Politics is the family at breakfast. Who is there and who is absent and why.
Who misses whom when the coffee is poured into the waiting cups. Can you, for example, afford your breakfast? Where are your children who have gone forever from these their usual chairs? Whom do you long for this morning? What rhythm is it that pushes you to hurry toward pleasures life has promised you, or to a confrontation you wish you could win just this once? Where are the children of this mother who, in her slightly crooked spectacles, sits knitting a pullover of dark blue wool for the absent one who does not write regularly? Where is your gentle chatter, your splendid isolation, your lack of need of the outside world for even a few moments? Where is your illusion laid bare by the newspaper lying on the cane chair at your side?
What small act of forgiveness are you training yourself to perform today? What reproach do you wish to utter? And what reproach do you wish erased? Who threatens your wonderful mistakes, staying up to spoil your night? Who ruins your sweet inconsequential things with the awe of his authority and his driver and his servants and his happy bodyguards? Who imported this small, shiny teaspoon from Taiwan? What giant ships ploughed the seas to bring you some trivial piece of primitive gadgetry from Stockholm? How did the flower merchants make their millions and build their fine houses from selling the bouquets carried by mothers and sisters to the graveyards that are always damp: raindrops, flowers, and tears. You question why even the silence in the graveyards is wet.
Politics is the number of coffee-cups on the table, it is the sudden presence of what you have forgotten, the memories you are afraid to look at too closely, though you look anyway. Staying away from politics is also politics. Politics is nothing and it is everything.
– Mourid Barghouti, “I Saw Ramallah”
Politics is broken hearts and mangled bodies and tears that don’t make sense and no explanations and too many explanations that sound like bullshit. It is randomness and it is calculation. It is the collision of the transient anonymity and uncertainty in airport terminals – fleeting blurs of faces and forms, reunions and farewells and new beginnings, quests for adventure, for meaning, for escape – and the finality, the permanence, of devastation and shrapnel.
Politics is waiting for that phone call, the one that lets you know if you can breathe again. It is planning a funeral instead of your wedding day. It is the “what if?” of the pregnant widow, the guilt-ridden co-worker, and the many sleepless nights to follow. It is never reaching the son you sought to save. And it is what took him away from you in the first place.
Politics hides, shapeshifts, disguises itself, pushing Religion in front of the flashing cameras and microphones to be amplified, scrutinized, despised; to create fodder for talking heads and fearful minds and profitable wars that exact violence on distant bodies and scar landscapes, histories, civilizations. Politics speaks in Religion’s tongue, dons Religion’s garb, and knows that Religion’s foreignness, Otherness, and nebulousness make it an easy scapegoat.
Politics holds press conferences and issues condemnations, all the while dropping bombs (and making money) and colonizing lands (and making money) and building prisons (and making money) and causing children to fear skies and seek solace in oceans. And politics washes its hands of all of it.
Politics is the twelve year old who never made it to thirteen. The Skittles that were never eaten. The new job that was never started. Politics is also the indictment that was never made, the prison sentence never served; because politics sometimes confuses murder with self-defense.
Politics is downturned heads and broken backs that carry nations only to be told it wasn’t enough. It will never be enough. You are not entitled to what you have built, to the soil underneath your fingernails.
Politics is mothers and their prayers and their bodies and their wombs and their madness and their magic and their fire and everything that tries to extinguish it.
Politics is the numbness that accompanies tragedy. The many words that mean nothing at all. The scales that measure the value of lives in airtime and social media posts and make our mourning conditional, qualified, apologetic.
Politics strips us bare, makes hollow our humanness. So thoroughly preoccupies us with trying to prove our worth and our dignity and our right to life, that we don’t realize it was never meant to work for us.
Because politics is nothing. And it is everything.