Saturday, May 17, 2008

Silver Linings

One good thing that will happen as a result of the end of oil--our headlong, greedy, unthinking reliance on free-flowing fossil fuel--will be freedom. Our kids will be able to ride their bicycles where they please, regaining a sense of autonomy that is crucial to their development. And their happiness, born of speed. (Heck, maybe grownups could ride their bicycles where they pleased, too: for almost ten years I rode everywhere in New York City. Then something changed. Something that felt . . . homicidal. Suddenly all those cars were acting like they wanted to get you. And I became scared. Then my bike became stolen. Voila: the end of an era.)

Just as beautiful in its inadvertent gift will be the chance for dogs to regain their liberty, too. No more chain-link fences, ropes forever around their necks. Just as in the old movies, they will be beholden to only their own agendas, and will make their daily rounds to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker (tallow, don't you know).

We need to collect thoughts like these, because what we are going to go through will be painful in the extreme. Even more so because it is unknown what shape it will take, and I'm not just talking about what they'll figure out to replace the plastic that covers every item of food we buy. Do ya think about that, huh? No, I'm talking about the forcible remolding of our society and our economy. Yet all of us are just along on this thrill ride; no one really knows, and no one can control it now.

It is incredible just to hold the thought in the mind, like a smooth piece of marble, that it has been only about ninety years that our America has been reorganized as a wheel with the automobile at the center; you'd think we could just maybe back up a little (checking the rearview mirror first, of course) and return things to the way they were in 1910, say. Problem solved! But that world, I fear, is more distant from us now than they were from the world of three hundred years prior to that. I mean, where are we going to lay hold of thousands of draft horses and plows?

(Then, you can amuse yourself with this happy notion: Around the turn of the century, pretty much all produce was organic produce! You didn't have to shop at Whole Paycheck or buy fruit shipped halfway around the globe just to ensure it hasn't been doused with carcinogens. You just went to your kitchen garden, or the local greengrocer. "USDA Organic" indeed.)

The unknown chills us, to the primitive marrow. It wakes us at 3 a.m. Disaster hides in its dark folds. I should know (and now you know too, ad nauseam, I'm afraid; but just hang on a little while longer, I beg of you--the light is beginning to dawn!). The unknown is scaring me with its devilish grin, whispering from the corner of my nighttime room. I am working like a ditchdigger to feel excited and happy about my little adventure of being launched into space. The glass half full, and all that. Yet it is. At the same time my fear is justified. I can't erase it just because certain onlookers are impatient with what I feel, would like me to feel something different. They're not inside me. I am. And I will arrive at the certain gifts hiding within the storm clouds on my own time. It will be quite a party then.

Tell Nelly not to feel her fear, for instance. Well, I try, but it falls on ears deafened by terror. The lawnmower next door backfires, and I see Nelly glance around furtively. The whole carriage of her body drops suddenly; she is an inch shorter all round. Her head is held lower on her neck, and her tail arcs down, the exact negative of the ecstatic curve it draws over her back when she's happy. I try to tell her it's nothing. Do not be afraid. But she does what she must. And so do I. I know light-hearted relief is just around the corner for both of us.

Her tail is a plume, but a crooked one: what happened to Nelly's tail, in embryo perhaps, that lopsided it so heartbreakingly cutely?

And did you ever think what it would feel like to have your spine continue another foot out behind you, waving, balancing you? Weird, man. That's weird.

It's also weird to move through the changes in life without trying to resist them. Strange things happen, an alchemy of the bloodstream, I think. This morning I held a friend in my arms as she shook with sobs; I could feel the pain moving volcanically from her center and exiting through the shoulders, which moved like the things in nature move--with a force in them that can't be stopped. Her brother is dying. He had just gone to pick out his own burial plot. That must be weirdest of all. Looking at your death as it walks steadily toward you.

What is odd for me is that she and I did not speak for a whole year. Why? Well, now I forget. My own river of grief washed away all marks of it. And she became one of a series of bridges I mended, connections and re-connections with other people forged to great strength and number over the past nine months. I don't know why. I felt driven to do it. It is one of the things that now glints silver from the sky.

None of what happened in the past matters. All there is, the meaning of life (there! I figured it out for you!) is other people. So come back, if you've been pushed away. It really doesn't matter. All is forgiven. It is so easy to do. And all is forgotten, too--one of the side benefits of aging and stress. I can't remember anything anymore. Except that it doesn't get better than this.


Paul Kowacki said...

Sounds like you found that lost bag of pot. Hopefully it was organic; hate to think you'd get cancer, or some chem-disease of your pleasure centers. I'd still take a chance on it, though.

Glad to join you in your excitement over the possibility that people may drive less. But hey, what do you make of this: now it seems the people who fly by me on the highway are driving Priuses, and Yaris's, and Aveos and hybrid Hondas. Don't they know that those cars get better fuel mileage (for some, code for more socially responsible) by having a small engine, and that driving aggressively shoots the mileage back down to what they used to get in their Volvo wagon or Landcruiser at legal speeds? And does the fact they are now more socially responsible in their choice of vehicles mean that they no longer have to respect the community, by driving at reasonable speeds, and not tailgating until I get the hell outta their way?

I don't know, Melissa, but something tells me the problem is with the people, not with the price of fuel, or fuel mileage. Sure hope I'm wrong. I first started to become suspicious when my good old enlightened/new age friends got older, made more money, and gave up their Corollas for Land Rovers. I know you're disappointed to hear me say such disparaging things about such nice people, who are just trying to be responsible, but as a group, we....... have been here before, in '73, in '78, etc.

But, you know, can't help myself. I'm hoping it'll be true this time.
You know me well enough that you know I see the essence of good in all people. As do you.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

So, Paul, I guess I shouldn't tell you about my latest speeding ticket? The one where I was going 83? I was late to pick up someone at the airport, and I was otherwise out of my mind at the time. But it turned out OK, because the American system of justice was working in well-oiled fashion: I went into a back room with a lawyer, said I'd take a completely different charge, and then pled guilty--in front of a judge sworn to uphold the law--to something I didn't do, and that he knew I didn't do. (In that little town there are apparently hundreds of people who are, bizarrely enough, parking all over the sidewalks.) I wonder where that falls on the immorality chart, next to speeding.

Paul Kowacki said...


One of the people who works for me was in Arizona last week. Got stopped for speeding. Cop gave her a choice: show up in court for speeding charges, in a week or two, or pay a fine for "Waste of a Natural Resource". She paid about $80 and went on her way. I think that's cool, one of the best ideas yet; now they've got to publish the names. And, they'll certainly go after the corporate headquarters and McMansions who water their greenery until it forms a river in the gutter of Phoenix, and Mesa, and .......