When my family lived in a white farmhouse near Richardson Cemetery, a tornado hit a few miles away under cover of night. Into the 1980s, my great uncle and great aunt, Everett and Celia Selby, lived in a home without indoor plumbing on the west side of the highway to Sewal. I remember the soap opera ‘General Hospital’ on TV, dramatizing the afternoon, before I walked through their mudroom to get to the outhouse. Eventually they planted a trailer across their driveway to the north. As children, we considered it an upgrade because we could do our business inside.
Tornados and mobile homes do not mix. The red barn, which still stands today, and the old house were not touched, but the storm tore the trailer off its foundation and folded it like origami. Celia got caught inside the wreckage. Everett crawled away. The keys to their car were somewhere in the debris, so my 73-year-old great uncle drove his tractor over downed power lines to the corner of the road to Seymour, to Vicki Jones’ house to get help. They used the Jaws of Life to save my great aunt.
The next day, my mother, my sister and I gathered family photographs strewn across the fields by the storm. We returned them to spread across the wood floors of our farmhouse to dry.
One of our greatest fears is to lose our memories, whether it is the physical remnants of family reunions in the form of a Polaroid, or the flashes of light in our minds from the past, the kaleidoscope that makes us human. It is why diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are so insidious. Many of the photographs were stained by water, as the tornado pried open the walls and allowed rain to seep into insulation and carpeting. Not even indoor plumbing could stop the devastation.
Everett died a few years later in the spring. He and my grandfather once drove International H tractors with John Deere rakes behind them to brush hay into one row for our baler to digest. Celia received almost 15 more years of life. She died as my Uncle Ted and I were climbing a mountain in Colorado.
People imagine they are in control. It is, of course, an illusion. Hard work does not protect us from being poor, nor does it provide meaning in itself. If we perform work simply to earn paper we can wrinkle in our pockets, our work is not done with right thought. Everett and Celia’s hands are now clasped at Shriver Cemetery just down the road from where my great uncle drove his tractor that night.
Our opinions about politics and religion are just that—mere opinion. Confusion is closer to truth, because we cannot comprehend God through reason. Our senses are too easily swayed. Our minds are easily manipulated, especially when we give eager consent—when we perform the brainwashing ourselves. The odd thing about survivalists and rugged individualists is that in the end none of them actually survive.
In 19th century psychologist William James’ ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience,’ the social scientist presents a case study, which in reality was his own story. James describes a fear not of death, but of life:
“Suddenly there fell upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit all day on one of the benches, or rather shelves against the wall, with his knees drawn up against his chin, and the coarse gray undershirt, which was his only garment, drawn over them inclosing his entire figure. He sat there like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear entered into a species of combination with each other. That shape am I, I felt, potentially….”
My two-year-old daughter Jasmine can still run around the house without clothes and not feel ashamed. Some primitives do not feel compelled to cover their bodies—or even to wear ties—nor do they need anti-depressants. What are we to think of the professional propagandist espousing a philosophy of mere self-dependence and greed? It is just as crazy as claiming the cure for schizophrenia or psychosis is hard work. The problem is not with the mindless patient, but with the society that created the idol and worships it as a god.