My first days-long immersion in real-time TV began on Nov. 22, 1963 It was early in my fleeting career with the San Diego County Welfare Department. As a mid-morning orientation session wound down, a woman burst in saying, “The president’s been shot!”
In that innocent time, the unthinkable didn’t compute, and someone asked, “The President of what?”
“The president!” the messenger insisted, “President Kennedy.”
Within an hour, county officials closed all public buildings and sent everybody home. I remember walking past a flag already at half-staff, driving home on a nearly empty freeway, hearing my husband’s car pull into the drive as I turned on the TV, and watching events unfold together until after the state funeral three days later. Real life had come to a standstill.
That sensation—the cancellation of real life and time—didn’t happen again, for me anyway, for nearly four decades. By then, 9/11/2001, I was working as a school counselor. Nursing a miserable cold, I called in sick to ask a clerk to reschedule my appointments.
“Do you have your TV on?” she snapped. I didn’t. “Turn it on and tell me what’s happening,” she said, and I did—just in time to see the South Tower of the World Trade Center tumble to the ground.
Strange … how traumatic world events sear into your memory details that, in more normal times, would be so mundane you’d never recall them: a tone of voice, a flagpole, the sound of a car in the driveway, the blank face of a TV not yet tuned in to the day.
There have been other traumatic national events, of course: assassinations, mass shootings, cataclysmic hurricanes, demonstrations against systemic injustice.
But now this …
January 6th, 2021
How do we make sense of it? Spurred by a sitting president, a mob seeking to block the validation of a demonstrably legal election, ransacks the Capitol, calls for the hanging of Mike Pence, desecrates the halls where bills become laws, loots legislators’ offices, and flourishes Confederate flags in their frenzy. Once again, I’m glued to the TV.
Once again, I’m struck by the sense that I’m living in another country, a country not my own. For a long time now, I’ve accepted the fact that this country is a violent one, uneasily hostage to gun-lovers and the NRA. But I’ve never thought … until now … that we would be threatened with insurrection, especially one triggered by a petulant sitting president. But here we are.
It’s discouraging. Unexpectedly, however, I stumbled upon hope. In a classic example of what therapists call reframing, Anand Giridharadas, author and publisher of The.Ink newsletter and several books gave his take on the storming of the Capitol in a conversation with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC.
“This is not the chaos of the beginning of something," Giridharadas said, referring to the plundering of the Capitol. "This is the chaos of the end of something. … It’s not the engine of history. It’s the revolt against the engine of history. … It’s a funeral for white supremacy, a funeral for a kind of outdated, outmoded male power, a mourning for a time in which certain Americans could claim to be the default of an American and not have to share … What we’re trying to do is build a country that has never existed—a minority majority superpower.”
Food for thought, a glimmer of hope. Led by a thoughtful, competent President, much work to be done by all of us.
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”