Opinion: Into the twilight zone


Published: 05-14-2023 7:00 AM

John Buttrick writes from his Vermont Rocker in his Concord home: Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.

I recently noticed, that for no apparent reason, my digital clock radio had begun to run an hour behind. Finding no simple “set the time” button, I tried other buttons in various sequences to coax the clock to catch up to the “correct time.” After nearly giving up, I found the right combination to move the time from 6 to 7.

My ineptness fully redeemed, I celebrated with my favorite breakfast of Finish pancake. That evening, when the digits on the clock announced my 10 o’clock bedtime, I noticed fine print I had missed in the morning. Just above and to the right of the numbers were the micro-sized letters, “AM.” My day had become night and my night day. I was in a twilight zone.

This temporary twilight was just enough to make me take notice of our troubled nation: the divisions and confusion in Congress, the inability of citizens to accomplish significant gun control, racial justice still unresolved, economic injustice. The twilight zone is disorienting, often like an extended bad dream. Time rushes past security and drags through peril and a promise. There are millions of people stuck in a twilight zone, yearning to be free.

Step into the twilight of the pregnant woman, whose time is measured in a few short weeks, surrounded by a world of debate over the morality or wisdom of abortions or family planning. Step into the twilight realm of refugees and asylum seekers, stalled at the border because they come from an alien place and the timing is not right. Step into the twilight with people who have no place to sleep at night and are excluded from the comfort zone of people with the means to rent or buy a home. The homeless live in peril while those with the power and means take all the time in the world to debate solutions to poverty and homelessness.

Step into the twilight with people experiencing lifetimes of racism while outside their zone dwell denial and reluctance to reach for equity. Or step into the twilight with Palestinians living under the thumb of the Israeli Defense Forces for over sixty years: living in a prison zone of restricted movement, military law, and economic repression apart from the dignity of Israel’s aspiration to be a democratic society. The twilight zone of the powerless is like a bad dream that never ends.

However, there is also an insidious zone of complacency that wraps around the privileged. It’s where “the emperor fiddles while Rome burns.” In our democratic nation, we are the emperors. Our easy complacency takes away the urgency to deconstruct the twilight zones squeezing millions of powerless people. It takes a spark of empathy to shake up complacency. Empathy grows by accompanying people in the twilight of despair. It awakens urgency to free people to experience dignity and security.

No more interminable debates in Congress without resolution. No more for-profit healthcare systems that leave some people in a zone of sickness and death. No more ignorance about the origins of wealth. No more claims of privilege, but more opportunities for all.

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As Tara Isabella Burton has written in “On Hope and Holy Fools,” “to understand ourselves… as ordinary people whose lives are lived entwined with one another: that life we live with one another is the truest expression of who we really are.”

It will move the clock from the twilight zone of despair to the sunrise zone of peace with justice for all humanity.