Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Michelle's Inferno

The first circle of Hell: suffocating fear
"People are afraid. It’s like fear creates this veil of impossibility, and it is hanging over all of our heads."

The second circle of Hell: fear plus isolation
"And the problem with fear is that it cuts us off. Fear is the worst enemy. It cuts us off from one another and our own families, and our communities, and it has certainly cut us off from the rest of the world. We don't know our neighbors. We don't talk. We believe that our pain is our own - we don't realize that the struggles and challenges of all of us are the same. We are too isolated."

The third circle of Hell: spiraling downward
"When you don’t have much, when you know how precious life is, even in the worst state, you are afraid to give up what you have for fear that something different will be worse. But the truth of the matter is things have gotten worse."

The fourth circle of Hell: fruitless struggle
"And folks are struggling like never before, working harder than ever, believing that their hard work will lead to some reward, some payoff. But what they find is that they get there and the bar has changed, things are different, wasn’t enough. So you have to work even harder."

The fifth circle of Hell: yet more fruitless struggle
"You work and you struggle, you do everything that they say, and you think you’re getting close to the bar and you’re working hard, and you’re sacrificing, and then you get to the bar, you’re right there, you’re reaching out for the bar, you think you have it, and then what happens? They move the bar. They raise it up. They shift it to the left and to the right. It’s always just quite out of reach."

The sixth circle of Hell: loneliness
"You don’t have time to get to know your neighbor. You don’t have time to reach out and have conversations, to share stories. In fact, you feel very alone in your struggle, because you feel that somehow, it must be your fault that you’re struggling so hard. Everybody else must be doing okay. I must be doing something wrong, so you hide."

The seventh circle of Hell: no handle on life
"When your world’s not right, no matter how hard you work, then you become afraid of everyone and everything, because you don’t know whose fault it is, why you can’t get a handle on life."

The eighth circle of Hell: no chance for enlightenment
"On top of all the other worries that families have, now they’re worried about education. Teachers don’t have the resources to teach."

The ninth circle of Hell: back-breaking labor until the day you die
"My father, like most Americans, just wanted to know that after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice that one day, he could put his feet up and look over all that he had done and retire with a little respect and dignity. That’s all most Americans want. But the truth is, right now, that little nugget of a dream that was my life is getting further and further out of reach for most Americans."

Hell is packed with cynics
"We are still a nation that is still too cynical. We look at it as 'them' and 'they' as opposed to 'us' - we don't engage because we are still too cynical."

Hell is packed with broken souls
"We have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation."

Hell: Newberry, South Carolina
"I think about this little girl in Newberry, South Carolina. And she was ten years old. She said do you realize that when your husband becomes the next president of the United States, it will be historical? But I thought to say well, what does that mean to you? And she said it means that I can imagine anything for myself. And then that little girl started to cry. I mean, she broke down in hard tears, streaming down her face, sobbing. This little girl gets it. See, she knows what’s at stake. She knows that she’s probably already five steps behind in schools that are underfunded, without the resources to prepare her. She knows that if she or her family gets sick, she doesn’t have access to a primary care doctor. She’s going to be sitting in some ER for hours on end. She knows that her parents' work situation is hit or miss. They don’t know what’s going to happen day to day. She knows that. But you know what she also knows? That she’s so much better than this nation’s limited expectations of her. And all she has is hope. That’s all she has, is a little hoping and praying, and she’s hoping upon hope that we get this right. She is hoping that we get this right. There are parts of that little girl in all of us, especially those of us who are struggling, who have hit some ceiling where they’ve been told you’re not good enough, that you’re not ready, that you’re not smart enough. No, don’t, you can’t, wait your turn. We have all heard those limits."

America is Hell for the old
"And in the time when they should be able to rest, they are now in a position where that pension they had, if they’re lucky to have it, isn’t enough to cover their cost of living. Folks are trying to go back to work, get retrained. There’s no time to rest. See, and the problem with our seniors' situation is that we need to be more selfish, because we need our seniors. We need them whole and healthy, and ready to take on the challenges of helping all of us raise the next generation. But see, seniors can’t do that if they’re still in their own struggle."

America is Hell for the young
"And our fear is helping us to raise a nation of young doubters, young people who are insular and they’re timid. And they don’t try, because they already heard us tell them why they can’t succeed."

College entrance exams: uniquely American, uniquely hellish
"You cannot measure the success of a child by a single test. And if that were the case, I wouldn’t be here, because I was not a good test taker. How many kids do you know who are like me?"