Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I am him.

There's a memory that's been scrolling through my mind recently.

Not a story, exactly -- more an image, or a series of images, a few moments caught in time that reveal something about me, and this country that we live in, and how we all might be doing our best but sometimes our best still hurts.

I'm in a CVS, in Silver Spring. There's a long line at the pharmacy. Everybody's frustrated. Nobody loves picking up their meds from the CVS pharmacy.

There's a man ahead of me. He's white, middle aged. Something has gone wrong with his prescription. It got filled at the wrong pharmacy, or he had the address wrong, or something. He is upset. Red in the face. Yelling at the people behind the counter, things like, "My time is valuable!" and "I demand an answer!" and "You're liars!"

The people behind the counter avoid eye contact with him and with the rest of us. They are all young. None of them are white. They don't have an answer for this man. His complaint is not going to get resolved. Somebody made a mistake -- maybe it was him. Maybe it was them. Maybe it was a faceless company that nobody there had any say in. Doesn't matter. A mistake was made. This man is frustrated. There is little or nothing the people behind the counter can do.

I hold this memory, this short film, up in front of my face. Turn it. Look at it from different angles.

From one, a snapshot of privilege. A white man, probably relatively affluent, yelling at people of color behind a counter. They, in a service industry, forced to take the stream of verbal abuse. The rest of us, forced to wait while this plays out. Power, unveiled, unhinged.

From another angle, I recognize that man. I see my face -- red, angry, yelling at people who I know, rationally, are not to blame for the faceless juggernaut of the U.S. health care system; and yet who, in the emotional distortion of my frustration and illness, are standing in for a system that is unjust, that is unfair, that does not care about my time, or about my health, or about me. Suddenly slammed up against a wall of powerlessness, of hopelessness.

I am him. He is me.

The ineffectual rage, the inability or unwillingness to lose the fight, the situation that could be calmed with just a few deep breaths but instead it's getting harder and harder to breathe. I am on the phone with the insurance company, on hold for 45 minutes, again. Or with the hospital, trying to figure out why they keep telling me I haven't paid bills I've paid already. Red in the face. Angry. Yelling at people whose fault this is not. But when will I ever get to speak to the people whose fault it may very well be?

I've been thinking about that man a lot recently. About how I am him, and he is me.

Ecce homo. I behold the man.

As I read, reluctantly, another article about the current political situation, or watch a snippet of horrifying words or violence at a rally, I think about his face.

I see my face.

I remember that it starts with me, because it has to, because that is the only place I can begin.

I remember -- I hope I remember -- to breathe.


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