary vote for Elizabeth Warren won’t be my last. You can bet I will be voting Biden/Harris this November.

I fully intend to persist, to use my voice, to claim my space, to refuse to contribute to the end of the American experiment in democracy by my silence. Soon it will be September, time to turn the calendar page, time to put the paralysis of August behind me, time to get back into the fray, time to harness my anger into productivity rather than despair. I hope you will join me.

31 thoughts on “August Has Been the Month of Paralysis: His, Mine, Ours”

  1. I vividly remember you describing the friend you lost to Viet Nam. Although I never met him I have not forgotten the life your words gave his sweet soul. Perhaps the belief to consider is that the political is personal. We cannot choose a political path – whether to action or inaction – that does not impact very real, personal lives. So don’t wait two days more for September. Get writing, Sister!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paralysis seems to be the name of the game – exactly as you describe living in 2020. I’ve had sciatica – it’s horrendous. I remember 1968, although I was a few years younger than you were it was a scary time – but nothing compared to now. Unless experiencing it through the lens of advancing adulthood puts it into sharper focus. I met Shirley Chisholm when she was running for president – she spoke at the student union building where I was going to college. I was so impressed and awed by her confidence and command of the room.
    We do have to persist. Still. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have to fight through the fear, the fatigue and the fatalism. Our democracy depends on it! Thanks for your comment. We should all channel Shirley Chisholm’s grace and power.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes we do, but first we have to recognize it when it descends on us (the 3 “fs” – fear, fatigue & fatalism). Channeling Chisholm’s grace and power is an excellent idea.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Write. Keep writing. Write some more.

    At least, that’s what I tell myself. I don’t always succeed on a daily basis. I get bogged down in my own life’s tiny details. And these horrific, trying times have me questioning whether anything I write or hope to write has any worth or meaning to anyone beyond me. Yet, …I persist, hope, and wonder.

    I hope you will, too. Because silencing our voices, any voice, would be the worst tragedy.

    Please keep speaking/writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m living three lives right now. One, a artist’s life. Two, an outdoors person’s life. Three. a person engaged in the historical moment. Painting is a drug; the outdoors is a drug. Both of them remind me that this historical moment is going to be what it is and it should NOT steal me away from myself and the things I love and in which I find meaning. That’s a big part of my stance. “No. You fuckers aren’t getting ALL of me.” I seriously believe that they do not deserve more than 1/3.

    I met Shirley Chisholm. In one of my college yearbooks is a photo of us together. She came to speak at a symposium on sexism. I was a co-chair and I lobbied (and won) a change from the title “Feminism!!!” to “From Sexism to Humanism.” I was VERY idealistic and thought that somewhere in my lifetime people would stop seeing gender and color and start seeing skills, intelligence, and personality instead. The graphics for the symposium showed a circle with both the male and female symbols. That’s pretty much what it means to be 19.

    I NEVER imagined that those things would be a continuing issue/problem. I still find it kind of unbelievable. Fixing them isn’t rocket science.

    Keep writing. Even if it doesn’t matter to anyone but you that’s ENOUGH.

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    1. I love the idea of not letting them get ALL of me. Maybe not even 1/3! Fixing these problems may not be rocket science but they disrupt the hierarchy which many people feel is serving their interests, even if in reality it is not. So much of this is about fear and selfishness. I’ve given up on trying to convince anyone who is deep in the tank. It only steals my energy and my creativity. Keep painting, keep writing, keep being you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A close friend shot himself after Viet Nam. Another became a Weatherman, having decided that SDS was too tame. I hope you continue to speak the truth. I am continuing to try. I have to consciously move Trump out of my head where he is determined to take root. I have to remember that violence never achieved anything for anyone. I have to get up each morning, put one foot in front of the other and keep the faith.

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  6. Found your blog by chance, although I see Elizabeth who I follow is here. I’m in Yorkshire, England. It seems that every US blogger I read is as horrified as I am by things happening there. If that’s a representative sample I can’t see how T will win again. Maybe the other lot don’t blog.

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  7. Powerful story, strong piece. As usual, I feel like it deserves a larger platform. I was just a little kid in 1968 so I speak from a place of supposition, but I feel like the difference now is that we thought we were beyond this. Way back in 1981, going to college in Lynchburg Virginia, a ‘townie” at a party made some stupid comment about wanting his own personal slave. I was aghast. It was the first time I ever heard someone say something so overtly racist. Yes, I had a sheltered upbringing. The 35 years after that I’ve lived in a liberal bubble where absolute racism hasn’t been obvious. For the past five years, I’ve walked around with my jaw hanging. I’m astounded that such a huge part of our population harbors such a huge hate and resentment. I was blindsided. Even now, I’m still shocked almost daily. Just when I think things couldn’t possibly get more appalling, they do. We won’t get past the damage Trump has caused in my lifetime or yours. Talking with my father, 89, I can hear in his voice the disgust that this is what’s happening in his final days on earth. All I can do now is hang on and hope sanity reigns in November and we can get a respite for four years.

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    1. I wish I could say that I am blindsided. I well remember a conversation I had five years ago with a friend, a moderate basically apolitical thirty something. He was certain that racism wasn’t a big deal any more, that the Obama years showed that. I shared my skepticism with him, suggesting that feelings of resentment were merely underground and could rear their ugliness the moment they were given cultural cover. Enter Trump on the escalator. It’s been downhill ever since LOL. My father, a WWII vet, died at 96 just a few weeks after “that scoundrel” as he called Trump was elected. He was disgusted. I’m glad he didn’t live to see how really disgusting it all has become. I’m afraid that half of the population either shares Trump’s views/ignorance or is perfectly happy to abide it if it doesn’t affect them personally and even provides benefits like tax cuts. I’ve been saying for a decade that our politics felt like the 1850s redux; I just hope we don’t have a twenty-first century version of the 1860s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I live in a small conservative (really libertarian) town. I sort of thought that racism was mostly centered in the small number of rednecks that drove around with confederate flag license plates. Now I know better. I don’t see many alternatives to another civil war of sorts. A scoundrel he is.

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