Sunday, November 29, 2020

Gloom Train

A long time ago, I was at a museum somewhere, possibly in Canada, but I can’t remember now. What I do remember, and what I have never forgotten, is a large, stark black-and-white photograph of a Native American shaman taken some time in the early 1930’s. I gazed at that photo for a long time. His face was dark, deeply lined and haunted. His soul was in his eyes, and I knew instinctively that he saw what was coming for his people with a stark clarity and helplessness. I’ve been thinking about that photo a lot lately, feeling the feeling that we are collectively on a course that leads nowhere good, that we are careening towards our fate on a galloping horse that I cannot slow down or stop. I am haunted by it, waking up nights for long periods of time, unable to distract myself effectively with exercise or games anymore. As much as work has been driving me crazy lately, at least it keeps the thought-demons at bay. I find myself reaching out in the dead of night for prophets on Youtube, for wisdom, for the bearers of history and light. I find myself fighting thoughts about it being too late now. I find myself inordinately worried about huge, unmanageable, world-shaking events that I have no control over whatsoever. I wonder if the center will hold this time. I struggle with despair.

The reason that I remain so stubbornly dedicated to my job, my community, my little neighborhood hospital, is that I’ve always known in the back of my mind that I have no control over anything else. My life was not meant to be big. I, like many before me who have served that hospital, was meant to be a small but meaningful light in a small but meaningful space, a space that for all its flaws and daunting issues is a place of healing and rescue, of renewal and restoration. And we are about to be very, very full of people needing all of those things. And I will do my part. I cannot control the virus or the fate of the economy or the political machinations going on with of either of those things. I can’t help the enslaved, the tortured, the starving, the victims of bombings and unjust wars across the world. I can’t rescue anyone but myself. I have to protect myself, take care of myself, and stand strong. It will not do for me to fall apart, to, as the song puts it, “be idle with despair.” I can only take solace in the fact that I am needed and that I have a community to serve.

To not end this on a total bummer: In spite of the fact that games are not adequately distracting me anymore, Steam had a huge sale this weekend and I downloaded the Witcher 3. None of the other Witcher games ever worked right on my computer, but I have a good video card now and this one works great. I am taking great solace in the fact that Geralt, the titular character, is a freak. Being a witcher is very stigmatized and he is essentially a lonely wanderer. Everyone wants his “special skills” and help, but no one really wants to associate with him other than transactionally. I’m enjoying playing a character in perpetual pain. It’s weirdly comforting right now.

I thought this video would be a fitting end to this post. Enjoy, and remember to breathe. I’m trying to. 

--Kristen McHenry 

3 comments: said...

Great post! Great song, too!

Khyali kandpal said...


Dale said...

Probably round about 1980 was our last real chance to avert multiple environmental disasters... since then it's just been, "when do we hit, and how hard?"

I've gradually gotten over my dismay that we didn't decide to avoid these things, and now I'm just curious to see how we respond. We've been lucky in having a relatively mild disease for our first-round global pandemic... maybe we'll take the next one a little more seriously. Hard to know.

Our political dysfunction here in the US probably looms larger than it needs to. It's local and temporary, even if (as I guess) it gets worse before it gets better.

I don't know if democracy or the human race survives the next century or two, but on the other hand I don't have any huge affection for either one of them. If it's time for them to go, that's okay. On to the next thing. The things I cared about most are already gone, so I can face the future fairly cheerfully. It's not what we were taught to expect when we were young, and Progress seemed to be on an unstoppable winning streak... but we were taught a lot of nonsense, it seems.