My favorite books are mysteries. My mom bought me one of my first mysteries when I was six or seven from a used bookstore near our house — “The Secret of the Old Clock” by Carolyn Keene. I absolutely devoured it. Yet, what started as a small Nancy Drew obsession has morphed into a collection of hundreds of mystery classics. Truman Capote, Agatha Christie, Carolyn Keene, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gordan McAlphine, Anthony Horowitz, John le Carré — each one of these writers has become foundational in my literary catalog.
I find comfort in the mysteries that have a bit of a formula, perhaps not a predictable conclusion, but at the very least, the mystery is solved by more-or-less predictable means at the end of the book. Poirot will discover the killer. Drew will connect the dots. Miss Marple will find the missing clue. There is a certain peace to a conclusion wrapped up with a bow. Yes, evil exists but at least, you know there is a fictional restorative justice to right all wrongs and provide the victims with some sense of closure.
I often find myself wishing for a similar formula in life. Bad things happen to good people but ultimately, there is worldly redemption. Perhaps, it is a rather punitive mindset in which evil people are forever damned but there is a comfort to the safety or familiarity of such a formula. You know what will happen even when everything seems to be falling apart.
In just the past year, we have seen horrible acts of violence coupled with ever-increasing death tolls around our country. From the recent shootings in Atlanta, York County, Orange County and Boulder to the instances of police brutality that continue to affect communities of color to the unjust responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that has destroyed so many families, it has started to feel rather hopeless. I wake up everyday to glance at my phone and see another shooting somewhere around this country. And, despite the popular myth that gun violence decreased during the pandemic, the reality is it went up.
Violence in this country is rooted in our foundation. We were built on a system of exploitative forced labor. We grew at the hands of enslaved populations and stolen goods that underdeveloped regions of the world. We continue to incriminate communities of color at disproportionate rates and rip apart families at our border. We promote an ideology of personal freedom for all yet only grant it to a few.
As an individual within this system, I find myself struggling to find any solutions. What is the efficacy of me trying to recycle, shop from ethical businesses, donate money to nonprofits and advocacy organizations, commit to little acts of change when the blame is on the shoulders of corporate America? Not to be existential, but it is hard to remain optimistic.
Our world is not a mystery novel. There is no worldly source of objective justice to reign down on the criminals of our day. What then is asked of us? How do we find any hope in an unjust, racist, and exploitative capitalist system that permeates into all aspects of our daily life? What can we possibly do?
I am not here to say I have any answers. In fact, oftentimes, asking myself these questions simply leads to more questions and more frustration than really anything else. But, I find hope when I see the passion of my generation for change. I find hope when people commit themselves to building up and advocating for their local communities. And, I find hope when those around me productively and fervently combat the status quo in all the different spaces they occupy.
Perhaps, there is no one person — no Poirot, no Drew, no Miss Marple, no detective from any novel — to know what the missing piece of our society is. But, as the cliche goes, there is power in numbers.
I will leave you the best way I know how. Political activist and Marxist Angela Davis once said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
While this is not the solution that we are seeking, it is perhaps a way to at least begin to understand our world.
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