A Self and Nation Divided
by Mary Sojourner
“Hatred keeps on increasing to a point where both you and I burn ourselves in mutual hatred, and to the Buddha the only way to solve it is that one party must stop…” — Ananda W. P. Guruge, in Awakenings: Asian Wisdom for Every Day (eds. D. and O. Folimi)
In April 2001, I was on a solo road trip researching Nevada light, sage basins, indigo mountains, and small town casinos for my novel Going Through Ghosts. I had stopped in a convenience store for coffee and yakked with the young clerk. She had told me there was a warm spring in a nearby cottonwood grove. “Don’t tell anybody where it is,” she said. “It’s for locals only. We take care of it.”
Nine years later to the month, I slid back into that silken water. Soft desert sunlight gleamed on the cottonwoods’ new leaves. I listened to the whisper of the old trees and the silvery rill of water trickling into a series of pools below me. The locals had continued to take care of the place. They’d reinforced the crumbling cinderblock walls around the spring. They had set up a bright red battered barbecue grill beneath the biggest cottonwood and a sign that read: Please clean up after yourself. Thank you.
I closed my eyes. I was a two day drive from my old home and less than two days from the not-home to which I had fled. My time in the old home had become a patchwork of finding myself in places and with people that had once been home — and aching with the knowledge that the place was no longer home. I had uprooted myself to a new town that seemed an affluent caricature of the Western Good Life.
Home. Not home. Home. Not home. “Perhaps there is home,” my friend CG had said, “and then there is Home.” I thought of his words as water, sun, and the huge old trees held me. I realized that on this eight-day journey I had come Home to myself.
I was close to being who I’d been in April of 2001 — a woman who had believed she was a local wherever she was. But in April 2010, I wasn’t a local everywhere. The drive from Flagstaff had taken me through little western towns. That morning I’d eaten eggs and fried potatoes served by a warm-eyed woman in a mom-‘n-pop cafe. The wall behind her had been plastered with bumper stickers attacking Socialists, Healthcareists, both Clintons, both Obamas, Harry Reid, Mexicans, and god-damned global warming nuts. The woman told me about surviving eight months of chemo and how laughter had been her best medicine. I told her of a friend who’d survived the same illness, whose friendship with a wounded eagle had sustained him through chemotherapy. I promised to send her a book. As she hugged me good-bye, I saw over her shoulder a bumper sticker that said: You f—in liberals can’t have my country — or my gun. When I unlocked the trunk of my car to put my pack away, I saw the old sticker I’d put there in 2006: My cats hate Bush.
In Flagstaff and Las Vegas, friends and I had talked about our deep apprehension for America. We were stunned to find that more than anything we might fear from the corporate takeover of our country, it was the lockstep thinking of a growing number of our neighbors that chilled our blood. “It’s strange to me,” Kathleen said, “how seemingly kind and decent people can spew so much hate.”
“They probably wonder the same thing about us,” I’d said (in a rare moment of clarity from a woman who often longs for the guillotine and knows better than to ever own a gun.)
I sank deeper into the warm spring. I thought about my own fury with the rich and fatuous, the rage I feel hearing yet another story about the greed of people who believe they are always entitled to more. Then, there in the heart of an uncomplicated beauty, I remembered another part of who I’d been in 2001. I’d been well on my way into the heart of a profoundly complicated malaise. My research trip had included hours of cheerful and oblivious slot machine gambling. I hadn’t known that in a few years I would begin to find my home only in a casino and only when I was chasing More. I’d had no idea I would become a woman divided — a woman in exile from herself.
I let my thoughts fade away. For a precious time, there was only my body held by the silken water; the miracle of breath moving easily in and out; and the cry of a hawk diving for a kill. I thanked the water and green cottonwood light and climbed out of the pool. I dressed, picked up a couple of beer cans in the parking lot, climbed into the car, and headed home…
Now, mid-January 2012, I am back Home — in the sweet familiar heart of a brutally divided country, a country that feels like exile. 99%. 1%. Left. Right. Religious Zealots. Those of us who know we don’t know. Perhaps all of us addicts, hooked on something: business, gadgets, internet, constant contact that is really disconnection. In the late Eighties, Anne Wilson Schaef wrote a book that illuminated America’s shift into a consumer culture. When Society Becomes An Addict is more than an analysis of our country at that time. It is an oracle, a prediction of a nation divided as thoroughly as any addict from herself.
Mary Sojourner is the author of the novel Going Through Ghosts (University of Nevada Press, 2010) and the memoir She Bets Her Life (Seal Press, 2009), among her many books. She is a National Public Radio commentator and the author of numerous essays, columns, and op-eds for dozens of publications. Sojourner is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision, where her columns appear on the third Friday of every month.