“I can’t wait to get back to normal.” Earnestly said. We’ve all said it in one way or another this last year.
Four of us stood in the pasture. A late winter breeze caused each of us to raise our coat collar. We’d gathered to talk about landscape practices, the need of land care, and our struggle to maintain sustainable space in a place surrounded by commodity-based farmers and ranchers. The cold slid our hands into coat pockets and hunched us over a bit.
As the phrase blew past us in the mask breeze of six-feet, she said, “I have little interest in getting back to normal.” With stocking caps and hoods pulled over our ears we searched the gray grass at our feet for “normal.” We all knew what he meant: maskless gatherings; holiday dinners with family; sitting beside the bed of our sick and dying; laughing in community; crying in community, and we all knew what she meant: too much had happened in the last year; not enough had happened in the last year; yesterday’s normal bounds of inequity.
My friend has roughly twenty years on me. His childhood was the era between the 1934 Indian Relocation Act and the ’56 Act. Moving from the Gila River Community to Los Angeles his mother hoped for the government promised better life. 1940’s South-central L.A., though, bears little in the realm of better life for a single Pima mother. As he readied for school life, the two of them boarded a bus and traveled 400-miles to the boarding school north of the reservation. Four hundred miles does not lend to weekend visits. The year came and went without mother and son hugging, kissing, or having supper.
Another friend, younger, Asian, and a pastor is asked to step aside by 2019 airport security. Her white collogues walk by as she is patted-down and asked questions.
A middle-age Black pastor friend is pulled over and questioned. He drives away without citation and arrives late for a congregational meeting.
Thousands of Toppenish Creek Valley cattle are weaned and transported to the sale yard’s fall auction. Leaving grass and mothers behind they are sold as feeder stock. Loaded into trailers they are hauled to feed lots across the west. They spend the remainder of their lives confined to non-grass (shit filled) holding pens. Twelve to eighteen month later their bodies are sold again to “processing” facilities where once high-tail romping on open range lives come to a sterile end.
We have been taught to live binary lives. Life is either normal or abnormal, right or wrong. Encouraged early to become normal and blind to life’s grays screens us to the liminal and constrains us from questioning if our lives are sustainable or good. Normal has been about fitting each person with the right set of blinders. Blinders which have us focused on our next restaurant, car, phone, or house. Blinders which prop up business profit and government power. Blinders to our natural gifts. Blinders which keep us from supporting wildlife, farms and ranchers, fishers and hunters, rural communities, and generational families. Blinders which have us living to buy the next 16-oz steak, eat double-decker hamburgers, live as if chickens only have breasts, and place bacon on hamburgers (and upon most any food item for that matter). Blinders which not only create commodities but have us become a commodity. And as commodities we live lives of institutional incarceration, border separation of mothers and children, human traffickers and trafficked, farmworker slavers and slaved, and unquestioning supporters. Souls are lost and lost is spirit.
Yet in the past is found the grounding of redemption. In the word of our ancestors we can relearn the soil, nurture a garden, and can her vegetables. Relearn our hands and become kneaders of bread. Relearn the fullness of community and gather for a picnic. Converse and revel in different thought, new thought, and imagination unlike our own. Pray the sacred, experience the natural, and to ground our lives in the native. In the word of the ancestors we find gratitude for the simple where normal is in the wonder of the full moon setting over a morning’s horizon, the crow of the cock, the bray of a donkey walking a shrub adorned path at sunrise, and in the child’s waking eyes.