My neighbor in the RV park says, “Hello.” If he said any more it would be weird, creepy, awkward, suspicious. I flash back to Cuenca and the cholas sitting in the market with grandchildren running around their knees, the old men in the parks on the benches, greeting one another and conversing with anyone who happens to come near. That includes a pale-faced gringa trying to improve her command of Spanish, eager to learn about their lives and tell them about hers.
It’s so trite to say, “people who don’t have as much, value what’s really important: friends, family, music, enjoying the company of others.” Yet, it is true. I think I never really believed it; I felt like people here in the US enjoy those things too, AND PLUS we have spiffy cars and electronics and nice clothes and kitchens and the best stuff ever in the history of all mankind! What I found living a year in a developing country was that, no, all the stuff really does get in the way of what is real. The things really do distract people from one another. The entertainment media streaming at us all the time really does confuse us and make us cold to one another.
We look at the stuff and the shows and the movies and the video games and the commercials and the news and the signs and the billboards and we are in a trance. We drive in a trance from place to place. We compete in a game to win prizes which we may not even like when we get them. Every now and then we look up and catch each others’ eyes, startled to remember each others’ presence, and stammer a few words, unsure what to say when there is no business to be transacted. What a relief it is to get back down to watching, buying, consuming, earning, and to know everyone around us is doing the same! We are all doing it, so we don’t owe each other anything. Not courtesy, not a moment’s attention, not a smile, and certainly not the truth.
Let us speak one truth before it is too late: we are not the greatest and we never were. We are the world’s dregs: the criminals, the religious fanatics, the political dissidents, the neglected twelfth children, the sexually trafficked, the captive losers in small, local wars. We were all turned loose on a continent whose tech was ten generations behind, and we ran roughshod over it; we then turned our aggression outwards in two world wars and a perpetual global occupation, and claimed control of the financial structure everywhere. We began to tell each other lie after lie after lie about how it all became possible, and we believed those lies, until the truth was hidden in plain sight among a million other stories we liked better. Our youth find nothing more motivating in life than a handful of pills. We want to work and we can’t. We strive and struggle to get a scarce job, and then discover that we are not creating anything of value. Our children’s brains are wilting inside their skulls before they are even born.
We are safer than anyone has ever been in history and yet we are consumed by fear. We have more knowledge available instantly on our phones than our parents could access at the best library on the planet. Yet we are duped over and over by transparent lies, because they are told by pretty people on glowing screens. We are ashamed of our pain, ashamed of our stories, ashamed of our need to connect to other human beings.
Say more than hello. Just say it.