Hmmm, we got issues
November 6th, 2020
(published in The Daily Memphian)
(In a colorful place, a new collection of columns from Dan Conaway and Otis Sanford, signed books coming to Novel and Burke’s Book Store soon. Inquiries, danconaway [at] bellsouth [dot] net. Now available at Amazon.com)
Four years ago, just a couple of days after the 2016 election, I went to physical therapy for the first time. I wrote a column about that session using it as a metaphor for the pain I was in, for the pain the nation was in, and for the pain we were going to face before we got better.
I had no concept of the depth and breadth of that pain. Four years later, just a couple of days after the 2020 election, I fear the pain is far from over.
Javier repeated, “I said, bend over as far as you can.” I replied, “I already have – this is it.”
“Hmmm,” he murmured. He would do that a lot in our first session together. Javier was a physical therapist and his task was to give me my left hip back. And stop the pain in my left leg. And left foot. And right leg sometimes. Shoulder wasn’t great either. And something weird was going on in one elbow.
I’m on the table, knees up, and Javier grabs my left knee and pushes it down. “Tell me when you feel this,” he said. I told him I not only already felt it, but that I was going to need a bullet to bite before he did it again.
“Hmmm,” Javier said, and then took my arm to “extend it a little,” a little means taking it out of the socket and walking across the room with it – I really couldn’t see how far due to the tears in my eyes.
Then he told me to roll over and he began to probe the muscles and tendons in the back of my legs. He had to have found what he was looking for, because he kneaded every inch like biscuit dough.
As I struggled to remain conscious, I heard him say, “Hmmm, hamstring issues.”
I got lots of issues. I’m an old white male and like the proverbial old gray mare, I ain’t what I used to be. We’ve been told we have to bend, and we don’t want to bend. We like our position. We’ve been asked to be more flexible, and we’d rather just stand still, or go back to somewhere that didn’t hurt as much.
The fact that we aren’t in shape anymore to shape the world has made us mad, and Trump played to that anger to get elected in 2016 and every day since, and he’s left us in worse shape than we were before, and in raging denial.
He told us that we had some place in the past to go where everybody knew their place, a place less painful than dealing with the realities of a rapidly changing society, less hurtful than loss of relevance, less scary than the rest of the real journey in front of us.
He lied to us. Serially. Daily. He turned us defensive of the indefensible. He made us co-conspirators in insane conspiracies. In four years, he lost us friends we’ve had for a lifetime.
He had us ignore science in his name, reshape justice in his image, and ignore a pandemic to die on his watch.
And early last Wednesday morning, he did something truly frightening – something else – that no American president has ever done. He declared himself the winner of an election before the vote counting was over, and he commanded all the vote counting to end – except, of course, in the states where he was behind. They could keep counting. Further, he declared any result other than his victory to be fraud. Further still, he called on the Supreme Court to back him up.
While he loudly threatened the validity of our national election, the validity of our democracy itself, Republican leadership remained silent.
There have been banana republics more subtly led, and tyrants everywhere have a new hero.
On both our right and left sides, and at our very core as a nation, the pain has become almost unbearable.
When I finished that first session, Javier handed me some illustrations that looked like a combination of Cirque du Soleil and a pretzel ad and told me these were the exercises I needed to do several times day. When I asked how long, “Hmmm,” he said, “a while.”
Four years later, the metaphor holds up. I’m far from healed, and the maladies I’m addressing now in the gym have all arrived and thrived in the last four years. Healing is hard work, and the next few months will be a real test if the patient – if this country – is to survive in any form we recognize. And there will be scars.
I’m reminded once again of what I heard a woman in her 80’s say in an interview about her trials and tribulations:
“They say these things make you stronger. Well, honey, if that’s the case, I should be able to bench press a Buick.”
I’m a Memphian, and we’re going to have to come together or we’re going to come apart.
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