New year, old problems

Like everyone else, I was glad to say goodbye to 2020. But 2021 begins by reminding us that there’s work to be done. Lots and lots of work. Last year laid bare so many problems. This year, we need to fix them.

In December, I was diagnosed with a particularly nasty little skin cancer. I had first noticed an odd bump on my shoulder in October, but put off dealing with it until it was painful. The dermatologist removed it twice in as many weeks–it kept growing back–until I was fast-tracked for Moh’s surgery. I needed 12 stitches to close up the wound, and I spent the holidays taking antibiotics, changing bandages, and recuperating. Even after the stitches came out, it’ll take weeks before I can relax about it not reopening, and months before my skin is near its old resiliency. I’ll have an almost 3-inch scar to remind me to be extra-vigilant about my health.

The same week my stitches came out, I watched the horrifying events unfold at the Capitol. Trying to process the crisis, I started to think about old cancers newly exposed in our country: white supremacy, systematic racism and sexism, abuse of power, inequalities in healthcare and social services. Our democracy is sick, and many of its problems have deep roots. Democracy is not a fixed entity, but a living creation that requires maintenance in order to survive. Cancers need to be excised before wounds can heal. The healing process is long and uneven, requiring constant attention and care. After diagnosing the diseases in our country, we must work to keep democracy healthy for future generations.

It’s an imperfect metaphor, but I am trying to figure out my own role in the healing process. What does it mean to be an active citizen? What can I do to be useful, given my skills and inclinations? A few months after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures nearly drowned our city, poet and professor Niyi Osundare exhorted his graduate students to “bear witness.” He said that it was our duty as poets, as writers, to speak the unspeakable in moments of crisis and aftermath. In this time of upheaval, I am not always certain about what to say. I am taking notes. Someday, I hope that I will have the words to explain our scars.