Waking Up with a Stranger

John Henry Fuseli The Nightmare

Immediate disclaimer:  I’ve never literally woken up with a stranger.  Not my style.

But I am pretty sure I know what it would feel like, which again goes to why I’ve never allowed it to happen.  This week I had the bizarre feeling it had happened, but not in any way I saw coming.

Perusing a social media site, I found a comment by an acquaintance about the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Her comment boiled down to, “Get a life, get a job, and stop irritating those of us who are trying to spend our hard-earned money on vacation.”  Discovering this comment was like opening a door into a lot of similar feelings expressed by people who I assume are decent human beings.  Some people who see the protesters this way are even my friends and family members.  It was like rolling over all warm and sleepy and realizing that head on the pillow was not any one I recognized.

This is bigger for me than individuals.  Everyone has a bad day, or says a dumb thing, or just needs to blow off steam sometimes.  If we all isolated ourselves from everyone who makes a frustrated comment we don’t agree with on Facebook or Twitter, we wouldn’t have much of a network.

The Stranger, it turns out, is the social mood, priorities, and values of my own country.

I have a three-year-old child, and am only just now emerging from what a friend calls, “The Baby Tunnel.”  The tunnel is  a place you enter about the time you realize you are pregnant, and you only go deeper, darker, and quieter for about 4 years after that.  Eventually, you see the light and begin to re-emerge, but the world and the people in it have changed while you were away.  I was born in 1968, and when I was in college I relentlessly quizzed my mother about Vietnam, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., and The Beatles.  “What was it like?  Did you love them?  Did you march?  Who said what?  Did you go?  Were you scared?”

For years her answer was the same:  “Sigh.  Honey, I don’t know.  You had just been born.  I wasn’t paying attention to anything else.”

How is this possible?

Well, now I know.  And a deep description of The Baby Tunnel is more the purview of a true mommy blogger, so I’ll not go there.  But it is a real place, The Tunnel, and it can distance you from important cultural shifts.

Somewhere in the past 4 years, we lost a core shared vision as a nation.  Clearly, the roots of the loss go back much further than 4 years, but my experience indicates that the cement on this really started hardening between 2007-2011.

There seems to be an honest-to-God belief system that having a job is a reflection of a moral or ethical state.  Being employed is now a character trait.  But it’s weirder than that, it’s not enough to be employed.  It’s not even enough to have more than one job.  If that job or jobs does not pay enough to feed your family, then YOU are a failure.  YOU are at fault.  And if you feel differently, then YOU do not have the right to express those thoughts and beliefs because, well, YOU are the problem.  The problem is not allowed to speak.

Get a life, get a job, get out of my way.

No one wants to be on the outside.  It’s cold out there, and the kids are hungry.  It is not a complicated mystery that more and more people are growing anxious about how close they are to the edge.

But what is mysterious to me is the glaring refusal to acknowledge that the crumbling social architecture is not the fault of those most at-risk.  The closest thing I can piece together as logic is that if you are a guilty party — if you are part of the industry or power structure that has benefited from that which has hurt so many — you are pretty anxious yourself.  I keep seeing the prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption when he reads his own cross-stitched wall hanging:  “His judgement cometh, and that right soon.”

Those on the edge want an assured place inside.  If you want to be inside, you listen to those who already are.  They are the ones who, allegedly, allow you to stay safe.  If you are guilty, you want as many on your side as you can get.  You tell those who are trying to stay inside that those outside are wrong, evil, The Problem.  Don’t listen to those people, they just want to drag you down.  We want to keep you safe.  THEY are why everything is a mess.

I don’t feel good about waking up with whoever this is.  He needs to get his pants on and get the hell out of my house.  No pancakes, no coffee, no early movie.  Get gone.

Now, those faces in Occupy, for better or worse, they are familiar.  You folks, come on in.  I’ve got a pull out couch.