It’s like I’m reaching for a phantom limb. The one where I kept all the words, all the inspiration, all the ability to … what’s the word…
make … information… be … thoughts.
Always before, this feeling was depression. Depression was bad. It felt like this. This also feels bad. But with depression, I had this little metal strand of hope, a lifeline to the thought that this was in my control, somehow. That even if I couldn’t control it right now, it wasn’t going to spiral everything out of control forever. I could try medication, if it didn’t get better. I could start therapy. It was light depression, I decided. I was strong enough to shoulder a recurring wave of light depression, even if it was very bad in the moment.
This is too big. This is despair. This is watching people I love pledge fealty to (or at least passive acceptance of) the dying of a democracy. This is a broadening realization — Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Hampton, Ghandi—there’s a long track record of what happens to people who suggest that maybe we don’t need a king. Maybe we can just try to take care of each other, and each shoulder a little bit of responsibility for the well-being of humanity, not just ourselves.
Oh, they kill people who say that.
They always have.
That’s why we don’t get much of it in our history books, I think.
Because when that guy gets killed, his message doesn’t get passed down, at least not with the authority and fervor of the message written by the folks who did the killing. They write history books that talk about how majestic their power is, how dangerous that radical was, and how their message nearly upset everything. Lucky for you, we kept you safe from that. You sure would be in a lot of trouble if we didn’t kill that guy.
Just kidding, they don’t say that part out loud. They’re not that honest. Once they kill the guy, they take a sanitized version of his message and regurgitate it to the people who loved him. “Love your neighbor,” they say, sporting military gear and a badge that reads “Captain Neighbor.”
As long as Martin Luther King’s dream is still just a dream, it’s much safer to approve of. Dreams are fine. Actions… not so much. “We honor that dream,” they say. “We mourn his passing, and oh don’t forget how much he talked about peace so please stay peaceful.”
They don’t lean in and whisper “or else” in your ear, but it’s implied.
“You have to stay peaceful,” they would say if they were being honest. “You have to treat others as you would have them treat you. Just remember that We will n— (and here they would pause to catch their breath from all the laughing) — oh we will be doing no such thing! We have to keep you safe, remember? How will we do that without violence?”
It does not make me despair that there are power-hungry and power-abusing leaders and would-be dictators. Power will always be a shiny bauble that tempts anyone within a few murders’ reach of it. What makes me despair is that so many people — people who will never, ever, ever be anywhere near the throne—are enthusiastically all about it, as if it helps them in any way. They have successfully been convinced that their fellow man is more of a danger to them than the killers.
“Wow, thank you for all the killing,” we say. “We understand how difficult it must have been for you to do all that murdering. It breaks our hearts that people would get so angry about all the murder that they would break some windows about it, or fight back. It just breaks our hearts so much. It must be very difficult for you to follow through with all the killing that needs doing.”
If we could somehow get on the same page, stop being so afraid of each other, we could make them stop it, you know. We could vow to take care of each other, meet each others’ needs. We could keep our leaders accountable, make them do what’s best for us, instead of what’s best for them.
Isn’t that what America was supposed to be? Weren’t we supposed to be the plucky upstart that decided we didn’t need a king? That was the story they told us, anyway. The real truth is — well, there’s a lot of killing involved there, as well. But somehow, we have decided that it’s each other that we don’t need. All we need is a king. And so we have picked a very bad king, one who cares very little for anyone but himself.
And maybe that’s why so many people like him, because we also care very little for anyone but ourselves. He’s just like us.
And maybe so many of us are like that because they keep killing the ones who are not.