Last year at this time (Rosh Hashanah) I wrote about the sweetness of a new year. I believed that happiness must be inevitable for us all because there was possibility, coming in the form of a calendar yet unblemished. I imagined that the hope conjured up by those without hope was something to which I too could aspire.
I knew it was going to be a sweet year. And it was. But sometimes sweetness becomes suddenly like sand in our mouths.
I traveled from Los Angeles to Boston only recently. For many months now I have prepared myself for potential airport trouble because I refuse to pass through the body scanner and I refuse to submit to the pat down. I have legitimate reasons why I refuse to do so--many of which will be discussed in various entries on this blog over the next month or so. But until this trip I was always given the "option" of going through a metal detector as opposed to the more recent intrusive methods (well, to be honest, I always scope out the line--and there's always one--that doesn't have the body scanner). But this time it wasn't an option: every line had a body scanner.
My travel companion and I both knew that we might not be able to fly, but we had agreed to stand our ground. We were polite, articulate, and compassionate in our refusals, but we were also adamant. The details will be discussed in a future blogpost, but our standoff involved every possible "supervisor" at the airport as well as multiple members of the LAPD. We did fly that night, but with only a few small victories. I was ultimately "forced" to submit to an intrusive pat down.
I was devastated and ashamed of myself--mostly because I knew that I could have let them arrest me rather than capitulate. They only forced me because I allowed them to. I am disappointed that I did not, finally, sit down on the ground and refuse to leave the premises and allow the police officers to, reluctantly, arrest me.
At the end of my trip, as I began the security screening process once again in Boston, I was met with much more hostility and cruelty (in LA, for example, the TSA employees were--with the exception of one man--somewhat understanding and respectful even if they lacked the capacity to articulate themselves; the LAPD officers were surprisingly kind--more articulate and intelligent than the TSA staff). The TSA employees at the Boston airport were inhuman (the men, that is; the women were fairly average in attitude)--some of the most hateful individuals I have ever encountered. Something about sneering, hateful men in uniforms chills me.
But I am equally disturbed by the mass apathy that flanked me on both sides in the form of travelers mindlessly walking through the body scanner and assuming the position. Why? Because someone in a uniform told them to do it. I saw as others watched, horrified, the way the Boston TSA treated us. They were scared.
I have been deeply disturbed for days now. No number of apples dipped in exotic honey can sweeten my disposition. And there is a sense of foreboding for this year to come. But I am also more deeply aware--of exactly what, I am not ready to articulate. But it is an awareness nonetheless.
Responsibility begins with awareness. And I have become aware. I am now responsible for this awareness. It holds me hostage.
And yet I don't know exactly what is my responsibility--to myself, to my community and country, to God. I also know that I experienced something else--something painful. I don't, however, know what it is. And so I've come running back to books and theories and ideas, looking for an answer to what it is I'm experiencing--what can only be described as an existential trauma of sorts. And so, like always, I read for the wound.* But this time I feel it inside of me.
I have yet to find answers to what it is I feel, what it is I want to say, to scream. My first thought was to read Enrique Dussel (yes, this whole thing must be about the philosophy of liberation!). Then Agamben--because of course the space occupied by the TSA is a kind of "state of exception." (I'm not convinced it's not, actually.) And then of course I come back to Levinas, where I feel comfortable. It doesn't give me answers, but it reminds me to ask the right questions, namely: what is my responsibility here?
Maybe I need to get angrier. One of my favorite writers, Alicia Ostriker, has said (with regard to women in the context of the Hebrew bible): "We are not yet angry enough."
I know that I will not be able to forget these incidents or the larger issue of citizens being forced to undergo invasive screening procedures and being treated like animals when they politely question the need for it or request an alternative. And yet, all I can do right now is look for the right questions, continue to read for the wound.
*The phrase "read for the wound" is borrowed from Geoffrey Hartman.