Alone Together/Together Alone

(Week #4 of “A Brief Pause”)

A month ago, I declared I was taking a brief break from writing this blog, but clearly I don’t seem to be capable of taking a real break! I write now in the midst of a racket overhead from the hammers of the roofers who arrived today, Election Day, to replace our leaky roof. The metaphor is almost comically apt. A new set of elected officials and a new roof — we hope both will protect us.

In the case of our roof, it might be a long shot. We’ve had leaking problems since we bought this house seventeen years ago. At that time the roof was new, but as soon as the winter rains arrived the roof leaked. Numerous fixes based on a variety of theories, and an entirely new roof later, it still leaks. This will be the third new roof in seventeen years. Of course we’re indignant, at times outraged, but what can we do but keep trying to solve the problem?

The same thing applies to our democracy. Who doesn’t think there is a lot to be fixed about the government? And it is much too important to our collective wellbeing to give up on, no matter how leaky it continues to be. Though I tend to be a glass-half-full kind of gal, I, like everyone else, have no idea what today’s outcome will be. There is, however, one thing I feel fairly certain about — when results come in there will be some dissatisfaction on both/all sides. Which does not mean we should throw up our hands and go all-out-ostrich in despair. We need to carry on to repair the leaks, fight against the downpour of incipient fascism, if possible replace the entire roof. Sorry if I am carrying this metaphor too far, but to my mind we need to do some fundamental reconstruction of our democracy. We need to end the filibuster and the power of dark money; we need to make changes to the Supreme Court, the Electoral College, tax laws. The list goes on. There is so much to fix. There will always be things to fix. And if we stop paying attention, things will assuredly become worse.

My ruminating has slid to an adjacent thought that may or may not be relevant to the discussion above. Sometimes we run up against things for which we have no fix, at least not yet. What is the best stance to take when that happens? Because of my current situation I have immediately arrived at the personal, to the failing upper motor neurons that are causing the muscles to atrophy throughout my body, a condition for which there is currently no remedy. I cannot let go of the idea that there is a right way to regard my situation, an action I should take. Maybe I will find a self-help book that will offer me some guidance. Maybe a New York Times Op-Ed will bring me some apt advice. I have usually believed that most situations have a should contained in their solutions. Should I die naturally, or should I take my own life? If I take my own life, when should I do it?

When faced with pivotal life decisions in the past, I’ve usually felt there were people — friends or experts — from whom I could seek wisdom. I believed they would guide me in the proper direction. There are certainly people out there now who have been on the periphery of the dilemmas I face, and I have relished talking to them and reading what they have to say. But ultimately, I find myself starkly alone, perhaps for the first time in my life.

As soon as I wrote “for the first time in my life” I understood that that’s not true. It is the nature of most of the decisions we make that they are made alone. We may consult with people or read what the experts say, but no one’s situation is identical to ours, and in the end, unless we’re puppets, we decide on our own what is best for us.

I have been listening to a podcast called “The Way Out is In,” produced by followers of Thich Nat Han. The most recent episode has prompted me to think about how things are not either/or as our brains like to think of them. It is a good reminder.

One of the most challenging aspects of being human is deciding when to act alone and when to act collectively. Clearly both are necessary at different points in time. I can’t repair the roof or democracy by myself. I need others to help me do those things. And, though friends and family have been easing my journey to death, ultimately I must decide alone how and when to go.

Next Monday I will be taking my second guided psilocybin trip. I expect that in the aftermath I will be sleeping for most of Tuesday when I usually write this blog. Fortunately for me, my friend Nancy Hopps, healer, yoga teacher, actress, among other things, has offered to step in for me. What she has written addresses an aspect of death I hope you will find fascinating. I thank her in advance. Thanks also to others who will be guest-blogging in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, cross your fingers that the country gets through the next week with minimal disruption and animosity.

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Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons is the author of 5 books of fiction, most recently the novel, SINKING ISLANDS. Two more of her novels will be published in 2022.