Musings on the Ever Given

 The Ever Given has run aground in the Suez Canal
One of the world’s largest container ships
En route from China to the Netherlands
Wedged diagonally in the sand
Two hundred thousand tons
Bearing on saturated earth
Refusing to budge against the tugs and winches
A box full of boxes of boxes is boxed in
The global economy has an arterial blockage
And health points are ticking away
Measured in GDP growth
Or billions of dollars
We read about the dollars
About the hundreds of ships waiting
But we seldom hear about what is in those ships
What is in those ten thousand boxes of boxes?
How many lifetimes of human labor does that represent?
Shoes?  Clothes?  Tires?  Computers? 
Toilet paper?  Canning jars?  Spices? 
Hopes?  Dreams?  Proud creations?
Or just products, commodities, dollars?
The web of global commerce is beautiful
Trucks rolling over mountain passes
Trains snaking through wooded valleys
Barges plying the waters of deep canyons
Giant ships gliding through canals and rocking on high seas
Electricity crossing mountains and plains
Changing voltage, becoming smaller, spreading out
From the great steel-pyloned arteries
To the little capillary wires that power our homes
Keep us warm, our batteries charged, our screens lit
I am different perhaps
In that I notice this always
Watch the trains
Observe the patterns
Follow the web of wires and pipes
See the steady flow of wood chips and recycled boxes
Carried to the maw of the great mill to the west
Returning as giant rolls of kraft paper
In boxcars and box trucks
Day in and day out
To become boxes again, in places around the world
Boxes of boxes-to-be
For most of the rest of humanity this web is invisible
Until it breaks
And then we realize that there is a canal in Egypt
And a hundred ships
Carrying thousands of entire lifetimes of human labor
Of blood, sweat, and tears
Pass through it every day
With no fanfare and hardly any notice
It is an immense sadness to me
That the outcome of this great global dance
This flow of lifeblood involving billions of humans
Is a mundane, meaningless sameness
The same products for sale in the same stores
The same Amazon and Walmart warehouses
In every corner of every country
Marketed with empty slogans
And handed over for dollars
Purely transactional
And devoid of humanity
Devoid of story
Devoid of recognition, appreciation, thanks
Have you ever given this much thought?
Have we ever given our consent to this way of being?
Could it, please, be otherwise?
A commodity is an abstraction
Function abstracted from creation
Product abstracted from process
Wheat from the South Dakota plains
Wheat from Ukraine
Farmers cutting swaths of rolling hills
Praying to different gods for rain
All just wheat
All just dollars
Oil from Venezuela
Oil from Saudi Arabia
Oil from deep below the Gulf of Mexico
Raised from the Earth by proud and gritty crews
Carried around the world by skilled sailors
Under resplendent sunsets and circling albatrosses
All just oil
All just gasoline
All just dollars
Shirts sewn by Marisol in Mexico
Shirts sewn by Nguyen in Viet Nam
Shirts sewn by Ikenna in Nigeria
Shaped proudly by skilled hands
Of people who have children and stories
Hopes and dreams
Packed into boxes in boxes
To be sold in big boxes
All just shirts
All just dollars
Our global society has built a beautiful web
Of interconnectedness
But has abstracted it
From reality, from humanity
And so this web is invisible
Trillions of hours of human labor unnoticed, unappreciated
Commerce divorced from culture
Story and meaning scrubbed from the business of making and being
So that we seek instead in fiction and fantasy
In a cult of celebrity
In escapism rather than presence
A great rift is opening
Between those who buy boxes from big boxes
And those who fill the boxes
Those who move the boxes
Those who work with their hands and bodies
A great rift that threatens to swallow the world
Into violence and chaos perhaps
A great clash of politics and ideologies
And the basis of that rift
Is the fundamental absence of reciprocity
“You produce, I pay, I consume
I have no idea who you are
And I don’t care”
I wish to declare “commodity” a curse word
I wish to de-commodify the world
So that the global web of commerce
Becomes a global web of story
I wish to know the stories
Of Marisol, of Nguyen, of Ikenna
Not merely some fake advertising copy
I wish to feel connection with those who grow my food
Those who make my clothes
Those who bring the electricity to my house
The gas to my car
Those who captain the ships, the barges, the trains, the trucks
And I wish to thank them
Not merely with dollars
But with my heart
A deep feeling of gratitude
For their labor which nourishes me
And I wish also that my labor can
In some small way
Nourish them as well.
I do not wish to produce and consume
I wish to co-create
And in so doing
I wish that all who create
Are both compensated fairly
And appreciated
When I build my Winnow Wizards
The sale price pays the bills
But it is the stories that feed my soul
A window into the world of small farms
Interesting and unique human lives
Who appreciate my creation
And I appreciate them in turn
When I organize the Soil Amendment Sale
It is the human connection that pays dividends
Bina’s lemon cake for trucker Dale
Volunteers working together
Conversations with hundreds of farmers and gardeners
Getting what they need to grow
I wonder what it might take to re-humanize the economy
On a larger scale?
Perhaps it could be done
Without the permission of corporations
What if instead of the royal drama of Meghan and Harry
We were to read the stories of Amazon workers
Of oilworkers, of farmworkers, of garment workers?
What if we could begin to know these people as people
Rather than invisible cogs in a giant machine?
Could we begin to de-commodify the great web
To give thanks where thanks are due
To ensure that all are paid enough to survive and thrive
To heal the rift of inequality, of disrespect
That divides us
To imbue the great web with story and meaning
To celebrate presence
And all who are present?
That may be a tall order
But I wish to work toward such a world
In my own small ways
And I wish that I may live
To see it happen
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