Where Reality and Television Intersect at the Line of Pain and Heartbreak

Stumbling Upon Two Posts That Won’t Let Me Go

Watching Death in South Africa

One of the things that I really like about blogging communities is that when the blogs are flashing by on the screen, you can come across some real gems. In fact, that’s how I’ve met all of my regular correspondent with whom I check in daily. But there was one blog that stopped me in my tracks, literally. And I backtracked to the original post, which came from a blog called “Letting Go.” 

The female speaker on this site has many entries about her recovering battle with alcoholism and her so far successful sobriety, as well as her travels. But the one particular post that caught my attention was called called “The Plague Years” ( http://louisey.wordpress.com/2009/01/04/the-plague-years/).

mourning-in-zimbabwe
Mourning in Zimbabwe

This post is incredibly stark in its depiction of the reality of AIDS in Africa, while at the same time being very moving in how the author shares with readers her own experiences amid all of this devastation.

Woke up this morning and thought about having to go to two funerals later today, both of them for young people who died of AIDS. It is not a certainty that the funerals will take place because the municipality still has to organise workers to dig the graves. The graveyard has overflowed the old fenced area and extended down the hillside, hot rocky ground that is not easy to dig. Every day of the week there are burials and it is mostly children who die because their little bodies are too malnourished to fight the opportunistic illnesses.

There are times when I feel this plague will never end. I have been going to funerals here and in Zimbabwe, in Kenya and Botswana and Mozambique since 1985, more than 20 years, and sometimes I feel I will keep watching these premature and unnecessary deaths until I myself am ready for the grave.

The society in which we live shapes us for better or for worse. The material conditions of our lives shape our values and sense of community and altruism, and limit or enlarge the possibilities open to us. Unrelieved poverty opens the door to plagues such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and AIDS. If we have no africsaidspicretrovirals because the government does not want to believe AIDS really exists, thousands are condemned to death. If we have no AA or Alanon because nobody will admit he or she is alcoholic or battling to live with an alcoholic spouse, the struggle to stay sober is that much harder. If it is taboo to speak about AIDS or alcoholism so that there is no education in schools or on the television or radio, the lethal ignorance continues unabated. The discourses around shame and secrecy are the hardest to tackle.

All around me on this bright lovely morning there are birds singing, church bells tolling, childrens’ voices on the playing fields across the road — and all I can hear is the deafening silence of a conspiracy to prevent anyone from speaking the truth. It is forbidden to speak about sexuality in Xhosa, especially if you are a woman. The churches outlaw the use of condoms. And the death rate keeps soaring.

Here are some facts just about one of the countries involved in this epidemic: Zimbabwe is the third largest HIV/AIDS burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to an AIDS fact sheet distributed in 2005 by the Kaiser Foundation. That means that almost 2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and at least 120,000 of them are children. Young women between the ages of 15 to 25 make up about 77 percent of the infected population, and the projected life expectancy for females ranges from 30 to 34.

In a January 2008 article The Boston Globe cited the following statistics:

  • An April report by WHO and two other UN agencies said only 6 percent of children in need of treatment were getting it.
  • The government reports that more than 2,200 Zimbabweans die every week of AIDS complications.
  • According to the World Health Organization, 321,000 people need antiretroviral medicines, or ARVs, and only 91,000 have access to them.

As If That Wasn’t Enough To Hurt Your Heart

Thanks to another blogger with whom I have recently begun to correspond, I am now obsessed with watching “West Wing”  YouTube videos of memorable scenes. For example, from one of the earlier seasons, there is the episode called “Excelsis Deo” in which Toby is moved by the plight of a decorated homeless veteran who died wearing a coat that Toby had donated to charity. The coat still had Toby’s business card in it, so he was informed of the man’s death. The episode ends with the Dire Straits’ song “Brothers in Arms” playing in the background, the White House staff being serenaded to Christmas Carols by a children’s choir, and Toby in Arlington Cemetery with a full honor guard.

Okay. They could have stopped with just the full honor guard. That by itself is enough to give me goosebumps at anytime. Thank god they didn’t put me through the bugler’s “Taps.” I did have to make it through the folding of the flag and presentation on bended knee to the family member. Yes, I am crying openly by now. The link to this particular scene is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfOfUtkbiHQ.

west-wing-20-hours-in-america
From "The West Wing," Episode: 20 Hours in America

But wait, I’m not finished. There’s Leo’s funeral. Enough said on that one. Or, there is the famous mood episode called “The Two Cathedrals Press Conference,” in which President Bartlett is asked if he is going to run again; that’s a classic for the staging alone. All of Bartlett’s team fall into line behind their President, and the scene is a shot of just the men from the thighs down.

But the single best scene from any episode of “West Wing,” the scene that embodies the best of Aaron Sorkin’s writing for his tenure on the show, the scene that I dare you to watch and not be moved by, comes from the epiode  “20 Hours in America.” In it, President Bartlett delivers one of the best speeches to be heard ever—not just television speeches, not just pretend president speeches, but best speeches ever. The rhetoric in it burns.

Just a taste (but without the video, it’s like reading Obama’s speeches rather than hearing them):

“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.”

(I don’t even want to think of how badly W. would have mangled this. How do you type visually shuddering?)

And I so want to put the link in here, but I don’t know if that would be stealing from Willpen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/) since she just ran the YouTube link on her site. So go to her site and watch the video there, and be sure to let her know that I sent you. It’s worth the hop and skip to see this. Trust me.

So, now that I have completely ruined your day and evening with truth and near truth, and the power of words to hold the human heart, let me close. There will be more later. Peace.

7 thoughts on “Where Reality and Television Intersect at the Line of Pain and Heartbreak

  1. Hi Lita,
    Thanks for alerting us all to such a moving post.One to check out today for sure.
    Ahh, my favourite series – The West Wing. The episodes you mentioned have remained in my mind . The writing throughout is superb and the uncanny similarities to to contemporary events is amazing. That speech, I agree would do any President proud!
    Maureen 🙂

  2. It’s nice to know that there are others out there that get those small moments from the West Wing that transcend the obvious. For me, both part 1 and 2 of “20 Hours In America” were like a Jack Kerouic novel. or a Woody Guthrie song or the songs of the old bluesmen that walked the roads of America and sung their stories.

    1. I spent hours watching West Wing on you tube because my stupid computer is acting up, so nothing came through without pauses. I think that one day I am just going to have to suck it up and get the boxed DVD set. Maybe next year for Christmas or something like that.

  3. Thanks for the link and your comments — it is a more complex situation than I could do justice to — but you know that already.

    By the way, I di email you back and the email doesn’t work, so you might ant to check that out.

    Best wishes

    Mary aka louisey

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