First a word about my knees. They’ve been good to me for a long time, and I’m grateful. But in the late summer of 2016 I strained the right one. It happened when I tried to do The Twist. At a Quaker conference.
I don’t know what went wrong; the last time I did The Twist, my knee was fine.
Well yes, that was in 1962; and I wasn’t a Quaker then. Picky picky.
I finally went to a physical therapist, who gave me some stretching exercises to do. I did them just before the election, and afterward, voila! —both knees hurt. A miracle of modern medicine.
As the 2016 election climaxed, and the results sank in, my knees hurt worse. By the weekend after, a friend had lent me a cane, and some pain pills.
Anyway, the aches came and went and came back. Eerily enough, talking about the impact of the election really bothered them. Like it did when I asked Mansoor the Big Question.
Mansoor had a shop in the Durham area, and had helped me with some of my gadgets, or rather, devices. Right then he was preparing to do heart surgery on my desktop. And as in life, so in tech (or is it now vice versa?): I wasn’t as worried about the desktop’s survival, as I was about the bill.
I first brought it in, a couple days ahead of the election, just before leaving town for a few days. We scrolled across files as if they were MRI images, looking for blocked electronic arteries. During this procedure, up popped my blog post about the 1920s Ku Klux Klan, showing how its agenda and spirit, minus only the robes, had pervaded much of the 2016 election campaign.
I pointed this out and slowed the mouse. Mansoor’s expression was impassive, but I could tell he was interested.
After all, in its public aspect, the 1920s Klan was much more about religious prejudice than even race; seriously. The post included several of the many cartoons from Klan periodicals that were strictly about religious hate.
That time around, the religion the Klan went nuts about was Catholicism. (Sorry, Jews, you were only #2 on their list then; but they’re making up for it now.) I pointed to the sketches and said, “If you change ‘Rome‘ to ‘Islam,’ many of these 1920s cartoons, and the Klan speeches they illustrated, could have been given last week.”
He had never mentioned it, but I knew Mansoor was Muslim. The sign on his shop door was a giveaway; it noted that he closed Friday afternoon for about two hours, when many mosques have services. His only responses to my explanation of the blog post were cautious monosyllables; but I suspected he’d remember it.
Back from my trip, I went to check on the desktop. It turned out its heart, the hard drive, was no good; a replacement was on the way.
Which was a real bummer, but neither the only nor the biggest that went down while I was away. An hour earlier, I learned that the president-elect had appointed a white nationalist/anti-semite (to include both semitic religions) as his senior counselor and what the report called “top strategist.”
So while Mansoor and I were talking about when I could retrieve the desktop from his recovery room, he obliquely referred to it having been a busy, tough week.
And then the palms of my hands started to tingle: “Ask him,” whispered that voice in my head. Ask “The Big Question.”
I was reluctant: Ours was simply a business connection, and would he be okay with my stepping past it, even tentatively? Only one way to find out:
“Forgive me if this is impertinent,” I said stiffly (when was the last time I spoke the word “impertinent” out loud?) “but, are you okay?”
(Only three words; but a big question for me.)
Mansoor understood. His smile was restrained but friendly. He said he was all right, so far.
We talked for ten more minutes or so. He explained he had come to the U. S. before all the recent wars–
“–the Good Old Days!” I put in
— he grinned a bit and nodded. He was American now, he said, and felt no yearning to return to his old homeland, except for the occasional family obligation. Nor had he or his family been harassed, during the election or up to now.
But he quoted the Quran, verses about obeying the law of the land one lived in. And how sometimes one might have to suffer for the faith, but if so, there would be recompense in “the hereafter.” This was clearly not the first such conversation for him.
The conversation was only ten minutes or so; but no more than sixty seconds into it, my knees and legs started aching. The discomfort grew more intense as each moment passed.
My partner the Fair Wendy believes that physical pain reflects some inward struggle or psychic misalignment. I’m skeptical of the metaphysics, but couldn’t deny a connection in the moment. Did the increasing, restless ache signify that I really wanted to run out the door, flee home, lock the doors and hide under a blanket? I could easily imagine it.
Or was it that the election shock had “brought me to my knees,” upending all the anxious hopes of an interminable campaign? That too.
I was pretty sure it wasn’t Mansoor himself, or anything he was saying, that was ripping at my kneecaps. Then as the moments crept past, and we finished and shook hands, I think I got it:
The mere fact that we were having this conversation was what was staggering me. It wasn’t a movie thriller, or a suspense novel.
“Attention!” From a dimly-recalled civil defense movie blared an old trumpet-shaped loudspeaker: “This Is NOT A Drill!” And it wasn’t. This was our life now, that day.
Then I was in my car, noticing I was also trembling slightly, feeling chilled. Reflexively, I stopped for a quick dose of that most American form of self-therapy, shopping, and soon was home, legs up, the pain diminishing, well-blanketed and seeking the refuge of sleep.
It occurs to me that conversations like these were why some people soon started wearing safety pins on their lapels or blouses. It meant solidarity or emergency assistance or something. Frankly, I didn’t feel competent to offer that, and the gesture soon faded. But maybe that brief encounter was my rough approximation. In any case, thought gloomily, it will have to do.
Until next time.
And I hope my knees get better. I have a feeling I might need them.
Pass it on.
(Mansoor’s name was changed.)
2019 Update: The computer was replaced. Mansoor’s shop has changed, focusing now om cellphones, but it’s still there. In time, the knees got better. The times themselves haven’t.