Thursday, January 31, 2013

Choice in the Matter

So many things are swirling around in my brain, I may not have any luck organizing them into coherence today. But in no particular order, here goes.

1) Layoffs happened yesterday. I was not laid off but the mood was somber all through the building, as the axe fell again and again on the unsuspecting. People huddled in offices, talking in hushed tones or they kept to themselves, heads down, working. Today we begin the task of figuring out how we go on.

2) Susan Landry on her blog Pie wrote about walking all over Cornwall, England alone, and all over the South of France on another walkabout, and it sounded like the most divine adventure to me. And then I thought, as a Black woman alone on the trails, in this place or that one, would I be safe? And how I hate having this thought at all, and the way it can stunt my dreams. Because of course, I can make another choice. I think sometimes I've been in New York for too long at a stretch, immersed in the reflex of big city security, and immersed too in this racially charged political climate, at the center of it as a journalist, and I forget that some years ago I went alone to the Falkland Islands at the southernmost reaches of the globe, where no Black person had ever been seen by the few hundred residents of British colonial descent, and I walked the moors, just me and the sheep and my notebook and camera, and along the coast I wandered over broken ships from the age of sail for two weeks, reporting a story on shipwrecks, and felt perfectly safe in my skin. I need to remember this.

3) Aunt Winnie is so very old and curled in on herself now, like a rail thin contraption, folded small. At 94, robbed of her faculties by Parkinson's and perhaps also by grief, all she can do is lie there, making unintelligible sounds, most of which sound like labored puffs of air. The home attendants turn her as often as they can manage, because her skin is like tissue that disintegrates so easily if any part of it comes in contact with any other surface for too long. Uncurling her contracted fist yesterday and holding it in my own, I felt so helpless in the face of her incapacitation, the way she is locked inside herself, and even though I tell myself she is giving us all an opportunity to serve her, affording us the privilege of doing for her, I still know that if she had any choice at all in this matter, she would not endure the prison of her hospital bed a moment longer. I am sad she does not have a choice.

This photo was taken just seven short years ago. How the world can change in seven years.


  1. I know so well how sad it is to watch co-workers being laid off. Having been on both sides, I almost prefer being the one laid off, although I am glad to hear you were spared.

    The frailty of age is so scary. You are the niece I'd want to have, if I were her, I can tell you that.

  2. I am filled with sadness to see you at this dark turn in your road. I offer you my far-away prayers for your safekeeping, and my love and concern.

  3. Despite all that is on your mind, you still were able to convey it to us, generously and with much beauty. I will pray for peace for your aunt and all that love her. I will say that I am grateful that you were spared a lay-off and sorry that you had to witness such stress at your workplace. I will also tell you that I, too, was so struck by Pie's description of walking like that. Maybe you and I could go together?

  4. rest easy, friend; as easy as you can. some things are out of our hands...we need to bear witness. it's all we can do.

  5. I was thinking the other day we never know when this will be the good old days and the next stage begins.

  6. I am glad the layoffs didn't come your way. That Falkland Islands adventure sounds fantastic -- I love traveling to obscure, out-of-the-way places like that!

    I'm sorry for Aunt Winnie. It's terrifying to see how control of the basic functions of our own lives can spin away from us.

  7. I so wish we had a choice as well, to decide whether we want to endure losing ourselves slowly but surely, or leaving well enough. Though my grandmother passed at 96, she had most of her capacities until the last two months and she often told me that she was ready. She had been ready for over five years, which enabled us who loved her to be ready and I think of her and I am never sad, despite missing her there's never an ounce of hurt or sadness in her passing because she had lived and was happy to start the next stage of her existence elsewhere.

    Otherwise, I can assure you that the South of France would love you. I have experienced my share of racism all over the world, the worst being in Poland where I was physically scared (but Poland is still one of my favorite places), and the South of France would welcome you. Because you are a woman and American which is a big hit.

    And finally I am glad you didn't get the pink slip.

    And thank you for visiting. It's a delicate transition to navigate, this emotional state which escapes me.

  8. I've always wanted to do a real walk-about but I am thinking now I should have done it in my early fifties. Still, I know a woman who, after she recovered from colon cancer, did that El Camino trail and I think she ended up doing that pilgrimage more than once. So who knows? There is something healing and mystical about simply walking.
    I deeply feel for your dear aunt. Why do we humans not allow ourselves the option of being done with it all when we are ready to go? Why do we have to tolerate such suffering? We should have a choice. We are so wrapped up, we humans, in the weird superstitious and religious beliefs about the nobility of suffering and the sanctity of life when so often, obviously the most humane and sacred thing we could do would be to help someone ease into death.
    Well. That's what I think.

    I am also very glad you did not lose your job but what a stressful time you have faced and are facing.
    Life is so hard sometimes.
    I am thinking of you, of Aunt Winnie. I'm so sorry, dear Angella.

  9. O darling. You have such a light. You could go anywhere and shine.
    dd xo

  10. How tenderly you write about your Aunt. I too wish she had an option to leave. Anyone who's been around the very elderly or dying can see, that is a merciful thing.

    Reading this, I thought about this story I heard on "This American Life". It was about African-American women feeling free of color stereotypes in Paris, because to the Parisians, they were just plain American. I hope you take your walkabout someday.

  11. Now that I think on it more, I remember the women interviewed in that story saying that they did feel there were racist attitudes in Paris toward black Parisians, but that as Americans they were immune from that. So, not a rosy picture of Paris but still, interesting.