Systemic consequences

Dear President Trump,

Just giving you a head’s up; this is going to be a longer than usual letter.

I found out from Laura yesterday that our brother-in-law’s oncologist told him that people with his type of cancer (i.e., bone metastases from an organ tumor) have a median life expectancy of 20 months. This is a pretty big degree of spread and thus there’s a lot of uncertainty and perhaps room for some hope that this could be something that’s managed and that he lives with for many years to come. But of course it could go the other way and he could have not much time left at all. There should be some indication of which way this will go in a couple of months when another scan is done because then it’ll be clear whether the metastasizing has been slowed or halted by the medication he’ll start next week. Apparently the other way to tell whether the medication is working is that if the person gets a long laundry list of nasty side effects it means the medication is doing what it’s supposed to do. I know this is par for the course with cancer treatments, but what an awful trade off – a medication that likely isn’t a cure, may not work or may only partially work, and if it does work (or partially works), makes quality of life poor. The raw deal here is hard to sit with.

This situation where the treatment for something stubborn and pernicious often means the treatment has to be so potent and thorough that there are systemic consequences has me thinking about how when a society truly grapples with its ills, everything must be touched and turned over and re-evaluated. As a mundane example, when you deep clean a room or a house where you’ve lived for a long time, in the middle of the process the place usually looks a lot worse than when you started. There’s crap everywhere since it’s no longer hidden away in drawers or closets or pretending to be organized in precarious stacks on tables.

I personally prefer tidying. I like it a lot and I’m good at it. I make the bed every morning and do the dishes a couple of times a day. I’m a master stacker and can run the vacuum when the dog hair is obvious. But the effort, time investment, and necessary chaos that comes with a deep clean makes me anxious and I have so many other things I’d rather do that I convince myself I need to do them instead. Not surprisingly, Laura usually has to do some serious cajoling to get me to help with the deep-clean projects.

Of course deep cleans in one’s own home are infinitely easier than what we have to do together in our communities and in our country to address the longstanding, historically entrenched and interwoven ills that are poisoning and paralyzing us. We have become so accustomed to the quick tidying, the piecemeal focus on this or that recently erupted issue that we have little capacity for analyzing the entire situation and giving sustained energy and attention to real remedies that require every little thing to be picked up and turned over and questioned and either consciously, thoughtfully discarded or re-placed with care. As many have pointed out, we have never engaged in our own truth and our own reconciliation processes about race and the theft and decimation of Native land and lives and neither have we engaged in such processes about gender inequality, the weaponizing of religion, unconscionably skewed income/wealth disparity, our general culture of violence, or environmental degradation. There are more ills we could pile on, for sure, but you get the idea.

Part of our collective lack of will to engage in the heavy, heavy lifting of sorting through all these snarled strands is that there is not general agreement that these are even problems and if there is general agreement that something is a problem there is not agreement about the root cause(s). We can’t even agree to sit down to talk over the fact that some of us see huge-ass problems that need deep, systemic attention while others of us think there might be a bit of tidying that needs doing, maybe. It’s pretty crazy that we are looking at the same stuff and coming up with such wildly different conclusions. This alone should be signaling that something is way, way off.

It’s complicated, I know. For many, there is anger and deep, generational resentment coupled with fatigue and a reality that says it’s more important to feed my family than it is to sit down with people who won’t listen anyway. For others there’s resistance to seeing that there are advantages that come with being X and not Y let alone willingness to give up these advantages. And then there’s the enormity of it all and the hopeless sense that it’s just too big to ever unpack and redo.

In order to not just turn away from it out of a sense of helpless resignation it’s tempting to say we should work on our little corners in our communities, and maybe this is the best we can do. But I know when we approach our (literal) house this way, we still end up with a room full of crap in the basement we aren’t ready to let go of, yet. I suppose, though, that we can’t hold out for perfection here and can’t let the impossible nature of the job stop us from trying to make some headway since most of us don’t want to leave our children with a completely ungodly mess when we are gone.

May we realize that hard, important work is fraught and we won’t be safe all the time.
May we be willing to engage anyway.
May we be healthy and strong enough to own our parts and be willing to change.
May we consider that real peace comes from sustained efforts that foster mutual respect and understanding.

Tracy Simpson

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