This May I went home to see my younger sister graduate from high school. Throughout the weekend I listened to her teachers and the president of her school’s board tell her that, as she went off to college and into the adult world, the most important thing she could do was make up a plan for her life and stick to it.
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“Leges sine moribus vanae.”
This week, families, friends and community members prepare to lay the bodies of nine innocent men and women to rest in Charleston, South Carolina. They forgive the man who murdered them. They remember, publicly and privately, the lives of those who were lost.
Fifty years ago, after a long and sometimes bloody struggle waged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights activists around the country, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. Put simply, this act prohibited racial discrimination in voting on both a state and federal level. By passing new regulations on election administration and specifically banning measures such as literacy tests that were used for decades to keep minority populations from registering and casting ballots, the act allowed for the mass enfranchisement of an embattled black population in the American South. It has, as the Department of Justice notes, “been called the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.”
I remember California rain. When I was little, it rained often in the winter, and fairly regularly in the fall too: Lazy early morning showers that darkened the pavement; steady afternoon downpours that coaxed the ocean into a broil; sudden, desperate late night thunderstorms that woke me from deep sleeps and illuminated my bedroom in bright flashes of lightning.
A little less than five years ago, my dad saved my life by paying out of pocket for a CT scan. While on a family trip to Canada earlier in the summer, I contracted a cold which evolved into a sinus infection which in turn developed complications, spreading outward from my sinuses to my optic nerve and toward my brain. A persistent, weeks-long headache finally sent me home from my second day of high school at the end of August and led my parents to take me to see the doctor, but she was unable tell us what was wrong. Finally, during my third visit in less than a week, she told my dad she’d like to try a CT scan. The problem was that our family’s insurance policy wouldn’t cover it; my symptoms at the time failed to justify the procedure in the eyes of our provider. By then I was sick enough — and my dad desperate enough — that he told her he’d pay.
Six years ago, I sat in a crowded theater and watched Will Smith wander through a blighted Manhattan with only a German Shepherd for company. He spends most of “I Am Legend” in this isolation; since a mutant strain of the measles virus spread across the globe three years earlier, he has watched everyone around him become infected and die, leaving him to believe he’s the only healthy person left on Earth. Now he passes time fending off measles-stricken wild dogs and attempting to develop a treatment for the virus from his own blood.
My friend once joked that America’s chief export was democracy -- that it was something we cultivated in such abundance, we had an excess to cart overseas and bestow upon the oppressed masses we found there. It was meant as a cynical commentary on our foreign policy and the way we viewed ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. But, looking back on it now, I think that commentary extends into the realm of domestic affairs as well.
It sounds like the plot of a made-for-television science fiction movie, or maybe an episode of “South Park”: As the global population continues to grow exponentially, so does the demand for meat. Cows proliferate, taking over virgin forestland worldwide and passing enough methane gas to eat through the atmosphere and bring about an environmental crisis. It sounds, in a word, ludicrous. It’s also not far from the truth.
T here’s a joke that goes like this: A man walks into a bar in Georgia. Mistaking a man at the counter for the bartender, he asks him repeatedly for a shot. The man he’s asking finally turns to him and asks, “You sure you want it, man?” And the first man says, “Yeah, and make it a double.”