top of page

The air is yellow

At this moment, I should be getting ready for my 50th high school reunion, getting re-acquainted with old friends and strangers. Exclaiming on how you look just the same I’d know you anywhere you look like you’ve had a good life you’ve aged well.

Instead I’m sitting alone on my couch, looking out at the yellow air, writing to you about a world you know too much about already. My life started getting smaller several months before yours did with my cancer diagnosis and compromised immune system late last year. But now all of our lives have been turned upside down more or less equally by a global pandemic. I don’t have any words you haven’t read already; cancer only made the covid-black lives-election trifecta one notch more urgent for me.

But if we thought it couldn’t get more surreal, we weren’t listening to the climate science warnings. Yesterday Gavin Newsom, governor of the state I grew up in, invited all climate deniers to visit California to breathe their yellow air—the whole western U.S. is on fire at the moment. I don’t need to check the air quality index to know I can’t go outside. Even with a mask. Earlier this week Washington lost more land to fire in one day than we normally lose in an entire year.

Here’s another reminder that the world is upside down. In the other Washington, the government became the givernment (a typo I just decided made sense), for a little while anyway, helping support laid-off workers and companies large and small get through the first few months of this Covid shutdown. The fiscal hawks will undoubtedly be circling again though. I assume they’ll soon say we have to cut Medicaid and Medicare because of the bloated deficit.

Sitting here in this curry-colored atmosphere, how can I possibly be hopeful for the future? Hopeful that my grandkids’ lives won’t be an existential struggle? I’m normally someone with a little bounce, but since I started breathing yellow air, , there’s nothing sanguine about the way I feel; a whiff of cynicism has set in. If I felt we were in the critical ward before, it feels more end-of-life care now. I’m grasping at straws. One huge straw, actually. Will young people turn out to vote for a different president—another septuagenarian to be sure, but one that will at least move us back more in sync with science?

Young people in great numbers standing up to be counted would feel like we’re turning a corner. I know, progress isn’t a straight line, but we’ve been on a giant detour in the wrong direction on many fronts. A youthful collective effort to step in and put us back on a positive trajectory is what we desperately need. And just how many metaphors can I stuff into one paragraph, anyway?

My younger son is as committed to voting as I am. But I hear that some of his friends consider not voting because Bernie isn’t on the ballot. Some wonder if their vote even counts. The answer to that is, if one vote doesn’t count, then why are some so desperate to suppress it? Why have the powers that be worked so hard to prevent Black people, women, students, the sick and the elderly from voting? Why are those in power cutting voters from the rolls, closing polling stations, and, in the midst of a pandemic, making up rumors to question the validity of mail-in balloting?

In a time when many, maybe even most, young people are in a struggle for their economic lives, why should they worry about voting? From the yellow air where I sit and breathe, because the rest of their lives depend on it. If government is still by the people and for the people, the younger among us give me hope.

Image by KOMO News (thank you KOMO News!). Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. © 2020 Susan Cummings. All rights reserved. Originally published on [How to grow, while growing older]


Receive future essays

Search by tags
My other sites
  • instagram
bottom of page