Friday, September 12, 2014

A Snake by Any Other Name

This is an essay I wrote in September 2001 while living in Guanajuato, Mexico. I thought about it again yesterday and decided to share it here. I don't think anything has changed, not for the better anyway.

Letters to Gringolandia - Part 14.5
A Snake by Any Other Name
September 2001
There is a legend of a snake in northern Mexico that my friends and I learned about last summer while on vacation. This snake slithers into the cradles of nursing babies. Whereupon it enters the child's body through the rectum and slowly, in its snaky way, works its way through its victim's digestive system until its head is poised just inside the child's mouth. As the child nurses, the snake steals the nourishment, growing larger and stronger while its victim withers.

Like all of you, I have been badly shaken by the events of the last few days. I am at once confused, saddened, and angry beyond words. My feelings of helplessness and inability to help heightened by my remoteness from my country and people. The people of Mexico are similarly shaken. They are worried about the 200,000 Mexican Americans living in New York City, and the millions spread throughout the United States. They are worried about the instability of the US and of the world. The value of the peso is dropping rapidly and hard times are coming. But that is secondary, I believe, to their concern about the dreaded humanity of it all. What has happened? What will happen? Our government is recoiling into defense and attack position. our president has vowed revenge. And it is certain that we will find some measure of revenge. Whether it is the leveling of Afghanistan, the destruction of Baghdad, or another public execution of one of our own fanatical citizen whose nourishment from mother's milk was stolen by the snake that lived within him. I am doubtful that we can or will rise to this occasion to right our wrongs and view the world as our joint responsibility and our home. My friend, Jonatan, reminded me that we can look into every event and see the positive ways in which we react as people. I am certain that he is right. But at this hour, I am only seeing red.

What will happen next? Who knows? And this is just one event in our story. Even as i write this, we are coaxing more serpents into the asses of hungry children, in the jungles of Colombia, the archipelago of Indonesia, the mountains of Eritrea, the deserts of Irag, the slums of Gaza, and in barracks on the Golan Heights. How does the song go… "From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.." With snakes under our arms and in our bellies, we march to the corners of the earth. You know that we helped make Bin Laden? We fed his snake that was born of desperation, supped on American rations, and grew ever more dangerous in the throes of fundamentalism. We taught his snake to shoot guns and to fly aircraft. I am not trying to jump on the liberal bandwagon of blaming the US for that which has befallen it. It is not just us, but all of humanity. It is the story of creation. The snake that became us from the beginning of the world. The snake that learned to climb ladders by impaling itself in the rear end of humanity.

So where do we go from here? I do not know. How can we starve out the beasts within our own hungry bodies and find the good that we posses? I do not know. The positive is already coming to light. Citizens of the world are lining up at hospitals and clinics to help replace the blood that has been spilled. Yesterday Arafat sent a pint of his own. I do not know what his blood type is. But it will find a new home somewhere in New York or Washington, in the heart of one of our own. I only hope that we can overshadow our destruction with our healing, that we can rise above our own fundamentalism and our desire for blind and vicious revenge. It is possible, if unlikely, that we will have the power to end the perpetual violence and corruption to humanity. I am not speaking from atop the mountain. I, like you, wanted to throttle the Palestinian woman, whom the TV showed dancing and singing in the streets, joyfully celebrating the attack on New York. If the people who performed and planned these acts of terror were in front of me right now, I would probably try to kill them with my bare hands. The snake is within me. But where do I go from there? I do not know. I only know that we will never find healing in blame or revenge. "We shouted out, 'who killed the Kennedys' but after all it was you and me."
-by Paul Koonz in Mexico, September 2001

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