It's Saturday night in Honolulu. Could be any late summer Saturday night in Honolulu. It's not. It's the anniversary of September 11th and we're on the verge of a terrible national election. The outcome of this election will demonstrate how culpable voters are--and many people won't vote because it doesn't make sense to vote because it appears that votes don't count due to ballot box treachery or because there's a lack of relevant candidates. I've been following the presidential race like everyone else. Or actually, squinting my eyes, heart and soul because I just don't want to see it anymore. It's a technique I developed in childhood when my father would hit the low end after the high when partying with his buddies, when he'd strike out against the membrane of the world that hurt him and hurt those who loved him. I knew his pain, could see it flare around him, strike the aurora of sadness and blow. I'd pretend it wasn't happening, distance myself to some far planet or star until it broke and rippled into nothingness. And then it would be okay again. It's an old habit I've tried to break because what is is what is and you might as well keep absolutely focused so you don't miss anything at all. I'll never forget the scene in Sharon Doubiago's memoir of growing up in Southern California when a semi tractor trailer loses control and heads straight toward the car she's in. Everyone else screams and hides. She keeps her eyes wide open because she wants to see, to know this thing.
Tonight my friend and her 83-year-old mother are finishing our meal at Willow Restaurant. We're next to the water, under a coconut palm and several flowering trees. The mother is beset by ghosts of old friends and times she's had in that place. Everything's changed, but not really. Plumeria sweetness lifts and falls with light trades. We go back to the buffet line for more curry, coconut cake, and ice cream. She informs us she's voted. I don't say anything because I don't want to argue with her about politics. There can be no true communication here. She like many others are voting for an idea of a place they once knew, once dreamed about--many are intellectually developed people, yet they are going to vote for a man who confuses "feces" with "fetus", who's led us into the worst financial, educational, spiritual deficit in this country, who's made enemies of our world allies, and involved us in wars that will benefit his family and friends. And threatens us with more violence if we don't vote for them. They are running a campaign of fear. Reminds me of the time I was sitting in church as a child, realizing that I had never heard about the devil until I was in the so-called house of God, and the devil appeared in every other sentence. Fear tactics.
It really comes down to common sense. Common sense will tell you the truth. Is this someone you can trust? Who will take care of the people, be a steward of all our gifts? Have we forgotten the qualities of true leaders? I always think of Crazy Horse. He was humble. He didn't make false promises. He took care of his people and would look after their needs, take care of the elderly, the kids, make sure everyone had enough to eat, fought and played hard. He cultivated a far-seeing-ness by looking closely, a near-seeing-ness. He didn't talk much and when he did speak every word meant something. Sometimes I think of our spoken or written words like children. We give them breath as they leave us. They have a similar potential as children. Which reminds me, I keep thinking of the children's tale of "The Emperor Who Had No Clothes" and this leadership crisis we're in as a country seems like a clear case of some thieves trying to pull one over on the public. What happened to picking leaders based on leadership ability? Is that even possible in this system?
So tonight in a punch of panic it finally hit me, and I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the insanity at work here. A light rain feeds the flowers and trees as we walk to the car past a beautiful young man smoking a cigarette while he waits and I am smitten by grief. Then grief followed by anger. Maybe this is what my father went through, an Indian man in Oklahoma who'd lost a country to Andrew Jackson, and then the replacement country to oil and oil money people. What parallels. So what do I do now, now that I see it in all it's outrageous detail?
c Joy Harjo September 11-2004 Honolulu