When I was young, my teeth were trying to teach me a lesson in peaceful coexistence. My adult teeth didn’t want to replace most of my baby teeth, forcing them out by coming straight down over the top of them. They wanted to live side-by-side, like shark teeth.
I lost a couple teeth the conventional way here and there, but most of them had to be pulled. Two rows of coexistent teeth just do not combine for the look most people find aesthetically pleasing, and I had plans to open my mouth regularly as I got older. It’s hard to imagine using such a tool for anything other than random and irrelevant intimidation prior to a debate round.
I had teeth pulled in several cities over several years. Visalia, Portland, Washington DC. I had gas and novocaine and at least one visit that felt like there was no anesthetic at all (the gas was the worst of the three). But the standout dental appointment, the one that has stuck in my memory the strongest, was on Monday, October 19, 1987.
It was a midmorning appointment at the Georgetown University Medical Center. I remember my Dad mentioning it being cheaper because a student dentist would be performing the procedure – pulling, as I recall, 2 teeth that day. Prior to meeting the student dentist, I had visions of him being roughly my age and equally competent to perform dentistry. I was just a little bit anxious.
However, he turned out to be in that age group of people that one knows intellectually is much younger than one’s parents, but seems, from the vantage of childhood, to somehow be older because of their general remoteness and distance from one’s own age. The connection of family seems to bridge age gaps much more than connections with intimidating sixth graders or graduate school students. And frankly, he ended up being perhaps the most competent dentist to ever peer into my maw.
It was as he was starting to work on the second tooth that I remember discussion starting about events outside that room. The room was strangely like a room full of cubicles, looking nothing like any other medical facility I’d ever been in. And my father started talking with the dentist about stocks and the market and what was going on. It wasn’t until the next few days, discussions at Roy Rogers’ after school on sore teeth, that I really started to comprehend the magnitude of the change that had taken place. 1987 proved to be a slightly volatile year. (And yes, I followed politics when I was 7. I don’t know how one could live in DC that year and not follow politics.)
I have a dental appointment today.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur. In an almost precise tie with Good Friday, Yom Kippur is one of my two favorite holidays to come out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, one of the only two I’d keep. I believe I’ve talked about this before, right around last Good Friday, so I’ll spare the full details here again. But a full day to fast, reflect, and take personal responsibility for one’s actions? That I can get down with. And what good timing to boot.
I won’t plunge into detail about the Yom Kippur that is the emotional standout comparable to the dental appointment describe above. But it was around the same season, nine years later, and involved waiting in the Advocate office, just sitting and waiting. A time for my own reflection. A time wherein I was about to embark on something I would come to regret and be overwhelmed in efforts to take responsibility for. A time that brought me to the very brink of issues of forgiveness and guilt, responsibility and atonement.
Sometime shortly after the outbreak of the Iraq War, my father coined the phrase “America will not be forgiven.” There was brief discussion of putting it on bumper stickers and banners, starting a movement that, like so many my father and I discuss, raises concerns about being disappeared or openly removed from society. We didn’t start the presses, we kept it to ourselves. But even then, with the extreme harshness of the phrase and the mood, I don’t think anyone anticipated the tsunami that is lurching over the coastline right now.
As I type this, the answer to yesterday’s question has bobbed from 4 to 8 to 1 to 2 to 3. I learned the word “volatility” in 1987 when talking to my Dad about the stock market and the association is still good today. When I typed yesterday’s post, the market was down about 50, then up a handful, yet it still managed to answer yesterday’s question with a 6.
I have started openly talking to people in daily life about the impending Depression. The quantity of denial abroad is astounding. Many are still unwilling to believe there’s a recession underway (or even to come), many still want to think that an America of plenty and excess is the way of the future, the way of all things. Despite humanity’s incredible innate adaptability, I will never fail to be stunned by each individual human’s ability to take what they have known for a very short time and assume it will carry on forever, without interruption.
Can we be forgiven for this indiscretion, this incredible lack of foresight? I grew up on lessons of the Holocaust and World War II, discussion of 1930’s Germany and the writing that was increasingly bold and red on the wall. The vantage of history was not terribly kind to those who stayed in Germany as the ’30’s progressed. Many critiqued how anyone could just stand by, continue going to their job or running their shop, hope for the best, be sure that the zealots were going to calm down, that things would turn around, that militarization was just a precaution. By the time that many realized what was really afoot, it was far too late to talk about crossing borders or bailing out. And the price was unfathomably, unforgivably high.
Surely no one can be blamed for being hopeful in a time of crisis. But there is a line between hope and delusion that is critical and can literally differentiate between life and death. I do not think the situation locally parallels 1930’s Germany precisely for several reasons. Not the least of which is that I can’t think of a place to go right now.
But as I consider that, this can’t be all that dissimilar from then. The whole world was immersed in a Depression then. Everyone was electing dynamic dictators to navigate out of the crisis. America’s breadlines could not have been beckoning from across the shore, whispering of the opportunity for a better life outside of Germany. Indeed, the outlook was so globally bleak the Germany’s machinations of progress might have looked the most stabilizing, the most hopeful. One could almost be forgiven for bailing from another country and sneaking into Germany.
But like the move for those who rode out of the dustbowl into California, only to find that opportunity was dead across the land, this would have been a poor decision. Being wise in an era of panic is difficult and sometimes requires an amount of forethought that humans are simply not equipped to exercise. No wonder so many people just burrow – dig in and entrench in their current environment, pretending that nothing is going to change.
I once said, working on a project where I was obliged to defend Robespierre, that “paranoia is healthy in paranoid times”. I don’t think Robespierre can be forgiven on these grounds, but it occurs to me that I might ask others to forgive me along these lines. I have been compared, recently and by more than one, to the guys on the street with signs about the end being near. The irony, of course, being that we work with street people every day and I haven’t seen a sign like that in 2.5 years of life in the Tenderloin.
Forgive me if I’m right. Forgive me if I’m wrong. And I will try to find a way to forgive those who, through denial, misrepresentation, and greed, have created the maelstrom that could drown the whole world.
If you’re looking for hope, there’s a rainbow after the flood. But first, we must survive the flood.