Suffering

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Suffering

It snowed again today in Wisconsin. In a way, it was actually rather encouraging, as snowfall indicates that it’s getting warm enough to go outside without your eyeballs freezing up and dropping out of your head like errant marbles. Up until just this past weekend, we had gone 65 days without the temperature climbing above 32 degrees; a good 75 percent of those days featured low temperatures below 0. For two months, it was so cold that it couldn’t snow.

Ice? We had plenty of that, and a good portion of it wasn’t from any sort of storm or precipitation. It couldn’t have been; we’d have remembered it if it were something like the near-luxurious, fat-flaked and airy snowfall that occurred today, a “storm” that would have been almost Thomas Kincaid-like in its gentility were it not for the fact that it fell from a completely gray sky, onto a completely gray terroir.

See, when it’s as cold as it’s been here for the last two months, all of the moisture gets sucked right out of the air. Upon walking outside, your nose hairs simultaneously freeze and shrivel, corpse-like; your eyelids seem to slightly creak if you try and blink. You are rooted where you stand, the 60 percent of you that is water struck dumb, while the remaining 40 percent cries silently to whatever unfeeling god is responsible for such monstrous conditions.

I hear, Augusta, that you’ve also run into some nature-related troubles recently, that you’ve been tectonically inconvenienced. And while I can’t speak to Wisconsin’s history of earthquakes — as far as “acts of God” go up here, we’re pretty much limited to “holy balls, is it cold” in the winter and “why was our city built on a swamp?” in the summer — I feel we’re in the same boat: we’re suffering. Differently, but we’re suffering.

Jordan Davis’ family is suffering too, in a manner that renders chapped knuckles and toppled supermarket shelves irrelevant. I’m sure you know by now that Davis, a 17-year-old black youth, was fatally shot by Michael Dunn (a middle-aged white man) while Davis and his friends were sitting in an SUV outside a store and listening to music, loudly. What specific words and actions that transpired between Davis and Dunn between Dunn’s initial approach and the shooting are unclear; Dunn claimed the boys pointed a gun at him. Either way, he then fired 10 rounds into the SUV, killing Davis. In a criminal case, Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted murder, but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge. A civil case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Maybe it’s because the legal process proceeded comparatively swiftly when set up alongside the Trayvon Martin case, but public outrage and media attention has been relatively muted on this issue. Those who are talking about it, however, are raising more questions, wisely, I think, about the nation’s reaction — or lack thereof — to the tragedy/travesty than about the details surrounding the incident in the first place. Anna Minard of Seattle’s Slog newspaper writes:

There are a lot of things to say about the mistrial in the killing of Jordan Davis. There’s also an overwhelming wordless howl of anguish to unleash, or just a seeping, leaden sense of exhaustion to acknowledge. How is this country’s relentless slaughter of black children still going unpunished in 2014?

I keep searching for words to explain it better, to make it make sense, to tell us a story so we can learn something. I don’t know if that’s out there. The story is bleak. What has to be done is more work, not more talking, probably. But words are what soothe me, so I keep trying to find them.

Words soothe me too, and music, and running. But the question, I think, that we all need to be asking ourselves is: do we, should we, want to be soothed?

It’s natural, I know, in the aftermath of tragedy, of suffering, of shock, to numb the pain, to dim the bulbs that so brilliantly light reality. Minard’s call for “more work, not more talking” is apt, relevant and should be heeded, but I fear we as a nation — though we have crested the hill on so many other more positive aspects of social evolution — are beyond it. So encased in bubbles as we are, our lives, and everyone else’s lives, becomes about the “me,” not the other.

We’ve dealt with the weather, with the quakes, in our own ways, but it always is geared toward forgetting. An earthquake is more sudden, more of a shock, which numbs for a time, but also has longer-lasting effects. Afterward, the talk is of “rebuilding,” but that rebuilding is only in service of returning to what was the norm before the cataclysm.

Here, we “push” through, we “get” through. We cut through the middle of it, yes, but in service of shoving aside, not of engaging. Let us grieve, Southern brethren, in our shared status as symptoms of a nation.

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