Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Clerking for Death

It's interesting to me what issues consume people's time, especially if the issues aren't affecting them directly.  For example, I haven't been following the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri with the same interest as many people--I'm judging interest by news coverage and Facebook updates and blog posts.  I have not been taking sides and choosing between Israel and Gaza.  I have been keeping an anxious eye on Russia and the Ukraine, but not enough to write much.

No, I have been consumed with the Ebola outbreak.  Yesterday I saw an article or two, a mention here or there, about a clinic in Liberia that was mobbed by protestors.  That led to the patients and workers running away, and then the looters took things from the clinic, like infected mattresses.  Yikes.
I thought of all the disaster movies I've seen, the ones that deal with disease.  The scene sounded like something right out of a movie--the way the disease would get out to the wider population.  How strange when the daily news sounds like something straight out of a movie!

I find myself thinking about all the health care workers who do not run away. I cannot imagine working in those conditions, the sub-par facilities, the lack of basics like gloves and disinfectant, the incredible heat, the lack of running water, the lack of electricity--so much aching need.

In the wake of the various clashes in Ferguson, some of us have talked a lot about the privileges our skin color achieves for us.  I don't often see people making the link to Africa and the current Ebola crisis, not in the same breath.  It's as if people are talking about racism in the heartland of America or racism in how we treat disease in the various countries of Africa, but rarely linking them.  

I, too, am not going to make those links.  However, I do find myself looking west to Ferguson and then looking fearfully to the Ebola outbreaks to my east.  I find myself wondering if the time will come when we'll look back to Ferguson and marvel at the population who had the luxury to clash while the efforts to contain Ebola were so paltry and so ineffective.

There are questions of wealth and national sovereignty at stake.  I understand, sort of, why first world nations can't just sweep in and take over.  Even the delivery of basic medical supplies (aspirin, clean water, gloves) is compromised by the history of first world interactions with the continent of Africa. Ah, the legacy of colonialism:  so much already written!

If I had time and inclination, perhaps I'd write an essay connecting Ferguson and Ebola from this direction:  how does our history hamper our good efforts and intentions?

As always, I sit with my white privilege, my access to good health care, the clean water and flowing electricity that I so often take for granted--and I feel that sickening guilt.  I think of what consumes my days, the accreditation reports, the assessment documents, the annual performance reviews.  I wonder if I should be doing more with my life.

Could I write a poem that somehow encapsulates all these issues?  I've doodled with something I might call "Love in the Time of Ebola."  But then I came across this post on Dave Bonta's Via Negativa blog, and my brain shifted direction.

He created an erasure poem with the title "Clerking for Death."  I went with a different approach:

Clerking for Death

You would think that Death,
having taken so much from so many,
would have secured better office
space.  But I still report
to Death's chambers to learn
all that I can.

During coffee breaks, we lowly
clerks trade ideas for more effective ways
to conduct business:
the glittery, brittle attractiveness of new weapons,
the terror that oozes out of every new disease,
a multitude of accidents unconceived until now.

I have already been to school
for many years, and again, the breadth
of all I do not know surprises
me.  I take careful notes.
When I have a practice
of my own, I will be prepared.

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