No More

No More

Every morning I wake my son and daughter up at 6:30 AM.  There are groans, grumbles, sometimes flashes of annoyance: “OKAY!!!”  “I KNOW!!” They shamble to our kitchen table and I prepare breakfast.  Fresh strawberries in yogurt; fried egg on toast; chocolate croissant.  I hound them to get ready; get their books together; brush their teeth; put on deodorant.  At 7:45 I hustle them down the stairs and out of the house.  I yell: “Have fun!!!  Have good day at school.  I love you!!!!” They mumble incoherently.

When they are gone, I worry about how they are doing in their classes.  If they are making friends.  I am concerned about how their foreignness will manifest in such a new environment — if they can maintain their individuality, their uniqueness within the rather conformist strictures of the Japanese education system.  What I don’t worry about is them coming home alive.  I do not have one iota of fear about a fellow student bringing an assault rifle or pistol or shotgun to school and trying to kill their classmates.  I wish my American friends were so lucky.

There is a deep and simmering rage in America. It has been there from the very beginning of the nation.  You can hear it in the speeches of Cotton Mather.  You could feel it the crack of a slavemaster’s whip.  It is the fuel that drove the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans; that decimated the buffalo; that created the very concept of racism. It is the rage of the black father having to teach his son how to act when getting pulled over by police.  It is the rage that crackles in the frantic energy of a  Brooklyn mom demanding that a public school classroom be peanut-free.  It is a rage that had seeped into every facet of American life — the twisted corollary of the freedom to pursue happiness is the throbbing anger that someone, anyone has achieved that happiness.  I have no idea of the root — but I imagine it as an unclean wound, ever pustulant, crimson, swollen with historical lies, greed, fear and a legacy of unchecked violence.

As much as anything, it was this rage that led me to move to Japan.  It suffocated me, like a vine wrapping its tendrils around a fence. I tasted it on the streets, saw it in the creased visages of people waiting on line at Fairway.  I sensed the propensity for violence everywhere.  It is a rage that leads to phone calls to 311 complaining about noise; it was there in the anxiety and smug entitlement that I sensed from Brooklyn parents; the incoherent anger people felt towards immigrants, people on welfare, people in public housing; it manifested in Trump’s election; it shimmered in the tension-filled atmosphere of a crowded subway car; the blinding fury I would feel when talking to Verizon on the phone; the aggressive strut of cops on the street. It was a rage that infected me. It is a rage that I believe has caused a pervasive mental health crisis that is getting worse, stripping America of its quality of life. It was a rage that I could not have my children grow up with.

And then there are guns.  The reality is that my child or your child is far more likely to die from a run-in with re-tread tire debris on a highway than they are a school shooting. But, guns are woven into the very molecules of the American psyche.  They are, for lack of a better metaphor, the physical manifestation of that simmering rage.  Whether or not they kill you, they define your reality — they are the dark outlines of the siege mentality that is becoming the American status quo.  I have no real idea of what gun control could change in the US.  I suspect we are beyond a regulatory fix.  Rage. Guns. Declining mental health. Children being raised on a diet of psycho-pharmaceuticals.  They are all branches of that pustulant root that may as well be buried under Plymouth Rock.

Though it sounds improbable, I love America.  I love the genius of the place; the multi-cultural hub-bub that defines the very best of its culture.  But, I can no longer live there.  Being in Japan has given me a chance to reflect on how damaged America has become. I don’t want my children doing “lock-down” drills in school.  I don’t want that rage to infect them, to color their dreams, to haunt their nightmares. Fear is a prison and I want my family to live free like any American.

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