It was, I suppose, a good death—relatively instantaneous. Folks around the building say it was a massive brain hemorrhage. Though I knew her, respected her and appreciated her presence during the small, intimate meals we all shared through the seasons, I didn’t attend her funeral. I also avoided the reception.
It wasn’t because I didn’t care. It just seemed too much and I’m now thinking that if tragedy half a globe away prompts me into emotional paralysis, what would I do if something horrible happened here?
My first thought is my daughter. She’s currently on Spring Break where she attends college and I don’t have the money to drive over and see her—even from here where things are relatively normal. If I can’t afford a trip to the Twin Cities today, what would I do if things were serious?
Second are my friends. The more we’re inundated with the news and images of grief and brutality, it seems, the more we’re inclined to become numbed. Would I still care? Would my friends still care?
Finally, there’s everyone else. If we’re too calloused or numbed to respond to the needs of our friends and loved ones, how would we respond to the needs of strangers? Would our hearts open out and would we come together as a community or would our culture come apart, with every person scrambling for safety?
These questions are both rhetorical and honest–with the answer being “it depends.”
First, how we do we view relationships? If our relationships are based on utility alone, we’re lost. One of my more cynical friends put it this way. “People use each other until they can’t stand it anymore. Then they move on to the next one.” In the case of catastrophe, only those who have the power to help us will be important—and then, only as long as they’re useful.
Second is the illusion of status and class. In a minor catastrophe, money and social status will still have its perks but if the real shit hits the real fan, these facades will rip away faster than a stripper bares her breasts. A life without effective and beneficent government under these circumstances would be, to quote political theorist Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Those most vulnerable: the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the omnipresent homeless will be first to suffer—but in the case of a complete societal meltdown many of those individuals will become some of the most likely to survive. Those without resources have honed survival skills that may—or may not—come forward in ways less than “acceptable” in a stable society. On the other hand, these have the means and the sentiment to come together. The vulnerable know what it’s like to be alone and are aware of the basic biological and spiritual need for human companionship. We know how much difference that makes in a crisis—regardless of one’s relative usefulness. Some, however, just can’t handle it and the future could very well be murder.
In the meantime, the geese are still moving north. The snow is melting and the Earth rotates on its axis 365 times with each revolution around the sun. All is well.
But then, I might be wrong.
Keith is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student. Reach him at [email protected]