Aren’t people the worst? They cut you off in traffic, take the parking spot you were waiting for, say mean things to you from a passing car. People ruin everything, destroyers of all things good and beautiful.
Aren’t people the best? They help strangers, and support causes, provide comfort. People invent solutions and work for equality. They make beautiful things with their bodies and words. Music comes from people.
In the 70s, there was a lot of talk about overpopulation We’re at 3 billion people! We’ve got to do something!. There were even commercials about population control. Now, at 7 billion people, no one talks about overpopulation, we just keep coming.
I believe there should be fewer people on the planet. And over the years, I’ve imagined ways that the population could be reduced. Poison the water supply, mandatory vasectomies, or just do it by lottery. Announce it on TV every Saturday night. “Come on down to deathtown!”
But what if you’re one of the people who gets picked to die? When they show up at your door and grab you by the arm, you resist, “Wait, wait, I was one of the guys who dreamed this thing up, you can’t kill me!”
We’re all vulnerable. I guarantee you: someone, somewhere thinks you’re one that should go first.
This virus brings out the best and worst in us. I just read about this nurse who came out of retirement, left her family and flew to New York to help out in one of the hospitals. All on her own dime.
But did you see the footage from that restaurant in Colorado on Sunday? The owner took to social media the day before and said, “I don’t care what the governor says, we’re open! Come on by, bring your mommas…” something like that. The place was packed for Mother’s Day brunch, not a mask in sight, no one keeping their distance.
The me who wants to be compassionate, he has been tried by this. When you start hoping that some of these people catch this disease so that they will take it seriously. When you start thinking: You don’t think that what’s been happening in New York City really happened? Or that it couldn’t happen to you, well I wish you’d get it and a bunch of your family members would get it and people around you would start dying and then, you’d see. But would they? And is that really what I want to wish for people, suffering? But, but, but, why won’t people listen? It’s so upsetting.
It’s like when you were a kid and you saw someone do something bad and you ran to tell someone. They said, “ok, just calm down and tell me what happened,” and through your sobs, you managed to get your words out and they said, “Are you sure that’s what happened, really?”
And your little kid heart just broke.
We’re all children, just older. We long to be believed. But if everyone longs for that, even the people we disagree with, then aren’t we the same in some very fundamental way?
When I want to love people, I think of people who’ve been kind to me. When I was thirteen, I had a medical condition and spent a month at UCLA hospital. It was a difficult time, missing the beginning of freshman year and freaked out about my body. One Saturday afternoon, one of the nurses checked me out of the hospital and took me to the movies, bought me popcorn and a soda. It was The Main Event, starring Barbra Streisand. I felt so special, so seen.
I think of the movies, sitting in the dark, large faces sparkling on the screen. I think of painters making images out of pigment and hair. I think of the books of James Baldwin. Dancers, like Cyd Charisse, who always makes me think of Gene Kelly. Who always reminds me of Fred Astaire who brings me to Ginger Rogers and the movie Stage Door, about actresses in New York City, all dreaming of a life on the stage. Broadway! One of people’s greatest inventions. They just announced that it would remain dark until at least Labor Day, a holiday that celebrates workers—early mornings in LA I used to see all of these women of color getting on buses to ride to the rich neighborhoods where they would clean and cook, take care of other people’s children. I think of the people who lived on this land before the Europeans arrived.
I think of Jewish refugees playing checkers in the park, the ones who managed to escape the tyranny of terrible people.
I focus on the good people.
It seems to me that there’s a perpetual war between those I consider to be the good people and those I consider bad. But that’s just my perception. I’m still that little kid wanting someone to believe that someone over there did something wrong. Though I like to consider myself a pacifist, it occurs to me that just the way I see people has a kind of violence in it.
Sartre famously said, “Hell is other people.” But we’re more than that. It’s not that people are heaven, not the people I like, anyway. They’re earthy, flawed, playful and charming. Like all of you here. You’re what I live for.