When I’m talking with people I love and who love me, there’s usually an undercurrent–sometimes deep under, sometimes right at the conversational surface–of the question “How should we live?” We report to each other our latest thoughts on possible answers, or how things have worked out as we acted according to some hypothesis or another, or how painful/exhilarating it is that day to realize there are no goddamn answers…etc.
In weeks like this one, I observe this undercurrent differently, with a mixture of sadness, anger, and shame, and experience a swirl of declarative statements that intersect something like this: “I get to muse, ‘How should I live?’ while I walk, drive, swim, breathe, and study books that matter to me, and people of color are not safe as they live their lives in this country.” And then there are corollary propositions, in all shades of sadness, anger, and shame, but which take a common shape: that any “answer” (hubris!) must account for, include, and be based on not just my experience, or what I hear from those I love, or what I read and listen to from those our culture heralds enough to make ambient for me, but also the lives and deaths of Cynthia Hurd, Suzy Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, and (and I HATE THIS) even on who my friend Drew perfectly summed up with all the sadness, anger, and shame in my own heart as “this inbred-looking, fucking cracker loser…If this slack-jawed piece of shit is the savior of the “white race” then we deserve to be wiped off the face of the God-damn planet” Dylann Roof, because the culture that grew him up to 21 indulging his apartheid fetish and “racist jokes” that everyone thought were just, you know, good ol Southern him, that culture made me, too, and it made me a little differently than it made him, enough that I look at it with sadness, anger, and shame, and read Drew’s words and go YOU ARE GODDAMNED RIGHT, but we are all in this shitty agar, all together.
So there’s Charleston, and all that came before it and will come after, and there’s “How should I live?” and there’s no solace-y answer, and no right to solace, but what comes instead is a word I associate with one of those people I love, Romey: interdependence. She named it as one of her own deeply-held values, and it struck me and has been striking me since, because it’s somehow all at once value, fact, and aspiration, and it feels like the only possible answer, and also, totally a non-answer, to how we should live.
And as I do, I got to thinking about what it means.
Yes! but that’s not the good part…
Of course definitions 2 through a zillion are all about being contingent on, being connected to, etc, but this is the one most etymologically proximate, and it lets us visualize mutual dependance, in ways that are beautiful and heartbreaking. Suspended* in our shitty petri dish, I hang from you and you from me, and all of us from all of us, and when we hang or shoot or choke our agar-mates, the shit gets shittier all around.
“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” That was Benjamin Franklin, who did a lot of good, and owned slaves, and freed them, and denounced slavery, and refused to do so publicly at the Constitutional Convention…so, like any of us in this shitty agar, not to be received as the uncomplicated light of truth, but I’ll pretend he actually meant “all people” by “we” and I’ll have him advocate for interdependence here in 2015–value, truth, and aspiration.
Adrienne Rich wrote it better and more interdependently, as you might expect:
“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.”
*suspend (v.) c. 1300, “to bar or exclude temporarily from some function or privilege;” also “to set aside (a law, etc.), to cause to cease for a time,” from Old French sospendre“remove from office; hang up” (12c.), or directly from Latin suspendere “to hang up, kill by hanging; make uncertain, render doubtful; stay, stop, interrupt, set aside temporarily,” from assimilated form of sub “up from under” (see sub-) + pendere “cause to hang, weigh” (see pendant). In English, the literal sense of “to cause to hang by a support from above” is recorded from mid-15c. Related: Suspended; suspending.