The Things That I Didn’t Know

“we felt the lonely beauty of the evening, the immense roaring silence of the wind, the tenuousness of our tie to all below. there was a hint of fear, not for our lives, not of a vast unknown which pressed in upon us. a fleeting feeling of disappointment- that after all those dreams and questions this was only a mountain top- gave way to suspicion that maybe there was something more, something beyond the three dimensional form of the moment. if only it could be perceived.”
― Thomas F. Hornbein

On Valentines Day weekend, the sky fell.

I grew up on an island in Maine, and am somewhat used to very intense winter storms that cut the power for days and dump huge amounts of snow. I am not used to seeing this happen in Texas, though, and never really extrapolated out the potential impacts of a huge winter storm on the houses, people, and infrastructure of a state that isn’t prepared for a storm like this in any way. In Maine, everyone has auxiliary heat, usually in the form of a woodstove, pellet stove or Rinnai heater.

I went to HEB on Friday and purchased all the food and drink I thought we would need til the next Thursday, just in case something strange happened. I knew there was a possibility that almost nothing happened: it is quite common to have snow predicted and then either none or a very negligible amount falls, Texans flip out, and it melts by 1pm.

On Friday, I texted with friends and made dinner and waited for the storm to begin to roll in. It began to get colder and colder, and then on Sunday night I watched snow blow all over my property, blowing sideways and swirling all around the house, the windows, and settling into crevices. On Monday, we woke up to a landscape covered with white snow and blue shadows, grey skies and freezing cold temperatures.

Little did we know what was about to happen to our friends and neighbors, locally and statewide. By the end of the day, about half the people we knew had no power, and almost all of us had limited or no water. By the next day, we had no water at all, and remained that way for almost four days.

Here I sit, two weeks later, on a day that is 73 and sunny. I spent part of last week listening to people testify at the State House in Austin and blame each other for all the problems that caused the ice storm. I heard very few solutions, but many people quit, and windmills were made some sort of strange fall-guy, although that was attempted and then laughed out of the room. Everyone knows that Texas runs on oil and gas. It turns out that the fault lies in the natural gas sector, a not-well-known and not-well-regulated section of the Texas economy: the 9th largest in the world.

In other words, the sky fell and no one seems to be willing to set it to rights. In fact, earlier this week, the governor sought to “set Texas free” and remove his own mask mandate and declare that every business in Texas can reopen with full capacity, at the owners’ discretion.

Meanwhile, COVID continues to wend and weave its way through our lives, having claimed 44,656 lives as of this writing, or about 8.6% of the total deaths in the United States. One state, one of 50, representing almost 10% of total deaths.

Texas state government, if we can even really call it that anymore, is problematic at best. Seemingly cut off from the human aspects of governance, Governor Abbott et al demonstrate consistently a lack of care or thoughtfulness to the people of the state. Rather, they demonstrate consistently an intense focus on the liberty and the movement of almighty dollars into the state. I could even say that a laser focus on maximizing profit while minimizing regulation and taxation could be their re-election tagline.

I consider myself a thoughtful person who practices mindfulness meditation several times each day and reminds myself of the truth of the impermanence of our lives. I am at peace with my own mortality, and have been since my near-death illness that occurred when I was 18 years old. I understand that the only constant is change, and that, in truth, nothing is guaranteed in our lives except a very few things, none of which are very exciting.

But.

Despite my mindfulness practice, my understanding of impermanence and my attempts at maintaining equanimity, I held some assumptions that I really thought were truths, until the sky fell two weeks ago. These truths hinge on assumptions about the strength of our infrastructure, the ability of leaders to lead and communicate clearly to their constituents, that people understand the rhythms of the environment around them and can wisely respond to them, and that those same leaders care enough about those who cannot do those things to tell them what to do, or at least that they care about their suffering.

Texas is an odd place, made odder still by current social trends away from government as governance toward government as a space for well-greased palms between officials and corporations. Texas’ economy is booming, but it almost always is, and it almost always ignores the needs of the people whose work drive the strength of its economy. As a model for the rest of the country or the world, I would hope its problems are obvious. Remembering the robber barons of the late 19th century is easy when you realize that the folks most responsible for the ice storm debacle of 2021, the natural gas industry, has been mute and hardly touched by people who would call themselves legislators.

Texas is a beautiful place, and I love its heart and soul. As I walk around my property, I see bluebonnets and Texas Maximilian sunflowers and I see the fierce sun that soon will become so powerful as to feel overwhelming at different parts of the day.

I still don’t know what I don’t know, and I am still shocked at the fact that we will, again, ignore the chinks in the armor of our state, at the request of the corporations who run it. I will hope, however, that we find ways to know more about how to help one another, and build our communities one neighborhood at a time. After all, while the state government was fighting and blaming as many people as they could, communities pulled together and filled in the spaces that should be filled by government. Late-stage capitalism is a wild ride, isn’t it?

The Road Back

The car is heavy with children
tugged back from summer,
swept out of their laughing beach,
swept out while a persistent rumour
tells them nothing ends.
Today we fret and pull
on wheels, ignore our regular loss
of time, count cows and others
while the sun moves over
like an old albatross
we must not count nor kill.
There is no word for time.
Today we will
not think to number another summer
or watch its white bird into the ground
Today, all cars,
all fathers, all mothers, all
children and lovers will
have to forget
about that thing in the sky,
going around
like a persistent rumour
that will get us yet.
― Anne Sexton

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