Earth is a skill-factory. Our planet brinks and tumbles over with people savvier, more talented and able, than me. They are falling off its edges. They are floating above each other, each higher than the next highest, into the darkening music of the spheres. They are reaching for the moon. They are touching the moon. They are slingshotting off the moon’s gravity, into the stylish, slate-grey abyss of Forever Success. And they are howling, at us all, in a thick san-serif white as the stars into which they jet: make yourself greater. leave everything for it.
We are 7 billion savvy-strong on our planet — and growing. I am probably 15 feet away from someone who is stronger, grittier and more consistent, at writing than me. If you hang a Louie out the parking lot, someone else has just accepted a creative director position at a major New York agency over the phone. Someone else, 60 seconds from now in a hospital bed, will realize their broken arm gives them the time they’ve needed to excel at public oration (with a swagger and sway beyond anything I could muster in even the oddest out-pour of my most outgoing moments). Maybe tomorrow I’ll meet someone who’s amazing at leatherworking, wealthy by it. Maybe the next day, a master brewer.
Meanwhile, I am drinking and picking at my dandruff in a cold, cold bar. I can see my breath against the window.
I don’t want to face the house that burned down last night across the street, our block peppered in firetrucks and TV cameras for hours. A missed hotspot caught at 4am, fire shot out the front door a second time, and the trucks had to return to it so early. In the later morning, a bulldozer rammed the remaining cinder block into 3 short feet of scree and ash.
I don’t want to face the old man, S, who lives next door to us, whose wife died a few weeks ago. He cries in the foyer of his home to M and me before we leave for Christmas, how he cared for her, how he failed her. I watch the old man cane-walk from his mailbox to the rubble this afternoon. I watch him stand in front of its debris, now propped, as he watches what was once standing not move. I don’t want to face the old man or the rubble. I turn from my window. I am a coward.
S stands on his porch, lit by red lightbars. Firefighters break every window in that house to exhaust smoke so that they can see. Panes shatter like sugarcrystal. The family watches from our yard.
The family struggles with drug abuse, and probably has since M and I moved to the block. A young mother living there off-and-on, K, approaches us a few times for help throughout 2016, but doesn’t follow through too often or contact us, and the family becomes more secretive. K’s baby is taken into custody by DHR a few weeks before the fire, around the time the old man, S, loses his wife, around Christmas when M and I are leaving to be with family. K exchanges numbers with M for the third time, and promises this time she’ll text. M tells K there are plenty of charities that help with fire. K watches firemen bend the aluminum screen door from its hinges.
I don’t want to face this hierarchy because of the distance it defines so easily between success and failure.
I don’t naturally attribute success and failure with life and death, but the two seem to be of the same design, happen in the same breath. And I don’t want to face that. I am a coward today.
The earth seems designed for this hierarchy. The earth produces a momentum that buries failure below failure for us, raises success above success. Cities are built on cities. Bodies are buried on bodies. We only part-time resist it when life venn-diagrams us into some brash injustice, but we’re quickly back to moving ahead, above. We believe this hierarchy without having to experience it fully. We worship it and call it by different names — money, security, status, influence, desire, opinion, option, strength, weakness, failure, idiocy, flotsam, trash. This is the traditional power system to all existence, all of creation, still in place so socio-culturally as though it were natural, reality-bound, ours to accept and rarely contend. It is ours. But it claimed us foremost, before the music of the spheres even had shape or tone, before fire and pressure turned us into us. Before we were falling off the edges by what seems to be our efforts, we were it’s. And we ignore the yearning this hierarchy can make us feel when we face what it might make us forget, even accidentally — that our lives, and the lives of others, are not exempt from participation in it.
This is not about justice. I can’t spin this into some call for bravery against such hierarchy, for courage when we want to look away by taking one viewpoint over another; a stance, like any stance for or against, still participates in the whole she-bang, the big problem and big joy, simultaneously, with being alive. I can only spin this in the direction it’s been spinning, then hop on board and participate how I can: I live, among many other lives, in the reality of a world-not-ought-to-be.
And to speak to the degrees of these distances, all to which I am so very close, every day, in this ought-not-to-be skill-factory: I am here with you guys. I am with you as I am, more or less, able to be. Coward or not.