The last few days, I’ve been watching a lot of mess happening in a community where I used to think I belonged. Which is a whole complicated and fraught thing, filled with something kind of like hiraeth, really; aside from the fact that a lot of people are in pain of various kinds, the forms of the pain are, some of them, very personal to me, and others, included among the reasons that I have a hard time feeling that “belonging” thing in the first place.
Some of this is a legacy of growing up perpetually in diaspora. It is perhaps ironic that – after spending my life marinating in the experience of the social fringes – I wound up with a religious dedication to something which is both intensely communitarian and which has no unfractured community, and a deep sense that if I am to have a home it is something that I will have to build.
(But then again, I find myself dealing in an active sense primarily with Powers who might be describable as the Threatening Outsider, the Magnetic Attraction (hat-tip to Alison Roberts for that one), and the Doorkeeper: the outside, the inside, and the passage between. Har-de-har.)
Community is genuinely a difficult thing, a difficult place. And I think that – to take Assmann’s description of ma’at as “the force that gathers people into communities” – building a functional and healthy community is genuinely enough, is genuinely the most important religious task that we have before us as humans.
It is easy to say how one community or another didn’t shape up right. The things that I’m watching or having cause to comment upon in various communities, lately, have to do with how social systems can harbor and support people who are predators, at least so long as the predators are well-liked by enough folks. This community lets people get away with sexual harassment; that community treats queer folks like scum; the other community has major issues with respecting the humanity of the poor; here, mental health problems get a person treated as useless; there, physical health problems get a person treated as a non-entity. I could keep going.
It is easy easy easy to find ways that something is falling short of ma’at.
It is really bloody hard to build something that does not fall short.
We start small. We build relationships, families, groups of friends. We try to build something that gathers people, values people. And sometimes we have to sort: these are the people I’m putting this level of investment in, and everyone else has to deal with my leftovers; I hope someone else is to them what I am to my folks. Or we have to say, you know, these people aren’t as willing to invest in me as I am in them, so maybe I have to reshuffle my priorities. Or: this is too much work for me, for my family, for the people I know, so I have to organise a government that will do it. But then we have to build a government that does the work, too.
But we start small.
Heard a few days ago that my brother has health insurance again at last. He’s got some medical stuff that’s well-controlled with medication and life-threatening without medication, you see. It’s a relief to know that he’s not stuck in the cracks and interstices anymore.
But there are so many people who are.
It’s really bloody hard to build something that does not fall short.
I suspect I’ll feel better after I have my last bath, for Nebet-Het, to bring wisdom and alleviate depression, eh?