I CAN’T BREATHE

December 4, 2014

I don’t know what to say.  I was planning to blog about turkey pot pie this week, but my God, who the fuck cares about turkey pot pie when we are living inside of, as my friend Mark put it, some kind of midnight?  How can I write about re-purposing Thanksgiving leftovers when I am so unspeakably angry that I don’t know how to think about anything else besides Eric Garner, gasping for breath on that New York sidewalk?  About how I live inside of and am implicit within a system that makes it possible for the man who killed him to walk free, without having to face trial?  About how mind-boggling it is that so many people I know don’t seem to give a shit?  About how profoundly grateful I am that my son cannot yet read the news?  About how Jill turned to me last night in bed and said “I would say we should move, but I don’t know where to.”  And I said, “No, we have to stay.  We have to stay and fight.”

I Can't Breathe | Blue Jean Gourmet - photo credit: Amanda Raney

For many years, I was accused of being a Pollyanna: optimistic to a fault.  I grew up inside a lot of privilege, protected for many years from most of life’s truly awful things.  Those things existed for me in a mainly theoretical way, in the way of a kid who read a lot, and empathized a lot, and cried a lot, but who didn’t have much more than feelings at stake.  I cared and despaired and I went about my life.

Much as I liked to think I wasn’t naïve, I certainly was.  And I’m probably not alone in saying that it was grad school that disabused me of my self-conception as a worldly and sophisticated person.  I went straight from undergrad to an MFA program and quickly became aware—was made aware, by some brutally honest workshop critiques—of my tendency to wrap things up into nice, neat little bows: pat endings & pretty morals, easy answers and “everything’s going to be okay.”

I was also, no surprise, someone who avoided conflict like the plague; I liked being liked, even (especially) on the page.  Unconsciously, I suppose, I didn’t want to upset anyone—I didn’t want to tell unpleasant tales.  Or if I did, I wanted them to have hopeful endings.

Except now, looking back, I think that I have been guilty of confusing hope with wishful thinking, a distinction beautifully meditated on in this post by Debra Dean Murphy.  I am learning, in these heavy days, that my desire to focus on the positive comes with a price.  When I tidy up endings, I do violence by sawing off and discarding the pieces that do not fit.  When we prefer to post the heart-warming photo of the tearful young, black protestor embracing the white police officer, we draw our attention away from the deeper issues and fool ourselves into thinking they can be solved with a bunch of hugs and fuzzy feelings.

“We must acknowledge—with eyes and minds wide open—the world as it is if we want to change it,” Charles Blow wrote in his column this morning.  “Reality doesn’t bend under the weight of wishes.  Truth doesn’t grow dim because we squint.”

I Can't Breathe | Blue Jean Gourmet. image courtesy Amanda Raney

I feel like a woman with new sight, and that sight comes with a heavy burden, a burden I know many others have carried long before me, and long before that.  I do not yet know what to do with this sight except for to keep looking, and listening, and asking questions, and resisting the easy answers.  For once, I am not seeking succor or balm.  I believe these wounds need to fester, need to be made visible and brought into the light for a while yet, before they can heal.

 

all images in this post courtesy Amanda Raney

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12 Comments »

  1. Nishta, I am with you in sorrow and greatanger, and am looking for a peaceful protest outlet in Memphis.
    Jean

    Comment by Jean Croye — December 4, 2014 @ 11:44 am

  2. Today I am deeply aware of the pain, sadness, brokenness, misery, sorrow, tears, agony, helplessness, hopelessness, and desperation in the world. I see it on Facebook, I hear it on the radio, and on the television. It is on the hearts and minds of those closest to me, in the words they say, and the words they don’t say. I weep the tears for the collective consciousness of hurt, sobbing through my morning meditation. And when the crying subsided, I wrapped the pain in a warm, loving, unconditional, maternal embrace. Willing my love into the pain, praying it will radiate to those suffering.

    and so it is…

    amen

    ily <3

    Comment by Tracey Lee — December 4, 2014 @ 11:54 am

  3. What’s there to say? Apparently asking and pleading and begging someone to stop hurting someone else doesn’t do it. Seems to be a simple enough request though, doesn’t it? I do wonder. How will this change come about? Seems as though nothing has changed for hundreds of years.

    Comment by Kapila @ Prelude Music — December 4, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

  4. I will fight with you, friend. Always.

    Comment by Courtney — December 4, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

  5. I have been able to find no words for what is happening in our country, but your words are giving voice to what I have been feeling in my heart. This IS raw, painful, and badly broken – I don’t have an answer for how to solve it, but I think that bearing witness to the wound and making its presence known by refusing to smooth it over and cover it up with niceties is the first step. Then we have to figure out what to do next because this craziness has got to stop.

    Comment by Martha — December 4, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

  6. Thank you, Nishta.
    You are not alone.
    I grew up in St. Louis and the tragedy there brought it all back….
    You are not alone.
    I love you.
    I love Jill.
    I LOVE Shiv.
    I am with you in this fight and struggle.

    Comment by Lois — December 4, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

  7. But you still believe that healing is possible. And that means there is hope. We have to hope because despair is not an alternative.

    But, for the record, you guys could totally move here. It’s not perfect at all, but it might be a better kind of different.

    Comment by Cheryl Arkison — December 4, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

  8. Have you given any thought to Zemir Begic? A 30 year old white guy in St. Louis who was beaten to death-in front of his fiance-by 4 black teens with hammers.
    Perhaps you gave up peanut butter sandwiches, or calimari, or something?

    Comment by joe — December 5, 2014 @ 6:59 am

  9. joe – I posted your comment because I think it’s important for others to see that your default response to what I wrote was to contradict or attempt to devalue the importance of one man’s death by comparing it to another’s.

    The problem with your comparison is that what I was commenting on here wasn’t violent crime (which has decreased dramatically in America overall in recent years), but rather an instance of police brutality. It is clear to me, as it is to many, many other Americans of all races, that our criminal justice system is broken in myriad ways, and that this brokenness disproportionately impacts men of color. You can certainly disagree with my assessment, as I’m guessing that you will, but I’m not interested in posting your disparaging comments on my personal blog in the future.

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — December 5, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

  10. Nishta—-Don’t know if you’ve heard about the discussion in the American Conservative (Rod Dreher) about your post. My guess is that Joe was the reader that tipped him off.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/privilege-grad-school-mehra-eric-garner/

    Comment by Elizabeth White — December 6, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

  11. Argh. I couldn’t help but post on Rod Dreher’s blog, though I doubt it will get approved. And my comment was not nearly as perfect as yours, but that’s why you are the blogger and I am not!

    Comment by Valerie — December 10, 2014 @ 8:30 am

  12. I feel like I’ve been awakened myself. I think a lot of people have been. I look forward to working with people like you toward a better future.

    Comment by Leslie — December 16, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

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