You may think I am zigzagging around here like a drunken hummingbird, but in detailing my personal awakening to the intricacies of coincidences out in the physical world, I was prompted to share yet another improbable link in this evolving, improvisational collage. (Remember that one of my original questions was: Is the world an infinite series of random possibilities, or does it obey a secret, but meaningful, order of divine knowledge and coherence?)
It turns out that my housemate, Hersha, who occupies the downstairs apartment in my house, actually had a grandfather named Virgil. He died when she was only two, so she never really knew him, but she is mesmerized to this day by the memory of a small red suitcase that he once gave her. She still has a photograph of herself holding it.
My own Virgil, happy to find another namesake, chimes in: “He was keen to have his granddaughter grow up as a beautiful, promenading senorita, whose ornate clothes would give the gods pleasure. That way she would be guided safely through life’s difficulties. It’s the reason he gave her the red suitcase. But now, Hersha is very focused on her duties as a nurse, working in a uniform for long hours at the hospital. So it’s a sacred burden. Sometimes she has to catch vomit and many layers of distress in her small red suitcase.”
To underline this last point, Virgil begins humming “The Way You Move,” by Big Boi, an Atlanta-based musician from the hip-hop duo, Outkast, as he sidles off.
I'd been pondering (after the "Woof! Woof!" episode), whether this particular coincidence of names was worth inserting all by itself into the blog or not--it really needs something else, I thought, in order to work--when I suddenly stumbled into a vivid connection that both satisfied my taste for electric immediacy and put a new spin of meaning into the mix. I happened to read an essay called "The Black Sites" in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer, about the C.I.A.'s controversial interrogation program in secret prisons outside the U.S., known as "black sites"--in part because the prisoners had no exposure to natural light, making it impossible for them to tell if it was night or day. Terrorist suspects were detained in these sites indefinitely, without charges, and subjected to unusually harsh treatment, often in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
One of the detainees, a German car salesman captured by the C.I.A. in 2003 and released in 2004 when Germany confirmed that he had no connections to terrorism, Khaled el-Masri, has since described in interviews what life was like in a black site, where inmates often bashed their heads against the wall in pain and frustration. Once he described the plight of a Tanzanian in a neighboring cell:
"The man seemed psychologically at the end," he said. "I could hear him ramming his head against the wall in despair. I tried to calm him down. I asked the doctor, 'Will you take care of this human being?' But the doctor, whom Masri described as American, refused to help. Masri also said that he was told that guards had 'locked the Tanzanian in a suitcase for long periods of time--a foul-smelling suitcase that made him vomit.' "
And so, courtesy of Dick C. and George W.B., the little suitcase that first caught Virgil's attention has accelerated into a gathering crescendo of rot in real time--leading straight to the idea that life is just rearrangements of the same basic stuff. Only the goals change. "It's what you do with what you got," says Virgil, beginning to break into another song. But I'm not ready to leave it at that. A suitcase full of vomit: this now seems to me a perfect icon for the Bush legacy. Yes, chimes in a friend, it's all those things we couldn't stomach about his presidency.