bookmark_borderThe abyss

In this post, I am going to explain in more detail how Stonewall Jackson helps me.

First of all, it would be a lie if I said that Stonewall completely ameliorated my grief at the statue genocide. This grief is always present, and will be for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make a huge and positive difference. He absolutely does.

For the first two weeks after Stonewall arrived, I thought that perhaps the misery of the past two and a half years had finally come to an end. But unfortunately, on Columbus Day, my state of mind completely changed. The excruciating pain, which had been mercifully absent for two weeks, returned with a vengeance. Looking back, I think the reason for that was that I came to the realization: as awesome as Stonewall is, he is not Columbus. They are two different people. I have Stonewall living in my yard, for me to clean, care for, and keep safe, which is absolutely awesome. But Columbus is still out in the world being smashed to pieces, strangled, set on fire, beheaded, tortured, and eviscerated. Every time Columbus is hurt, it makes me feel that my soul is being eviscerated as well. And there is nothing that I can do about any of it. Like I said, having Stonewall is wonderful. But it does not do anything about Columbus (or any of the other historical figures who are being smashed to pieces, strangled, set on fire, beheaded, tortured, and/or eviscerated as well).

Sometimes I can go about my life relatively normally, and even be in a good mood. But sometimes the sense of loss hits me. Sometimes it hits me when I am lying in bed and haven’t fallen asleep yet, because there are no tasks to occupy my mind. Sometimes it hits me because of something I see, hear, or read. For example, I recently saw an ad on TV for the Armenian Heritage Park, a section of the Rose Kennedy Greenway with a meandering path and an abstract sculpture that represents the experience of Armenian immigrants in the U.S. Three guesses which park that reminded me of? (Hint: it’s a park dedicated to immigrants of a different nationality, which no longer contains a sculpture.)

When the sense of loss hits, I am filled with an overwhelming mix of sadness, rage, horror, and disgust. My stomach drops. Both the quantity and the severity of the atrocities that have occurred are so huge as to be completely incomprehensible. It’s like a tidal wave of badness, crashing into me just like a real tidal wave crashes into a city, destroying all the buildings, flooding the streets, and carrying the people away. My brain can’t hold the totality of what has happened. Picturing any one instance of the statue genocide makes me feel that every fiber of my being is exploding in agony and my soul is being eviscerated. If I were to somehow picture in my mind each instance of brutal, horrific cruelty, each abhorrent social media post, each appalling article, opinion piece, and editorial, and each nauseating statement by a politician, then I would be completely psychologically destroyed. When the loss hits, it’s as if I am staring into an abyss that threatens to swallow me. An abyss filled with such profound badness that it can’t be fully comprehended. It’s as if I am being sucked into the abyss.

The difference is that now, there is also something pulling me in the opposite direction. That something is Stonewall Jackson. It’s kind of like a seesaw, or possibly the scales of justice. On one side, the abyss is trying to suck me in. But on the other side is Stonewall. Because of him, I have a reason to go on living.

So the problem is not fixed. But before, there was nothing on the other side. There was only the abyss. There are still times when I feel excruciating pain. But there are also times when I don’t. Thoughts of Columbus and how cruelly he has been ganged up on and brutalized still overwhelm me. But thoughts of Stonewall fill me with such joy and pride that it is difficult not to start jumping up and down and telling everyone in the vicinity. I love Stonewall, I love Columbus, and I love all the historical figures from the Confederacy. And because of this, I hate what our society has done to them.

For the rest of my life, I will wrestle with these sometimes contradictory thoughts and feelings. I live now with both the good and the bad, where before there was only bad.

That is a huge difference. And it is all because of Stonewall.

There is also the possibility that I might get additional statues in the years to come. Perhaps I will become the guardian of a metal or stone Columbus one day, or perhaps Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. That might help to ease the excruciating pain that I feel for those historical figures. It would be cool for Stonewall to have a group of friends living in the yard with him. Although I still become filled with despair sometimes, when the sense of loss hits me, there are also times that I feel excited when thinking about these possibilities. Having dreams, hopes, and plans for my future is somewhat new to me. For most of my life, getting through each day was so difficult that the future was something I never really thought about.

The ability and desire to think about the future is another huge change for me. And that’s because of Stonewall as well.

bookmark_borderThe Minnesota state capitol

On Thanksgiving night, the Patriots were playing the Vikings in Minnesota. Full from my feast of turkey, stuffing, various side dishes, and various pies, I turned on the TV, looking forward to relaxing with a night of football. The usual pregame fanfare took place – analysts making predictions, players running onto the field, the crowd clapping their hands together and chanting “skol,” and gymnast Suni Lee blowing the huge Viking horn to kick off the game. The teams alternated touchdowns and field goals.

And then, coming back from a commercial break, the NBC broadcast showed a shot of a stately-looking white building topped with a gold dome. Lights shone from within and around the building, illuminating it against the night sky. Announcer Mike Tirico informed the audience that it was the state capitol building in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Immediately, my stomach dropped.

When I think of the Minnesota state capitol, the only thing I can think about is the man that I love, being murdered.

A mob of people, yelling and chanting. Tightening a noose around his neck. Pulling on the rope until his body smashes to the ground with a sickening thud. The mob surrounding him, kicking him and screaming. One member of the mob after another, standing atop the pedestal where the man that I love ought to be standing, raising their arms in sadistic triumph, posing for the news cameras. People (and I use that term loosely) posing with their knees on his neck in a perverse imitation of Officer Chauvin and George Floyd (as if recreating the very thing you are protesting against is somehow an appropriate form of protest). Police officers, at least two dozen of them, standing by in their blue uniforms with their hands behind their backs, making no attempt to intervene as the man I love, the man who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and discovered this continent, is strangled, brutalized, and tortured. Doing nothing as everything that makes my life worth living is destroyed.

To me, these are the most disgusting and horrifying images that it is possible to imagine. The actions that took place at the Minnesota state capitol in 2020 were actions of unspeakable brutality, sadism, and cruelty. The pain that these actions have inflicted on me is the worst pain possible for a human being to experience.

Not only did the police make no attempt to stop these reprehensible actions, but they did not arrest any of the perpetrators. The ringleader was charged with vandalism, but the case was resolved by holding a “talking circle” in which he got to explain the immoral motives behind his vicious actions. He received no punishment. No jail time, no fine, no house arrest, no community service. Nothing.

The lieutenant governor of Minnesota stated that she was “not disappointed” in the actions of unspeakable brutality, sadism, and cruelty that were perpetrated against the man that I love.

The actions that took place at the Minnesota state capitol demonstrate that people like me no longer have any protection under the law. To our society, my feelings don’t matter, my thoughts don’t matter, my perspective doesn’t matter, and my happiness doesn’t matter. A mob of bullies and bigots was allowed to murder the man I love in the most brutal of ways with complete impunity. To our society, his life means nothing.

When Mike Tirico told the audience that the building being shown on the TV was the Minnesota state capitol, he didn’t mention any of this. To NBC, the life of the man I love apparently doesn’t mean anything, either.

It was difficult to care much about the outcome of the football game after that.

bookmark_borderMy thoughts on the 2022 elections

Before 2020, two things were essentially treated as non-controversial and universally agreed-upon. First, the fact that the existing collection of statues and monuments in the United States would continue to exist, with possible additions from time to time. Second, the right to decline medical intervention. In other words, the fact that no adult should be required or forced to undergo any medical procedure.

Unfortunately, beginning in 2020, these two things became controversial, to put it mildly. Politicians from one of the two major political parties began to support both the destruction of the statues and monuments that I need in order to have a life that is worth living, as well as policies that force people to undergo medical intervention against their will. 

For me, the issues of statue destruction and vaccine mandates are by far more important than any other political issues. Both the continued existence of the statues that make my life worth living, as well as the right of people to decline medical intervention, should be universally accepted and completely non-controversial. When one of the two major political parties decided to take positions opposing both of these things, it became a complete no-brainer for me to support and vote for candidates from the other party. There really isn’t much of a decision to be made when one political party supports destroying everything that makes your life worth living and the other one doesn’t.

Last Tuesday night, while watching coverage of the election results, I felt my mood slowly begin to go downhill. Even though I was watching Fox News, the channel least prone to anti-everything-that-makes-life-worth-living bias, the banter of the pundits and the victory speeches of the winning candidates started to get to me for several reasons.

First of all, it seems to be the general consensus among pundits and the general public that Republicans weren’t as successful in this election as expected. This is disappointing because, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the party that supports destroying everything that makes my life worth living is the Democratic Party. 

But watching the election results was also depressing because even the Republican Party generally doesn’t place as much importance as it should on the issues that truly matter. It is frustrating to see politicians bickering about inflation, the economy, the cost of gas, the war in Ukraine, abortion, whether “drag queen storytime” events are appropriate for kids, and which bathrooms people should be allowed to use, while everything that makes life worth living has been destroyed and no one seems to have any interest in remedying this or punishing the perpetrators. 

The news coverage was depressing for a third reason as well. Given the severity and pervasiveness of the statue genocide, the mere mention of states and cities is enough to trigger overwhelming feelings of grief for the statues that were removed and/or destroyed in those states and cities. For example, when the Fox broadcast showed a map of the county-by-county election results in Virginia, along with the locations of major cities such as Charlottesville and Richmond, my entire being was flooded with stomach-sickening disgust and rage.

The atrocities that have been perpetrated against historical figures have been so devastating to me that for quite some time I gave up consumption of news entirely. Although I used to read the newspaper every day, browse news websites, watch the news on TV, and follow numerous local organizations and public figures on social media, the constant stream of horrifying new developments became so traumatizing that I made the decision to reduce, and then eliminate, my exposure to information. Consuming news used to be an important activity for me because I found it interesting and believe that there is inherent value in being knowledgeable about what is happening in the world. Giving it up was a significant sacrifice but necessary in order to prevent myself from being completely psychologically destroyed. Lately, my mental state has stabilized somewhat (knock on wood), and I have experimented with adding back some of the activities and information sources that I had eliminated. But the past week seems to have demonstrated that I added back the TV news a bit prematurely. I will have to wait before I can safely resume it, if I am ever able to at all. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that I live in a country where the President and Vice President want the people I love to be dismembered and tortured to death. And now I live in a state whose governor-elect wants this as well. But even many politicians from the opposing party, including my state’s current governor, don’t particularly care about the dismemberment and torture of the people I love, either. This demoralizing situation is exemplified by the election of Glenn Youngkin as governor of Virginia last year. Although he was certainly an improvement over his morally repugnant predecessor, Youngkin made no move to repair, restore, or defend the statues that were so viciously brutalized.

Prior to 2020, the continued existence of the people I love was taken for granted, the nation’s collection of statues a backdrop of sorts, atop which politicians bickered over various issues. During the summer of 2020, when the frequency of dismembering and torturing was at its nauseating peak, the outrage of those on the conservative side of the political spectrum made me feel seen and heard. But now, the post-2020 collection of statues, so diminished as to not even be worth fighting for, has become the new backdrop. In other words, the existence of the people I love used to be taken for granted, but now their non-existence is taken for granted. This horrific, incomprehensible, and profound loss no longer seems to register to politicians of either party.

It’s a disturbing situation, to put it mildly, and it is a reality that I have to live with every day. If my day is going relatively well, I can manage to function and possibly even be in a good mood while the disturbing reality lurks in the back of my mind. But other times, the disturbing reality comes to the forefront. Overall, it is very difficult to live in a society in which the political establishment, and likely the majority of people, support the destruction of everything that makes my life worth living.

I believe that it is never acceptable to destroy or remove a statue. I believe that it is never acceptable to require a person to undergo a medical procedure. Without the people I love being allowed to exist, life is not worth living. And without the freedom to make decisions about my own body, life is not worth living, either. Any politician or public figure who disagrees with me on these issues wants me to have a life that is not worth living. And I can’t support any politician or public figure who thinks that, regardless of how mainstream those views are, and regardless of what party the politician is from. 

bookmark_borderIdentity, representation, and fairness

“They’re just statues.”

“They’re not alive.”

“How can you get so upset about an inanimate object?”

More times than I can count, I have been asked these questions. 

To me, statues are a matter of identity. I love Christopher Columbus, and I love the generals who fought for the Confederacy. But even more importantly, I see these people as myself. When I see a statue of Columbus or someone from the Confederacy, I feel that the statue essentially is me. Not literally, of course, but symbolically and spiritually. When I see such a statue, it makes me feel represented. It makes me feel included. It makes me feel that people like me are welcome and accepted in our society.

That is why it has been so incredibly hurtful, traumatizing, and devastating to see Columbus statues and Confederate statues being violently destroyed across the country and world. The symbols of my inclusion and acceptance in society have been hacked to pieces with sledgehammers, smashed on the ground, beheaded, thrown into harbors, set on fire, and had nooses tightened around their necks. How do you think that would make someone feel?

Additionally, how do you think it would feel to see the people who are supposed to be in charge in our society – mayors, governors, senators, congresspeople, the president – react not with unequivocal condemnation but with ambivalence? How do you think it would feel to read statement after statement saying something like, “destroying property isn’t the best way to make one’s point, but the protesters’ feelings are completely understandable”?

And how do you think it makes me feel to read about analogous situations involving other cultures’ statues and monuments – the vandalism of a George Floyd sculpture in New York City, for example – and to see politicians react with exactly the harsh condemnation that they withheld when it was my statues being destroyed?

In short, it makes me feel persecuted. If there were just one or two isolated acts of vandalism targeting people like me, that would be sickening and infuriating, but tolerable. But when these acts are a consistent pattern, happening again and again all over the country and in other countries as well, the pain becomes so horrible that life is no longer worth living. These actions are just as hurtful as if these violent attacks were done to me. And our government, whose job it is to protect people’s rights and to ensure that justice is done, did nothing. In many cases, governments actually took actions that benefitted, rewarded, and/or publicly honored the perpetrators. Companies, sports teams, organizations, almost without exception did nothing. Or, worse, they chose to publicly express support not for the people who have been hurt, but for the movement that committed the hurtful actions. 

The question that occupies my mind every second of every minute of every hour of every day is this: How can I continue to exist in a world where all of the institutions that make up our society hate people like me? How can I live a happy life in a society that consistently, pervasively, and repeatedly sends the message that people like me are not welcome here?

I have been going to a therapist to try and figure out the answers to these questions. My therapist once explained to me that every person has the right to hold whatever ideas they wish in their internal world, but problems arise when people try to impose their ideas on the external world. In other words, I can enjoy my historical figures, and even consider them my friends, in my internal world, regardless of what happens to their likenesses in the external world. It is understandably upsetting, she told me, to see the statues destroyed, but it’s not the case that my rights were violated, because I don’t have a right, per se, to see the historical figures from my internal world reflected in the external one. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and have come to the conclusion that if there were no statues and monuments at all, no holidays honoring individuals or groups, and no places named after historical figures, then I would agree with what my therapist said. But the problem is that there are statues, holidays, and place names for some historical figures and not others. Some people get to see their internal world reflected in the external world, while I do not. This disparate treatment is unfair and unjust. Therefore, I do believe that my rights have been violated. 

I will soon be getting a statue of Stonewall Jackson to put up outside my house. My therapist thinks this is a good idea, because although the statue will technically be part of the external world, he will be located on my own property, and therefore will enable me to honor a person that I love and identify with, without the dangers inherent in having a statue on public land.

Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy and excited to get my Stonewall statue. But the thing is, I shouldn’t have to. 

I shouldn’t have to pay $3,000 to erect a small statue that actually represents me, while other people get to have large statues, located on public land and paid for with government funds, of the people that they identify with. Those who identify with Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington, or Paul Revere, or Martin Luther King, Jr. do not have to pay to erect their own personal statues. While other groups get to have their internal world reflected in the external one through public art, the art that represents my identity is banished from public spaces and relegated to my own backyard. I think it is awesome that organizations such as Monuments Across Dixie and campaigns such as Lee Rides Again are raising money to build statues on privately-owned land. But when you think about it, they should not have to do this. People like me deserve to be publicly acknowledged as welcome and accepted members of society just as much as anyone else does.

In conclusion, while there is certainly something to be said for focusing on one’s internal world, I’m not sure that this is sufficient in cases where one is not merely failing to get one’s way, but actually being discriminated against and treated unjustly. Giving up on the real world, and withdrawing into the imaginary one, reflects a disturbingly bleak view of the world and its future. Unfortunately, this might be my only option given that the real world has decided to persecute and discriminate against people like me. 

One final note: You might ask why I identify so strongly with Columbus and Confederate people. Why are statues of these particular people necessary for me to feel represented and included? I am a woman, so many people might think I should feel represented by the Boston Women’s Memorial, featuring statues of various women from history. I am on the autism spectrum, so many people might think it would make me feel included when Autism Acceptance Month is celebrated every April. Many people also make the argument that Columbus Day and Columbus statues are unnecessary because there are numerous historical figures other than Christopher Columbus whom Italian Americans could choose to represent us. But although I find the Women’s Memorial beautiful and creative, I appreciate that there is a month honoring autistic people, and I wouldn’t mind the addition of more Italian American statues, none of these things move me emotionally. None of them resonate with me. None of them make me feel represented or included. I feel a spiritual and emotional connection with Columbus and with people from the Confederacy. Perhaps this is because they are considered rebels and underdogs; perhaps it is because they were quirky and different; perhaps it is because they are misunderstood and looked down upon. Just as people cannot be expected to provide a logical justification for being straight, or gay, or bisexual, my identity cannot be reduced to arguments or reasoning. The bottom line is that each individual person has the right to decide what types of statues, monuments, and holidays represent them. No one has the right to impose their ideas of representation on anyone else.

bookmark_borderStatues are not needed to remember history… so what?

There are numerous bad arguments for taking down historical statues and monuments. One of the dumbest, in my opinion, is the argument that statues are not necessary to remember or learn about history.

Here is an example of this argument which I recently saw on Facebook:

Another time, I saw a satirical post about building a statue of the coronavirus (think the illustration of a red virus particle that is used on the news as a generic representation of the virus) so that future generations would remember the pandemic.

I have never argued that the reason why statues are needed is because people wouldn’t be able to remember things without them, and I don’t think anyone else has argued this either. Comments like the above are, therefore, an example of the straw man fallacy.

These arguments are frustrating, because yes, it is true that statues are not necessary for people to remember history. Books, informational websites, databases, and other forms of written documentation are all adequate for this purpose. But that doesn’t mean that statues are not necessary. The importance of statues extends far beyond the fact that they help people to learn about the past.

For me personally, I have an imaginary world in which historical figures are the characters, and I spend my time picturing their interactions and adventures. Statues are a way in which the people I love are able to exist in the physical world and be a concrete part of my life. To argue that statues are unnecessary as long as there are other ways of remembering stuff, completely denies and invalidates my perspective.

I understand that my perspective on historical figures is unusual, and few (if any) people in the world share it. But even if my perspective is incomprehensible to you, and you think that it counts for nothing, there remains the fact that statues, quite simply, are art. Statues are outdoor sculptures. And just like any form of art, statues are valuable for their own sake. Any person who does not see inherent value in art has no soul.

Would the person who made this idiotic Facebook comment advocate that the Mona Lisa be painted over so that the canvas could be re-used? After all, as long as it is written down somewhere that this particular Italian noblewoman existed, a painting is unnecessary, right? Would this person advocate that art museums be razed and the land put to more constructive uses, such as a data center, for example? After all, a database listing facts about the works of art would accomplish the same thing as looking at the works of art themselves, right?

Statues are important not merely because they are learning tools or reminders of the past, but because they are beautiful, because they are works of art, because they represent people whom I love, because they honor people and ideas that deserve to be honored, and because they enable historical figures to live on, to list just a few reasons. Arguing that statues aren’t needed because people can learn about history without them denies all of these things. Without statues, people might still remember the past, but the present world would be stripped of all beauty, joy, meaning, and purpose, and therefore would not be worth living in. I don’t know about you, but personally, I think that having a world worth living in is kind of important.

bookmark_borderStatues and the soul

In the approximately two years since our society collectively decided to destroy the statues honoring the historical figures that I love, it has been difficult to put the way that I feel into words. The destruction of these statues has been, by far, the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. I feel, more strongly than I have ever felt anything in my life, that this destruction is wrong. But it is hard to form a logical argument that explains why this is so. 

“They’re just statues,” people point out. “They aren’t alive. It’s not as if anyone has been killed.” I have been ridiculed for being so upset at the statue destruction. I have been called a racist and a white supremacist. Even those who agree with me that the taking down of Christopher Columbus statues and Confederate statues is wrong do not feel as strongly about this as I do. They don’t understand why these statues are so important to me that without them, I feel that the world is no longer worth living in.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today about the spirit and the soul. The article explains that what animates the soul varies from person to person: art, music, organized religion, or watching children learn and grow, to give just a few examples. The author, Bill Kavanagh, characterizes religion and spirituality as “the deepest values and meanings by which to live” or “one’s own inner dimension” or “connecting to an energy outside of oneself.” Once you discover the thing that speaks to your soul, you have found meaning and purpose.

For me, historical figures are that thing. They touch my soul. They capture my imagination. They fill me with emotion. The desire to honor them guides everything that I do. And by extension, statues of historical figures touch my soul as well. That is why their existence is so important to me, and that is why their destruction is so devastating.

Everyone’s soul is touched, or moved, by different things. If your soul isn’t moved by a statue of Christopher Columbus surrounded by flowers and a trellis near the waterfront, you probably won’t understand why I feel that the entire city is ruined with that statue gone. You won’t understand why I feel sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with grief and rage when thinking about the fact that someone intentionally ripped the statue’s head from his body and smashed it on the ground. You won’t understand why replacing the statue with a monument to a different Italian American historical figure does not even come close to being an acceptable solution. 

Because everyone’s soul is moved by different things, everyone has incredibly different ideas of which things are important in life and which things are unimportant. If the things that provide you with meaning and purpose are your children, career, pets, friends, or religion, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to my grief and rage about statues. You will find it difficult to wrap your head around why the destruction of statues is so upsetting and painful. Similarly, there are numerous situations in which a certain thing provides someone else with meaning and purpose, and I have difficulty relating to the fact that someone’s soul could be so moved by something that I consider unimportant. 

Perhaps the spirit and the soul explain why people feel so strongly that the statues that make my life worth living should be destroyed. Perhaps the statues’ existence threatens something that other people’s souls depend on for meaning and purpose, in a way that I cannot relate to because I do not share. 

But I believe that what moves my soul, what provides me with meaning and purpose, is just as important as what provides these things to other people. My viewpoint is just as valid and just as important as anyone else’s. I believe that it is never okay to destroy the thing that moves another person’s soul. Whatever problems the world faces, we must find solutions that do not crush anyone’s soul into dust, the way that the brutal war on statues has done to mine. You might not consider Christopher Columbus or people from the Confederacy to be important, but I do. Your soul might not be moved by these historical figures, but mine is. Your soul is different from mine, but that does not give you the right to ridicule me, inflict pain on me, or dismiss my perspective.

bookmark_borderAlternate universes

Since the statue genocide began almost two years ago, numerous activities that I used to enjoy have been ruined. I used to love exploring Boston and its suburbs, photographing buildings and landmarks. I used to love trains and buses, both as a mode of transit and as a cool thing to learn about and photograph in and of themselves. I used to love sports, particularly the Bruins, and frequently attended their games and practices.

However, now that Boston has become a city without my statue of Christopher Columbus in it, I do not love Boston anymore. I no longer get much pleasure from exploring or photographing it, nor do I really enjoy rooting for Boston’s sports teams. Whenever I think “Boston,” the fact that there is no Christopher Columbus anymore is front and center.

The same concept applies to almost all cities and states in the U.S., and many foreign countries as well. The fact that places do not have the statues and monuments that they are supposed to have, and therefore are ruined, significantly negatively impacts my ability to enjoy my former hobbies and interests.

I have struggled to figure out what to do about this. I have unfollowed some athletes, organizations, and photographers on social media either because they specifically expressed support for anti-statue ideology, or because I found their content to be particularly painful. But I am still following many social media accounts that are related to Boston, photography, public transportation, and/or sports, and seeing posts on these topics causes a variety of different emotions. 

Yesterday, I saw a post about the Route 71 and 73 buses that go through Cambridge and Watertown. What is unique about these buses is that they are connected to overhead wires that power them as they make their way through the streets, as opposed to using diesel or gas. Sadly, this past weekend marks the end of these buses’ lives. Due to a major road construction project, they are being taken out of service and will eventually be replaced with more high-tech buses. A train and bus enthusiast that I follow on Instagram took a trip on one of these buses over the weekend and posted photos and videos documenting the journey.

Seeing these images, I thought to myself, “I should have done that!” The old me, in fact, probably would have done that. An old-fashioned bus line is exactly the type of thing that the old me was into. The old me would have wanted to experience that and document it as a part of Boston history. I felt bad that I didn’t ride and document the bus this weekend; I felt that it was something I should do.

But then I had an epiphany. Riding the 71 or 73 bus is something that I would have done in a parallel universe, or an alternate reality. An alternate reality in which the statue genocide hadn’t happened. But unfortunately, the statue genocide did happen. I don’t live in a parallel universe; I live in this one. And in this universe, my priority is defending, honoring, and glorifying the historical figures who are under relentless, brutal attack. Each person has only a finite amount of time and energy, and given the horrific things that happened, my time and energy are best spent celebrating historical figures through art, poetry, and writing. 

Thinking about it that way, I am able to find some semblance of peace with regards to the activities that I used to do and the things that I used to be into. These are things that the version of me that exists in a parallel universe would do, but this version of me doesn’t do. Given what happened in this universe, these activities aren’t the most meaningful use of my time and energy.

I don’t mean to imply that the statue genocide was even remotely good in any way, shape, or form, but at least it has narrowed down my interests to a manageable amount. Before, there were so many hobbies and activities that interested me that I was constantly frustrated that I didn’t have enough time and energy to do them all. There was no way I could learn about all the topics that I wanted to learn about, no way I could explore all the places that I wanted to explore, and no way I could attend all the events that I wanted to attend. I lived in a constant state of exhaustion, time pressure, and overwhelm. For a while, the pandemic cut down on the amount of activities that were available, which was hugely beneficial for me (I know that sounds like a weird thing to say about a pandemic, but it’s true). The statue genocide, as horrific, unjust, and immoral as it has been, has given me clarity on my priorities in life, and on which activities are the best uses of my time and energy. 

I have gone through an unimaginable amount of pain over the past two years. What happened is not okay, and I will never feel that it is. But slowly, very slowly, I am adjusting to the fact that this version of the universe differs from the version I expected and imagined, and my hobbies and interests differ as well.

bookmark_borderOn death, grief, and loss

As everyone knows, dying is an inevitable part of life. I remember the moment I first realized this. I was five, and I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep and mulling over various topics. I knew intellectually that everyone eventually dies, but until that moment it hadn’t fully hit me exactly what that entailed. Somehow, at that moment, I came to the realization that one day, I would completely cease to exist. It would be like I was asleep, but permanent. I would not be conscious ever again. The events of the world would go on, but I would not be around to witness them. The entirety of what it meant to be me – seeing, feeling, thinking, perceiving – would come to an end.

That thought disturbed me tremendously. It caused a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. After a while, I fell asleep. Although I never again dedicated significant amounts of time to focusing on that realization, the knowledge of my mortality has been around ever since, an ominous presence lurking in the back of my mind.

Last October, my grandfather passed away. He was 91, had lived a full life, and suffered from various medical conditions that were gradually growing worse and reducing his quality of life. Over the past four months, my mom has struggled with this loss more than I have (not surprising since it is usually considered a bigger loss to lose a parent than a grandparent). One day she asked me how I was able to handle my grandfather’s death without getting sad. I thought this over for a while and then answered:

For me, Papa’s death is not truly a loss. First of all, because his medical conditions caused him so much discomfort and so many limitations, he is better off dead than continuing with that same quality of life. But more than that, the experiences that I’ve had with Papa are not gone. The memories of playing poker, watching football, and going to the racetrack with him, are still inside me. They always will be. Papa’s death means, of course, that no new experiences with Papa will take place. No more memories will be added to the collection. But that is okay. I am happy with the existing collection of experiences and memories, and that collection remains intact.

Papa dressed as Napoleon for my 13th birthday

My feelings about the loss of my grandfather stand in sharp contrast with my feelings about the destruction of historical statues and monuments that has taken place over the past two years. Although I love my grandfather very much, the latter has proven far more painful for me. I think often about the reasons why this might be the case. Why am I not able to view the deaths of the statues that I love in the same way that I view the death of Papa?

Perhaps it is because statues, unlike human beings, are supposed to last forever. They are not supposed to die. The loss of them was not a possibility that I ever considered I might one day have to deal with. Perhaps it is because, unlike my grandfather who died of natural causes, the statues were killed on purpose. Perhaps it is because, with the exception of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, I had not actually seen these statues in person. The knowledge that they existed was enough to fill me with happiness. I intended to visit them eventually but hadn’t yet made specific travel plans. Now, because people decided to brutally and selfishly destroy them, I will never get to view these monuments, photograph them, take in the atmosphere surrounding them, or simply be in their presence. Now, I am robbed of the ability to ever have those experiences. I am robbed of exciting and interesting things to look forward to, robbed of any desire to explore the world around me, and robbed of hope for the future.

Maybe one day the anguish, grief, and rage that I feel will fade into the background and become bearable. Maybe there will be more days when I am able to go about my routine with lightness in my heart and images of beauty in my mind, and fewer days when I am completely beaten down by the leaden, sickening feeling of overwhelming injustice and loss. But more than one year and eight months after these disastrous events began, that has not yet happened. For now, the pain continues unabated.

bookmark_borderOn the despicable decision to destroy Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue

On Monday, the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia made the despicable decision to transfer ownership of the Robert E. Lee statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, an organization that plans to destroy the statue by melting it down.

To say that this news is heart-wrenching and infuriating is an understatement. There is little to say that I haven’t already said about other horrible things that have happened with regard to statues over the past year and a half. Like all acts of obliteration of the cultures and histories of unpopular groups, this decision is disgusting, grotesque, and morally wrong. How anyone could consider it a good idea to destroy a historic and beautiful piece of art is utterly incomprehensible. 

Andrea Douglas, the director of the center, said that the organization plans to “create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public space into something beautiful that can be more reflective of our entire community’s social values.”

In my perspective, Confederate statues are as far from toxic as it is possible for something to be. I love history, particularly the history of those with the courage to be different, to fight for unpopular causes, to rebel against authority, and to stand up for their beliefs even when the odds are against them. The Confederacy embodies all of these attributes, and as a result, people associated with the Confederacy are among my favorite historical figures. My love of rebellious, brave historical figures is my passion, it is my joy, and it is what makes my life worth living. Although these heroes will live on in my mind and heart for as long as I do, the obliteration of their physical presence in today’s world is a profound and unspeakable loss. As a result of actions such as those that have taken place in Charlottesville, the thing that I love more than anything else is increasingly ceasing to physically exist in the world. This makes the world a place that is devoid of goodness, happiness, and joy. It makes the world a place that is not worth living in.

It is truly incomprehensible that someone could consider the thing that is my passion, my joy, and my happiness, to be “toxic.” Literally nothing could be further from the truth.

With this decision, Charlottesville, along with most of the world, has taken another step towards transforming from a place that honors diversity, courage, freedom, liberty, and fighting back against authority, to a place that honors conformity, compliance, and submission to authority. Public art that embodies the latter set of attributes may very well be “more reflective of our entire community’s social values,” as Douglas claims, but that is not a reason to create such art; it is a sign that something is seriously wrong with the community’s social values. 

Douglas’s plan to turn something toxic into something beautiful in public space is actually a plan to turn something beautiful into something toxic.

As is the norm in today’s society, both Douglas’s sentiments and the city’s decision demonstrate a complete disregard for the viewpoints, perspectives, and feelings of others. As usual, the voices that align with whatever happens to be popular at the moment are the only ones that are acknowledged, while the voices of those who think for themselves are ignored. As usual, people like Douglas get everything that they want, while people like me get nothing. As usual, the majority, the mainstream, and the establishment get what they demand, no matter how severely this tramples on the happiness and rights of minorities. 

This decision also illustrates how in such a short amount of time, the conversation in our society has changed from a debate about what types of locations are suitable for displaying statues of anti-authority historical figures, to a debate about whether such statues should be allowed to exist at all. At first, anti-diversity, pro-authority bullies argued that Confederate statues should be moved from public parks, streets, and city squares to more “appropriate” locations such as battlefields, cemeteries, and museums. But then the bullies began vandalizing statues at battlefields and cemeteries, protesting against museums that dared to display Confederate statues, and demanding that the statues be removed from these locations as well. Additionally, cities have increasingly refused to give removed statues to private organizations that would cherish and care for them on private land, apparently believing that keeping the statues hidden in storage is the only acceptable option. But now, at least in Charlottesville, not even that is bad enough. Nothing short of completely and irreversibly destroying the poor statue will do.

Shame on the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, shame on the mayor and city council of Charlottesville, and shame on anyone who supports or agrees in any way with the decision to destroy the Robert E. Lee statue.

bookmark_borderNo, hateful vandalism is not understandable

On Columbus Day, among numerous acts of hate and destruction that took place around the world, someone vandalized a cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut. This horrible excuse for a human being wrote profane graffiti about Christopher Columbus and about cops, as well as the phrase “land back.”

According to this article by the local NBC station, “Some people who spoke with NBC Connecticut say they don’t support the vandalism but sympathize with the sentiment.” For example, one person said, “I can understand where the anger and frustration are coming from,” and another person said, “I understand the anger and the vitriol that people have.”

Sentiments like these have been very common during the statue genocide of the past year and half. These sentiments are, frankly, unacceptable. 

Vandalizing a cemetery or church, destroying a statue or monument, scrawling expletives to insult a historical figure… all of these actions are cruel, hurtful, and morally wrong. It’s as simple as that. People who commit actions like these are bullies and bigots. They are motivated by intolerance and hatred of people who are different than them. They have nothing to be angry about, nothing to be frustrated about, and nothing to feel vitriol about. No one should sympathize with their sentiments. 

When the Oklahoma City bombing, or the Boston Marathon bombing, or 9/11 happened, did anyone say, “that was the wrong way to go about it, but I understand the sentiments?” 

No, they did not.

If a predominantly black church or a statue of a black person was vandalized, would people say, “I don’t condone vandalism, but I understand the anger and frustration?” 

No, they would not.

Yet when the victim of a vicious act of hate is a historical figure of European descent, the hate is somehow understandable. 

Every time a statue, monument, memorial, church, or cemetery is vandalized, the action needs to be condemned fully and wholeheartedly, not partially and with qualifications. Neither these actions nor the motivation behind them deserve anyone’s sympathy or understanding.