The sun, clearly hung over, had barely raised his bald head from the pillow of the horizon when I experienced my first death of the day. Brow furrowed, I had been writing outside before dawn. It appeared to be a usual day. The quiet darkness not only encouraged the slow sipping of coffee and the even slower pretension of having deep thoughts but also cheered the sun’s sluggish attempts to remain asleep.
The darkness just wanted more time for herself.
My diva dog and half-cat have a pattern; they alternate between nuzzling each other and attempting to rip each other’s throats out. It’s not a particularly unusual occurrence, and so when I heard their tussling below the porch table, I hardly paid it any attention. The cat could have been riding the dog like a mechanical bull or the dog might have not-so-accidentally stepped on the cat while she was preparing to pounce.
No matter, they would cuddle later.
The sun must have gulped some coffee too; he had, ever so slowly, stumbled down the hall and was now relieving himself in my backyard.
The diva dog and half-cat dog tussled underneath the porch table, their barks and hisses barely registering as I continued to write. They had moved to the corner of the porch, knocking over a potted azalea dressed in morning glory when I heard a chirp added to their cacophony.
When I investigated more closely (or, honestly, at all), I spied a flailing bird between them. To my surprise, he was not bleeding. The color of the instigator (he MUST have been asking for it since my animals are always so well-behaved) was shades of brown, layered upon one another. It made me think of desert sands as they shifted, revealing darker and lighter hues with each movement.
Like school yard bullies, my girls jumped and batted over the poor thing. I managed to pluck him from his nightmare and held him. His body claimed only half my hand. He opened his eyes, and he blinked.
Maybe he had stunned himself against the window and hadn’t truly hurt himself.
I’ve always been an optimist.
He lay in my hand, and with one of its bright red cowpea eyes, he stared at me. He didn’t blink. He didn’t move. For all I knew, he could have been studying the knots and whirls of the fence through me. His eyes looked to be capable of Superman vision.
I gently rubbed my thumb against the top of its head and saw that he did move after all. His neck had gained a decidedly floppy motion, but he had lost his volition in the process. His neck had been broken, either with his alleged altercation with the window or somewhere in his instigation of my animals. I watched as his tiny chest slowed, and slowed again, until it stopped, his cowpeas closing in tandem.
I kept saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so very, very sorry,” in my best not-so-David-Tennant voice, as if that would make up for the fact that he was dying. I wanted to do something for him other than just tossing an empty bird-shell over the fence, but I knew that the dog would dig him up, and I figured at least for a moment, it would be airborne again.
So I tossed him.
Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
But something happened while I was holding the bird. I realized I was watching the transformation of energy. Something larger than the bird; something larger than I could ever consciously be. With the
exception of the depth of the emotional bond, it was not dissimilar to watching my 18-year old cat, Mardi Gras, fall into sleep for the very last time.
But I digress. If I could have done something to save the bird, I would have. I wouldn’t have had to think about it. I mean, it wasn’t my pet, but it was a suffering creature.
The United States has lost its respect for life. Not every single person within her borders, no, and perhaps not even the majority. Listening to the news, though, a fever-pitched vocal minority has certainly created the illusion of having the majority.
I hear stories like “Eighty-one year old Great-Grandmother Kills Intruder,” and I witness people cheering, either through Facebook commenting (I really should know better than to look for reason on Facebook), or in discussions with others locally.
Not everyone is cheering the fact that an eighty-one year old great-grandmother defended herself; some are cheering the fact that some scum is off the streets and that tax payers didn’t have to pay for his room and board.
I read stories of the police killing unarmed suspects, especially the ones of those running away, (or running away*) and I hear the cheering that another criminal is dead. Never mind that he (it’s almost always a black male) was denied due process or that, to my knowledge selling loose cigarettes, while illegal, doesn’t actually carry the penalty of a death sentence.
How have we gotten to this point where we cheer the death of someone? How have we become blind followers to the idea that certain subsets of the population can do no wrong, and others are always wrong, no matter the circumstances?
Carmon Sue Brannon is a former nurse at a Mississippi county jail who was found guilty of manslaughter after denying William Joel Dixon medical treatment, in his case, insulin, which killed him. According to witnesses, she believed Dixon to be detoxing from meth, made derisive comments toward him, and ignored his pleas for help.
She was a nurse who decided that a prisoner detoxing from drugs did not deserve medical aid. Even if we ignore the fact that most drug detoxes require medical assistance and there is a specific protocol to be followed, she made the decision that he, as a prisoner and a drug addict, did not deserve medical care.
She didn’t watch him die. To my knowledge, no one watched him die. He died alone.
How have we confused justice with vengeance? Or righteousness with cruelty?
How have we lost our soul?
For years, I’ve heard disparaging comments about prisoners, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the poor, the disabled, the otherwise marginalized. I’ve listened as people discuss, loudly, with abandon, with no thought of who may hear, their opinions on what this group deserves or that group deserves. As if they were magistrates.
I’ve heard the so-called justifications, but nothing excuses the abuse in prison, the criminalization of the mentally ill, the demonization of the poor and the addicted, and the smug superiority of those who say, “They’re illegal immigrants. If they wouldn’t have gotten here illegally, they’d still have their kids.”
At which point did we stop thinking of these people as, well, “not people”? Did we ever?
As a nation, have we collectively killed the part of our brain that houses empathy? Have we allowed our soul to be strangled, to have every drop of compassion squeezed from our beet-bodies? After all, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip (Thank you, Tom Robbins).
For that matter, have we become turnips?
How do we get our neuroplasticity rocking? Even if it’s slowly starting, like a train that doesn’t really want to leave Chicago, chug-chugging by sheer force of the conductor’s will, only to damn near jump off the tracks in excitement upon its arrival in New Orleans? How do we become the anti-Rhett Butler, and actually give a damn?
How do we rekindle our collective heart and stoke our soul?
I don’t know that we can. At least, not any time in the near future. I don’t know that it will happen until it becomes politically expedient, until the tide of popular opinion changes that makes it socially acceptable to be a decent human being.
In the meantime, I think what we can do–all that we can do, really–is to make sure that we exercise our soul and not let it atrophy. To not look away when we see things that hurt our hearts; otherwise we simply won’t see them. Refusing to see is definitely an apathy step on the ladder to dead-soul-itis. We should find a cause–any cause–and work toward solutions, aiding those we can in the meantime.
If all we have is one square inch in the garden of life, make sure it’s the best damn inch we can make it.
Weird Random Shit
On the Irony Meter: The second video shows the death of Walter Scott. The song that is playing in the police cruiser is “What It’s Like,” by Everlast. you can hear from inside the police car is the song played is Everlast’s “What It’s Like.”
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues