By Miles Jaye
When I was a kid, from time to time I would hear the phrase, something or someone was “going to hell in a handbasket.” I never gave it much thought, just old folks complaining about something or someone getting on their nerves– that is their last nerve. Truthfully, while I was taught about hell in Sun- day School, I knew nothing of a handbasket. Again, I hadn’t given it much thought.
As I watched the news this morning, I found myself thinking, this country is going to hell in a handbasket. That’s right! America and the democratic principles it was supposedly founded on are going straight to hell in a handbasket. Two other things occurred to me. One, it’s time to look into that handbasket thing and two, I must now be as old as the old folks of my youth.
I was not at all surprised to learn that a handbasket is exactly that, a basket small enough to carry by hand. I was, however, surprised to learn that the practical art of basket weaving dates back thousands of years B.C. Peoples throughout the world have woven a variety of grasses, straw, wicker, palm, and bamboo to carry essential provisions from place to place.
Africa, Asia and the Middle East are home to some of the most beautiful examples of this craft. The tradition is carried on today in American cities like Charleston, South Carolina. Given the history, compact size and natural beauty of the handbasket, I remove it from my statement about America. Hell, on the other hand, is precisely appropriate for the comment. I was recently asked the meaning of dystopia. My reply was simple, it’s the opposite of utopia. Today, my response might be even simpler, America.
In 2008, Michelle Obama was under severe media criticism for commenting, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country.” She went on to say, “Not just because Barack has done well, but be- cause I think people are hungry for change.” A close examination of her statement suggests to me that she was not proud because America had changed, but for the appearance of an appetite for change.
I would argue that an appetite for a thing is no substitute for the thing itself. Some might say that appetite, like vision or a dream, is the birth of hope and possibility. I would further argue that neither appetite nor hope are acceptable substitutes for that thing. Not even a dream as grand as Dr. King’s dream is an acceptable substitute for actual justice and equality.
Growing up substantively poor, I often had an appetite for something to eat, however, my hunger had zero effect on the absence of groceries in the cupboards or that cool, cavernous appliance, the refrigerator. I still have a lingering contempt for Frederick McKinley Jones– a Black man, and the appliance he invented, as if he was to blame that his device was often bare.
Proud? I’m not proud, I’m tired. The feeling I get in the pit of my stomach every day, at some point in the day, is so far from pride, it would take a short trip on Space-X to come close. What I feel is the contempt I felt for Frederick Jones and what was for far too long, his useless appliance. Contempt for a system of grand promises and failed deliveries. Imagine ordering an item online and it never shows up at your door.
I’m tired of America! That’s a horrible thing for a proud veteran to say, but I’m exhausted by the promises, the politics and slanted news coverage, the debates, the elections, dirty lies, bad laws, pointless investigations, impeachments, election audits, indictments, convictions, and pardons. I’ve had it with America! If this is not who we are, then who are we?
Maybe the old folks were wrong. Maybe it’s not an issue of going to hell, maybe hell is right here, right now, a product of our own doing. Perhaps hell is war, hunger, hate, racism, injustice, homelessness, poverty, addiction, and suicide. It’s possible that hell is evil priests, predatory preachers, and killer cops. It’s conceivable that hell is 700,000+ people dead from a viral infection.
I don’t know about you, but I plan to spend the rest of my life seeking heaven, seeking peace, love and kindness, even if it means taking one of those Space-X flights to somewhere far beyond.
My handbaskets are not going to hell at all, they’re going to heaven with me, filled with a colorful array of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with fresh picked flowers and beautiful memories. What’s in your hand- basket?
That’s what’s on my mind!