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What We Sought in the Wilderness

The Heavens have innumerable plans for us, but after we are born there is just a single one. ~ from Seiobo There Below by Lázló Krasznahorkai

Be sure to find me, I want you to find me, and we’ll play all over, we’ll play all over, we’ll play all over again. ~ from Georgia Lee by Tom Waits.

1. Ryker

I was going to write about the death of Ryker and the trial (now mistrial) of his parents, when I learned that one of the jurors – a woman – had suicided.  It’s that time of year.  And she had spent the last few weeks being exposed to pictures of an 18-month old (some reports say 20-month old) baby boy who died because he was burned – scalding with instant coffee is the probable cause – and the jury was shown images of these burns, clustered as they were, on Ryker’s lower back, side (sometimes “torso” is used), buttocks, genitals, and thighs (almost all the way to his knees).  It is the very incarnation of David Foster Wallace’s “Incarnations of Burned Children.”  Only here the child is real, the child was alive, and now he is not.  They say he was left in his crib for three days before he died.  He was never taken to receive medical care.  In the local news, the burns that killed him are described as “red, blistering burns.”  They are also often described as “angry” as in “red, angry burns” or “red, angry injuries.”  The pain they caused was probably excruciating.  A mistrial resulted because the mother was declared unfit to participate due to a recent surgery for appendicitis as well as some other complications.  I spent half the day explaining to people that, no, this doesn’t mean the charges have been withdrawn, and, no, this doesn’t mean she has escaped whatever our justice system might have in store for her, it just means that everything is delayed and will have to start all over again next summer.

It’s no small thing to ask if a mother is responsible for the death of her baby boy.  The journalists say that she is always shaking and sobbing and, generally, being a miserable, inconsolable mess.  Words like “defiant” are used to describe the father because he doesn’t cry and didn’t cry, not even when the pictures of Ryker’s burns were shown again and again to the jury during the trial (now mistrial), after which one of the juror’s suicided.  It’s no small thing to take one’s own life.  Although, perhaps, it may feel like no( )thing at all.

Methamphetamine was found in Ryker’s urine.  The journalists describe this as a “shocker.”  The primary picture of his parents, Amanda and Scott, used repeatedly in multiple articles, isn’t very flattering.  We are told that they lived in “squalor.”  The mother, Amanda, looks like a rebellious teenager (but we’re told she is thirty years old).  The father, Scott, has a shit-eating-grin on his face (he’s twenty-eight).  The background is a mess.  There a garbage bag on the bed behind them.  I don’t think the picture is intended to provoke sympathy.  I doubt Amanda and Scott were consulted and decided, “yes, that’s the picture we want representing us to the world.”  What I think it’s supposed to show us is that the kind of people who burn and neglect their children (the official charges are “criminal negligence causing death” and “failing to provide the necessaries of life”) are different than us.  I’m not so sure though.  I think Will Sheff was onto something when he sang about the frozen yogurt shop murders that happened in Austin in 1991:

Now, with all these cameras focused on my face
You’d think they could see it through my skin
They’re looking for evil, thinking they can trace it, but
Evil don’t look like any( )thing.

I guess that’s the thing about life: it isn’t so much what we make of it as what others make of us.  Or what we make of them.  I reckon the same thing applies to death as well.

2. My Dream

תֵּבָה noun feminine “ark” (properly chest, box (compare Late Hebrew תֵּבָה); probably Egyptian loan-word from T-b-tchest, coffin.

Last night I dreamed the world an Ark.  The continents were floating through the oceans, the oceans that were rising, the climate doing what it’s doing, storms and droughts and floods and the oceans growing but dying, dying, dying, and the glaciers also dying, dying, dying, and this time it wasn’t so much a flood as everyone dying of thirst.  The continents floated through all of this, even as their surfaces became increasingly bare and the plants disappeared and the deserts grew and the sandstorms grew (to biblical proportions!), and the people scurried hither and thither like ants across the surfaces, but the surfaces did not open, the ark was closed, the people could not get in, and the continents floated through the oceans and the oceans were rising, but they were dying, and the ark was closed.

But inside of the continents, there was life.  There were living beings – Mannegishi, Bagwajiwinini, and Apa’iins.  Huldufólk and Domoviye. Naiads and Fairies.  I don’t know if any people were there as well, or if the plants and animals had been brought into the continents with them.  What I knew was the flood of oceans rising, of water sources going dry, and of the earth cracking but never deep enough to let us in.

It is no small thing to kill a world.  Although, perhaps, for all of us consumers, it felt like no( )thing at all.

Because, I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m not sure I can discern the lines that separates the us from the them of folks like Amanda and Scott.

3. Identity Physics

[I]nstead of thinking about a particle being in one state or changing between a variety of states, particles are thought of as existing across all the possible states at the same time.  It’s a bit like lots of waves overlapping each other.  This situation is known as a superposition of states.  If you’re thinking in terms of particles, it means a particle can be in two places at once. ~

But also this:

Part of the problem of observing and measuring superpositions is known as decoherence.  Any attempt to measure or obtain knowledge of quantum superpositions by the outside world (or indeed any kind of interaction with their environment, even with just a single photon) causes them to decohere, effectively destroying the superposition and reducing it to a single location or state, and also destroying the ability of its individual states to interfere with each other.  Decoherence, then, results in the collapse of the quantum wave function and the settling of a particle into its observed state under classical physics, its transition from quantum to classical behaviour. ~

In other words, a subatomic particle exists in multiple places at the same and also possesses multiple and contradictory values (for example, “hard” and “soft”) at the same time.  However, as soon as we go looking for that subatomic particle, and as soon as we find it and grab it and record it and say, “aha, there you are!” that subatomic particle ceases to exist anywhere but where we found it, and it ceases to be anything but what we found it as (it will be “hard” or “soft,” not “hard” and “soft”).  At least in the universe in which we are exist as we do in this one, this is what will happen (other universes are possible and maybe in those universes the particle is found somewhere else with some other values – and given that there are many, many other places that the particle could be found and many, many other value combinations it might possess, there could also be many, many other universes).

But, and this is the point, our identities are constructed in the same way as subatomic particles are located and then described as possessing this or that value.  We are, each one of us, multitudes and we are all, as Nietszche foretold, beyond value, beyond good and evil.  Who I become, where I end up, what I am, is all contingent upon where I am found and that for which those who find me are looking.  Of course, I go seeking myself as well but the I who goes seeking me is only one of that multitude.  And that I is often very influenced by what others tell me they have sought and found.  And that is what we become.  From the heavenly pleroma, emerges a single plan, a single life, a single person, a single Dan or Amanda or Scott or Ryker.

And that, my friends, is why it is no small thing to seek and find an( )other person.  Because we will never know Amanda, Scott, or Ryker, as anyone other than what we have already found them to be.  Amanda, shaking with sobs, Scott, defiant, both of them, living in squalor as semi-rebellious child-adults.  Presumably using meth.  Presumably negligent.  Presumably evil, evil, evil.

Ryker: baby, scalded, dead.

We have sought and we have found.  Not just sobbing but evil Amanda, defiant and totally, like really, really evil Scott, and tortured and dead baby Ryker, but also us – righteously enraged, not like them, responsible, lovers of children, people who would never post such a sloppy picture of our private lives on social media as one showing a disheveled room with a garbage bag on the bed.  We are such sensitive, self-conscious, tenderhearted and responsible world-consumers.

Yes, it is, indeed, no small thing to seek and find an( )other person.  Had I known the weight of responsibility such an act carries with it, I would have never gone alooking.  What did St. Vincent de Paul say?  Sister, we must love these people very much so that they will forgive us for finding them.

4. Longing to be Found

And yet… do we not long to be found?  Isn’t that part of what makes Tom Waits’ song about Georgia Lee Moses so poignant?  Can’t we all identify with the child who plays hide and seek and who loves to hide but loves even more to be found?  Yes, I suspect there was a time when all of us longed to be found.  I see it in my own children – the way they laugh and cackle and throw their arms around me when I finally find them and am shocked to discover that they are, yet again, in the very last possible place I could look.  We have all known the longing to be found — but to be found in a certain way.

Because when they found Georgia she was naked and dead and twelve years old in a grove of trees near the  southbound on-ramp of Highway 101 by Petaluma, California.  The body was badly decomposed and police initially thought she was an adult.  The journalists say Georgie was “growing up fast – maybe too fast” – that’s from the very first line of the only news article I saw on the subject – and they blame Georgia’s mother (her “ill mother” who was “unemployed” and who was “not capable of parenting”) – and it’s repeated that Georgia “looked older than her years,” and was last seen with a 25-30 year old black man and it seems to suggest that nobody who saw this thought it was particularly noteworthy.  And so when we read a social worker telling us that “Georgia is one of those cases that falls through the cracks,” and when we see the journalist emphasize that nobody called the police to report Georgia missing, we’re not surprised to learn that the case was never solved.  It’s not that the police don’t care about the lives of black girls who come from low income neighbourhoods, it’s not that black folks from low to no income neighbourhoods don’t have good reasons to fear the police (the police, after all, have been doing a pretty decent job of disappearing or abusing young kids, especially if they’re from a racialized population and experiencing poverty and, yeah, we all remember Tamir Rice but the young girls I knew on the street in Toronto were just as likely to be raped by a cop as a drug dealer, and the young men were just as likely to be beaten by cops as they were by members of other gangs), but, rather, what the article makes clear is that these people are really beyond helping.  They mature faster than the rest of us.  They die more violently than the rest of us.  They live like animals.  And that’s how Georgia, unlike the person or people who killed her, was found.  I don’t think it was how she wanted to be found and I think Tom Waits is right in how he reads her story and in the voice that he gives to her.  I suspect she wanted, just like Charlie, just like Ruby, just like me, just like you, to be found like I find my children – pretending not to be seen, suddenly being discovered, squealing, and laughing, and being lifted up in the air, embraced in love by a strength that was not made for hurting.

What does Donnie say in Magnolia?  “As the good book says, “we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.” And… no, it is not dangerous to confuse children with angels.”  But, you know, the flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.  The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.  The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.  And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.

It is no small thing to want to be found and love, too, is no small thing.  And I guess what I’m saying is that I want to be loved and I want to love.  I want love to find me and you and all of us and even those whom it never found, those for whom it is much too late, Ryker abandoned and burned in his crib, and Tamir shot and bleeding out in a park, and Georgia decomposing beside the highway, and all those kids I’ve known and adults, too, and Amanda and Scott, and the juror who suicided, and the police and judges and social workers, and maybe me and you and all of us, I don’t know, I really don’t know, and maybe it really is too late for the living as well as the dead but, I want love to find them, too.

5. Coda

We are the seekers and finders.  We are the sought and the found.  It comes down to how we search and how we are discovered.

Sing a good song when I’m gone
We ain’t got long to stay
~ Nikki Giovanni

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