Pluto’s Return

Most of us were Metal Dogs, born in 1970. Like the rest of Generation X, we were born into utopian hopes for an end to poverty, for equal rights, and for the environmental restoration symbolized by Earth Day.

My mom was the kindergarten teacher at Summit Elementary. I started there in first grade. Every Monday the entire school met outside on the green square of lawn beneath the American flag to recite the pledge of allegiance, and to sing patriotically:

My country ’tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing
Land where my fathers died
Land of the pilgrim’s pride
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring
My native country, thee
Land of the noble free
Thy name I love
I love thy rocks and rills
Thy woods and templed hills
My heart with rapture fills like that above.

By June of 2022, it had been so long since I had said the pledge of allegiance at age 6 and sung those words so enthusiastically, so long since birthday piñatas and believing in magic, since going to the pumpkin patch with the whole school, since tricker treating for homemade snacks, since grade school campouts, since a hike in the “dwarf forest,” which I was disappointed to learn was not a woods full of fey folk, but a short forest.

There had been a gradual fraying of patriotism with the Iran-Contra drugs for weapons scandal, with wave after wave of environmental crisis, with the increase of police shootings of black people, with an epidemic of school shootings, with meaningless wars and devastating drone strikes on civilians, as mass graves were uncovered here, as we became aware of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, as the ERA was blocked by the rise of the moral majority, as sexual harassing and rapist judges and politicians earned places on the Supreme Court and even as President. Most of this felt like a coming to consciousness about the nation we really lived in. It was a heartbreak again and again. It was dismay at what my fellows would cotton to, elevate, vote for, and overlook.

I had only felt patriotic briefly once again, watching ash coated New Yorkers huddle on a curb, wrapped in a flag, when the French declared, “We are all Americans” and the world held us in their hearts.

Then the election of 2020. I did a tarot reading on election day, which correctly assured us that the process would take a long time, but the system would hold. This comforted me, even as a violent mob descended on the Capitol on January 6 to prevent the peaceful passage of power. I watched this happen in shock, weeping for a nation I had felt so disappointed by my entire adult life.

I had grown up watching newscasters wax eloquent about this miracle of the American political system: the peaceful passage of power from one party to the other, from one leader to the next. I had probably rolled my eyes at Dan Rather.

Part of the privilege I had was to take democracy and my right to criticize my government and to demand justice from it for granted.

June 9, I watched the January 6th Commission Congressional Hearings, captivated. Here was Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Commission, speaking before a wall of red, white, blue, and gold, before flags and bald eagles and a great seal. Here was Caroline Edwards, the young wide-eyed, brave Capitol Hill police officer testifying about getting knocked out as the mob threw a barrier on her, about coming to on the steps, and then getting back to work, holding the line against an insurrection. She was part of a desperate effort that surely saved the lives of Senators and Congresspeople in the Capital she and her fellow officers kept at their backs.

When Bennie Thompson asked her if she could share “one memory of that awful day that stands out most vividly in your mind,” she said:

“I can. That time when I talked about falling behind MPD’s line. I remember…when I fell behind that line and I saw–I can just remember my, my, my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was a war scene. It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. Umm. You know–They were bleeding; they were throwing up. You know–They had…I mean I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. Umm. You know I was catching people as they fell. You know–I was. It was carnage, it was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that, as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle. You know–I’m trained to detain a couple of subjects and handle a crowd, but I’m not combat trained and that day it was just hours of hand-to-hand combat, hours of dealing with things that were way beyond what any law enforcement officer has ever trained for. And I just remember, that moment of stepping behind the line and just seeing the absolute war zone that the West Front had become.”

She was nothing like me. But I saw how she had fought for democracy, along with all the people who had prevented this coup at every stage, none of whom were of my ideological leaning. I felt patriotism then. I felt how THIS was my country. These my values.

I thought it was over. That our system had held.

I felt hope. And I turned my consciousness briefly from our multiversity vision. I was set to leave for Crete in a few days. But I felt American for the first time in decades.

My resolve stuttered.

Then, I walked out into the summer night, still bright with the sun who had just gone round. I walked into the woods and my dog leapt ahead, springing up above golden grasses to hunt ground squirrels only he could hear.

The land said, welcome Earthling. It hummed to me. It said, that might work, that might turn history.

There were many beautiful projects all around us, all aspiring.

The multiversity, that was mine. So, I would go to Crete.

And I would get in a shuttle and leave Earth forever—so that, one day, my progeny could bring life back, hopefully with a utopian vision that could hold.