Dear Ohio: Maybe It’s Time for a Little Etta James

by on September 30, 2019 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach, Politics

By Joni Halpern

Dear Ohio,

A few days ago, I was sitting at the breakfast table with my husband, each of us reading a newspaper, downing the bitter tales of our democracy with sips of sweetened coffee.  I never read the paper anymore without whispering “Oh my god,” or “Jesus Christ,” and sometimes “WTF?”

That day, I waded through the front page of grief.  First, there was the story about whole families flooded out of their homes by tropical storms, losing every material thing they possessed except the clothes on their backs.

Then there was the story of the young man killed in Iraq, the clandestine nature of his work obscured by the people who sent him there in an effort to deprive the public of information needed to understand what we are trying to accomplish in that far-off land.

I breathed a heavy sigh, and my husband looked up.  We both are of an age in which heavy sighs are red flags of worry.  One sigh too deep can mean a catastrophe.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said, and plodded on to the next article.

Fighting depression, I read that young people feel we have failed them, because climate change lies like an old army blanket over their future, draping them in the possibility that they might not colonize Mars before food runs short on earth.  The rich are already grazing on locally sourced produce and meat from livestock whose lives were happier prior to their slaughter than those of some struggling families.

But it is very likely, according to the article, that the bounty of our seas and the amount of arable land will diminish to the point where food will be insufficient to feed the billions of people on earth.  I thought to myself, young people may be known for optimism, but they aren’t stupid. They know that most of them will not be rich enough to afford estates protected by gates and guards. They recognize they might be in for the fight of their lives – just for food.

“Whew,” I commented, and my husband, who was engrossed in the opinion page, didn’t even look up.  His eyebrows were stuck together, his forehead creased, as he made his way through the opinions of columnists and commentators.

“Don’t they realize this guy is mentally ill?” he asked no one in particular.

I reached the story of the whistleblower and felt hopelessness seize my insides.  By the time TV commentators have masticated this scandal, I thought, it will seem normal for a President to coerce foreign leaders to cough up some personal advantage, a perk of a position soon to be known as Emperor.

I read on, shaking my head at the cutbacks to regulations that protect clean water and breathable air; the intimidation, or coerced resignation, of government scientists who have devoted their careers to protecting the American people; the hollowing out of the State Department and Foreign Service, and the continued fight by the Administration to detain immigrant families indefinitely in conditions not fit for rescued animals.

Head in hands, I caught the strains of soft jazz playing softly in the background.  The tendrils of Etta James’ “At Last” floated across the room, winding gently around my soul, reminding me that in this whirlwind of chaos caused by our own refusal to acknowledge the shared destiny of our nation, and of mankind, there is still the single, solid pillar of hope shoring up our lives – the feeling we have for those we love.

These are the people to whom we cling when we are about to sink in a boat full of refugees, the ones for whom we cry out when the catastrophes of climate change destroy our homes, the ones whom we must not forsake, no matter their viewpoints, as we try to find our way out of this mess.

I rose from my chair and asked my husband to dance.  There we were, consoling ourselves in each other’s arms, wrapped in the moment that Etta James gave us: “You smiled and then the spell was cast.  And here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last.”

In this crazy world, Dear Ohio, it is good to remember that no matter the political stupidity in which we engage, no matter the destruction we call upon ourselves in ignorance or obstinacy, we shall endure the results with each other.  As we go forward with this shredding of our democracy, I wish us all the touch of someone who cares.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

unwashedwallmartThong October 2, 2019 at 10:41 am

Eta James. Oooh yea, I know that song exactly. Love it. Respite from the storm. And her soothing voice. Hmmm mm mm


Joni Halpern October 2, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Thank you for your comment. I could almost hear the song coming from your words.


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