Today – and I’m sorry to lump this on you – but today is one of those days where the sadness of reality is weighing me down. I’m sitting at my desk at work trying very hard not to cry just in case someone comes in, but the truth is that I just want to sit under my desk with a box of tissues and sob for a while. Not because I’m depressed, not because anything terrible has happened to me, but just because – as Christine Fonseca aptly puts it – I am drowning in existential sadness. This week, it seems, humanity is a horrible, horrible thing, and though I know perfectly well that humanity is capable of great heights, of great, glittering, glowing achievements that bind us together and lift us up out of the muck of our own filth…. But this week, I’m having trouble seeing it.
This is your official warning: You might want to stop reading. This post contains death and sadness, racism and children being separated forcibly from their mothers, failed systems and political disasters, and humans generally behaving in all the lowest ways we’ve invented to be possible.
Go. Leave now, while you can, and read something happier.
…Still with me? Let me share with you what’s getting me down.
Robin Williams died earlier this week. No big deal, right? People die all the time, as I am forcibly reminded today when crowds of black and cars glistening with the tears of their owners arrive outside my window to both celebrate and mourn the life of a man who passed away in that very building there, the one right across the footpath from me, as I try to teach my students about essay writing and why it matters that they avoid saying ‘I’.
Say ‘I’, students. Say it loud and long, because your thoughts, your opinions, your feelings matter, and one day they will be gone.
But Robin Williams died, and the world stood together to mourn his passing. Together we typed and snapped and RTed and shared, one be conglomeristic orgy of grief and sadness that one of the funniest, most brilliant men in all the world, someone who had touched more lives than he could ever number, had passed – and not only that, but passed alone, both inside and out.
Reach out for help. And if you can’t reach, that’s okay, but please, just sit. Don’t go anywhere. People can’t help if you disappear. Please, please just stay, and I swear to you on my life, I will find you if at all I can, and I will hold you until the darkness holds at bay.
Timelines filled with suicide hotlines, depression support, messages and pleas: Get help. If you’re hurting, get help. – while at the same time acknowledging that sometimes, help is too hard to get. Help is too far away, help is too long in coming, and our voices won’t work to call it close, and the lies reach up and drown our whispers out.
Never believe the lies. You are precious. You are special. You are worthwhile.
And then more lies, more obfuscation: the Ferguson riots, the death of a young man because he was black, as if genetic inheritance were a sin punishable by execution, as if the colour of our eyes or hair, the melatonin in our epidermis – as if that is a death warrant, signed, sealed, left only to be delivered. People asking, If I were gunned down, what image of me would they use? Would I be shown as an upstanding member of society, dressed in cap and gown, a contributor, a lifter? Or would they find that one picture I posted once for a joke, of when I was dressed up in a costume or just relaxing with a mate, when I posed for the camera to be stupid, just as everybody does? And the riots continue, on and on and on and on, and even when they have left the streets they will continue onward in the hearts of men, hate, prejudice, fear, transforming…
And today, because it was scheduled, I watched Black Fish with my class – with two classes, actually, and I was glad I had marking to get done at the same time, because only the pull of some urgent else to concentrate on prevented me from becoming a sobbing wreck in front of the classroom.
Did you know that orcas, even for their size, have extremely enlarged emotion centres in their brain? The most conservative – conservative! – conclusion that scientists are willing to draw is that orcas have extremely rich emotional lives.
Extremely rich. Conservative.
Actually, orcas have life spans similar to humans, with males living to about 60 and females up to 100, and different pods can’t even communicate properly with each other because their clicks and whistles and vocalisations all mean such different things, and although science won’t say it for fear of anthropomorphising, it looks very very suspiciously like these pods all speak different languages – and the pods? They’re family. Children live with their mothers all their lives, which are the same life spans as humans, so when they took the four-year-old orca from one SeaWorld and transferred it to another, and the mother screamed and screamed and screamed for days, and the mother made sounds no orca’d made in captivity before and they had to call in the specialist to determine that she was sending out long range signals – long range signals – crying desperately, in agony, for her baby to hear her… My heart nearly broke.
My son is 2.5.
Please, baby, don’t cry. Mama’s here, Mama’s with you, it’s okay. You don’t need to cry. Mama’s not going to leave you, you’ll never be alone. I’m here for you baby, don’t cry.
And we take these creatures, these ‘animals’ who have higher EQs than we do – unless you’re being highly conservative, in which case their emotional lives are merely ‘extremely rich’ – and we pen them up in a bathtub, deprive them of light and food and company when they misbehave – or just plain un-behave, which means doing anything but what we’ve decided we want them to do – and wonder why they attack each other, why the blood runs crimson-thick in the water, why trainers are injured, even killed. You’d develop a neurosis too if you were stolen from your mother at age four and kept in one bedroom, starved by your oppressors unless you jumped rope and cartwheeled and sung and recited poems for them.
Oh wait, we did that too. We’re studying Yolongu Boy with Year 8, that’s right; we – humanity – stole children from their mothers when they were tiny, kept them in a one-room dormitory on the mission, and withheld their food unless they sang hymns and spoke the Queen’s English and left behind their names and personalities and culture and memories and humanity.
Humans aren’t humans, we’re animals. I know, because the police in Ferguson said so: We’ve got 4000 animals here, they said.
And it doesn’t help that we’re training them all wrong from the very beginning. We beat the light out of people before it barely has a chance to shine, teaching them that unless they give the right answers and colour between the lines, and no, darling, trees are green, not purple, and birds don’t really have arms, and your dinosaur is out of proportion and it’ll look so much better if your house looked like a house, because we know that humans don’t live in trees, dear, and yes I know the breeze in the treehouse is sweet and smells of sunshine and cut grass and freedom, but freedom’s dangerous, nature’s cunning, you have to tame your instincts, we have to break you down and pour you into the mould so we can refine you, birth you again into a beautiful clone, made perfect by an education system that, like most of our employment, works against everything we know to be true about humanity and motivation and greatness, and instead imposes conformity and rigidity and death.
I’m sorry you hate school so much. I’m sorry you see all the teachers as your enemies. At what age did you first discover there was no point trying? You couldn’t sit still, you couldn’t constrain your thinking to the box, and so you always got in trouble, didn’t you? At what point did you decide that you just didn’t care anymore? When did they break you, darling? When?
And I’m sad.
I’m not depressed. I know what that feels like, and it’s so much more internal. It’s the lies of self esteem that try to tell me no one loves me, that I’m no good, I’m too this or too that, too bright or too fat.
No. This isn’t depression. It isn’t angst.
But it is depressing.
Humanity, you have so much more potential than this. Evil is trying so hard this week, and, damnably, it’s winning.
Humanity, you have so much more potential than this. Good is out there. Find it.