Maybe the bones aren’t so good after all

To: The Wrecking Ball

This morning our good friend sent me of Maggie Smith’s wonderful, hard, sobering poem “Good Bones” in response to yesterday’s letter. Here’s a link to the poem on her blog: I’m 99% sure I’ve told you about this poem before, but it was a long time ago so I’ll remind you that her premise is that this world is at least 50% terrible and she’s keeping this fact from her children. She toggles between the lovely and inspiring and the cruel and devastating before landing on the metaphor of a realtor trying to sell a totally trashed house by chirping that it has good bones, that it could be beautiful…… By extension, of course, the idea is that world (to include our democracy) has good bones upon which we can build something beautiful.

I hope so. Truly. Here’s a quote by John F. Kennedy that captures the tension in another way:

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis. ‘ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”

We are in crisis. We are in danger – grave danger, life and death danger. And we have the opportunity to come through this crisis by building back better, by building upon the good bones of our (still very aspirational) ideals of equality that underpin democracy. However, we can’t patch back together the old, shredded muscles that emphasize might and warfare or pump in the fat that’s been wildly, unfairly distributed among us or cover everything over with our default discriminatory reactions to skin color and expect anything much different from what we’ve got. We can’t stuff in the poisoned, neglected organs that have become addicted to instant gratification inputs (to include our brains) that keep us jonesing for shit that’s bad for us (to include power and privilege) and expect anything to change for the better.

Much like a doctor or a contractor tasked with figuring out what all is wrong with a failing body or a wreck of a house, we need to be open to seeing what is, to looking deeply into what is in an effort to figure out what’s going on, how things got to this point. Everyone knows that even if you do have good bones of one sort or another, if the rest of the thing is a wreck, it won’t work to just do some plastic surgery or put up some fresh drywall. Sure, you might be able to fool some people, you might be able to sell whatever you’re selling and get the hell out of town before the buyers realize that the weird, yucky smell in the basement is because the crack in the foundation was hidden from view by the previous owner and there’s mold building up in the crevice.

We’ve much to learn from these past four years and from the four hundred years that preceded them. If we’ve learned anything from the past four years, I hope it’s how critically important it is that we face our history and its implications for our present. We collectively have no earthly idea how we got here and we’re doomed if we blunder on without taking stock effectively. Personally, I think we have to call in all sorts of experts and that we have to rethink how we understand the idea of “expert.” We have to accept that the one’s who’ve historically been tagged “expert” have massive blind spots and/or personal stakes in the status quo and would almost certainly be inclined to patch over or make tiny tweaks that might make them feel better, but won’t fix jack.

And, I think we have to consider that perhaps the bones aren’t actually so good, that maybe they’re riddled with osteoporosis or termites (depending which metaphor you want to go with) and that the best we can do is tear it all down and heat the crushed bones up hot enough to leach all the toxins out so we can start fresh.

May we be safe as we face the deeply scary prospect of figuring out whether to rebuild or start over.
May we be willing to look into all the crevices and behind all the patches.
May we build up our strength so we can wrest opportunity out of this crisis.
May we accept that no matter what, there’s much work ahead.

Tracy Simpson

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