Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Think I Can I Think I Can Can

Bob Herbert in today's New York Times addresses the brouhaha created by Obama's use of the word "bitter." Herbert says it was a surrogate for admitting that some non-middle class whites in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia can't vote for a black man. And that Obama should go back to his uplifting message of hope. Two thoughts.

Below the usual Email Print Save Share links is a link to one of my most favorite groups, Young @ Heart.
(I wanted to have the same link but don't have the clip chops to get it. Oh well.) The movie is going to be shown at the E Street Cinema in downtown DC starting this Friday, April 18! I can't wait!

Bitter is a word seldom used in our happy days lexicon. But Obama was right. Herbert may be right, but I think doesn't go to the bull's eye on this one. "Bitter" is what a lot of people are. Whether black, white or any one of our multi-hued humans running around struggling in this economy. We need to admit it, say it, speak about and to it, directly.

Bitter has the connotation of a feeling that never leaves you. That stays in your gut, despite the smiles and the jokes. That includes the obligation to hide it, lest you scare people away.

And a lot of people I know are bitter. Not my well-off friends and acquaintances, not my clients with dementia. But my clients in the middle, those whom fate has pointed a dagger at and said, "not you, you don't get to share in the benefits, in the revelry, in the unbridled joy of our times."

The bitterness of the undocumented aliens who live under the myriad swords of Damoclese that the anger of those who are bitter about a variety of things have hung over their heads. The bitterness of those on the other side, those who pound the table accusingly "they have disobeyed the law," a surrogate for "I want mine, particularly because what is (was?) mine is shrinking."

The bitterness of those who were promised much but who were shoved off the train just as it got rolling. As a white woman sitting on the Metro a few days ago, tired and on my way home, I watched a black man, standing impassively, rocking with the rhythms of the train. And I saw the dual lives black people must live: the black family world and the white world. Two universes separated and in opposition, sistered together like two joists in one soul.

How can a white person -- who has no thought about race, for whom doors close only because of bad behavior or bad luck or the luck of the draw -- understand a black person -- who lives with race every nanosecond of the day, where the color of your skin elicits some kind of reaction, however infinitessimally small and "imperceptible"? And how can a black person feel the insouciant freedom a white person feels at never having to think about race, and if he or she does, it's to say, "well, race doesn't matter. We all swim at our own strength."

I wondered how hard it would be to cross that divide and look white culture in the face and say, "hey, I'm jumping over all that, I'm going to set aside the embedded racism that leaks out of every pore of white society, and play on your team, play by your rules." And I wondered about how it would feel to be solidly within a black family, or a black church, and feel the warmth of myriad common bonds that link the pains of a people, spoken and unspoken because known in the bones, that could envelope everyone. I wondered what it would be like to live in those two worlds. "Bitter" would be only one of many words that come to mind.

Not that Obama and those he speaks of and to are bitter in the overt sense. Bitter is an underlying condition, more often hidden than shown, repressed than felt. For a lot of people. For many reasons. Felt by whites and people of color, equally, for different reasons.

Bitterness is a close cousin to anger, which is born of hurt. How one feels and handles hurt.

And not to say that bitterness is an early bus stop on the road of pain, but just go to my friend Judy's blog, Remembering Matters, to read yesterday's post. A poem about hurt, Death Poem, from Poems from Guantanamo
. Hurt beyond bitterness. Bitterness includes a component that says, "I deserved better, and I got shafted." There is an element of being wronged. Death Poem and those in the collection speak of a hurt way beyond bitterness. Beyond post traumatic stress. Victims of torture. For sure. A soul branded for life.

A meditation on pain. For today. For the other end of the pendulum swing, go to Young @ Heart, octogenarians defying both gravity and time (how do you explain that, Stephen Hawking?)

Apology to all who would read racism, bitterness, one-sidedness or other tendentious feelings on my part. Pains live in mosaics of many feelings. None are bigger or better or less painful than another. Take my post at face value. I wrote about these today because these were the ones that came to mind that I could write about.

PPS: Roger Cohen in today's Wash Post looks at the brouhaha from a different angle: Obama's mistake was to link together people "clinging" (that was the poor choice of words) to guns, religion, etc. who are bitter. Truth spoken (from my vantage), but not very political. Ed Koch always supported the end of rent control in his head but opposed any measure to eliminate it with all of his political muscle.