In recent years the Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness about the terrible inequality of who matters in this country. That challenge presses against our culture’s structural preference for white males, but obscures inequalities suffered by other racial/ethnic groups. In the same way, the Me Too movement raised by women obscures the fact that males also suffer sexual harassment and abuse, which is a primitive expression of some human beings not mattering to some other human beings. In the end, however, I think that who matters might be less important than what matters.
Last week I had the privilege of going to San Luis Obispo with a friend to visit a mutual friend who was celebrating his 74th birthday. The celebrant has not been doing well health-wise despite having significant health care services at his disposal. Before going, I thought the most difficult part of the trip would be the distance in miles, the travel time. But it was the distance in what matters that was hardest to cross.
You know, when you cross a socio-cultural boundary, the first sensation is simply one of unease. I became uneasy even before we left Tulare County because the friend doing the driving lives at a level one order of magnitude above mine. As I parked my dirty Ford Ranger whose cooling system had just sprung a leak onto his clean blacktopped driveway, I felt myself withdraw into my protective shell before stepping out of the car. Being across that borderline lasted most of the day.
As we crossed the beautiful countryside west of Tulare into Kings County we encountered the infrastructure being built for the bullet train, a supposedly public works project. To me it seems designed to benefit land developers seeking the unearned increment in land values when agricultural land is converted to housing. The loss of productive farm land is not counted in that equation, but that is not what matters to the folks promoting the train.
As we proceeded west, the destruction of rural landscapes (meaning the traces of individual people who once made a living there being erased by people who are trying to make a killing,) continued to fly by the windows of our car. By the time we reached Kettleman I was sad beyond hope. But when we reached San Luis Obispo, where there are few traces left of such ordinary life, where none of that matters, I began to wake up to what was going on. From the classy little shopping centers to the calligraphy street signs, the built environment was telling us what to think.
Around the birthday table and the cake afterward, the partiers discussed their European travels and their children’s accomplishments—normal fare for successful, middle-class people in our age category. Our friend, the celebrant, showed us some of his prized possessions, including a glass case of older cameras he’d picked up at a yard sale. But his primary pride and joy was his backyard, replete with plants he’d cultivated and nurtured through drought with radically expensive water, his fruit trees and flowers lining the paths between them, a tiny Eden sculpted atop thin, rocky soil. What he was showing us was his current work, and it was very good work indeed.
When we returned to Tulare, the driving friend stopped by his blueberry patch, ostensibly to turn on his compost tea maker. Having recently downsized from more than one hundred acres of walnuts to 12 acres of blueberries, he was eager, I think, to show me his transition. The bushes were marvelous, healthy, making him a good living. But I think their charm was more personal, intimate. It’s a new experience for him, walking among living beings so short and planted so close together compared to a walnut grove, with new requirements for him to learn and respond to. His new occupation (in retirement) is clearly giving him joy and peace.
“I know that there is nothing better for humankind than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” Those are the two sentences from Ecclesiastes that I failed to quote in last week’s column. It’s what matters, and if we focused more on what matters, including the equality implied in the word “everyone,” the issue of who matters would dissolve.
Trudy Wischemann is a working class girl from western Washington who writes. You can send her your list of what matters c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.