Two days after Christmas of last year, I was in Arizona visiting grandparents who could no longer make the trip to our house as they had every Christmas I could remember. I was driving south on Interstate 19 under the glow of a big desert sky filled with the kind of clouds that make you wonder how such massive bodies could float so effortlessly. A storm had just passed through leaving deep dark forms wrapped in a halo of sun that failed to penetrate their core.
I had just gotten lost trying to return a necklace my parents had given me. A gold chain meant to replace the one they gave me when I was 16. The original was lost to the sea in the uncaring recklessness of the waves, and the new one was not the same. The delicate glimmer of the first one was so perfect and refined, while this one was so clunky and forced. At that point, I was adamantly questioning my attachment to objects and whether what had happened that day on the beach was meant to be.
In my wanderings I stumbled upon an old cemetery decorated for Christmas, the faded marble contrasted with the neon red and green plastic trees placed on almost every grave. Somehow both sad and beautiful in all its temporary holiday gaudiness, a multicolor carpet of Christmas made in China covering the drought ridden yellow grass.
Considering I had found myself there due to the illnesses of my grandma and grandpa and the year that had crippled them both at once, the scene resonated with me. While we were so sobered and discouraged by their sudden decline, here was a culture that celebrated their loss in bright colors and flashy ornaments. It’s amazing sometimes how diverse the human experience can be—that kind of collision of occurrences can make you question the purpose your culture has prescribed for you.
As I drove back to their home, under that immaculate sky, pondering what it means to mourn, searching through Christian, Country and Mexican radio stations, I stumbled upon a segment on the fiscal cliff. Which, from my understanding through avoidance of mass media newsfeeds, was a growing fear that no one quite understood but took as a sign of the continued hopelessness of the American economy.
The host was more or less declaring the end of our country as we know it. “Rome didn’t fall in day,” he said, “and neither will America.” So here it was. A long slow painful decline openly and unabashedly announced on national public radio as if it were a simple and unsurprising reality. The words shook me in my perceptive state; I felt as if something I long suspected but never wanted to believe had come true. After everything that had happened that week—our humble Christmas and the reflection that comes with the changing of years—for that moment, I shared the exact feeling that all of America felt. An entire country daring to hope but knowing to fear.
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