“Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for . . .
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets . . .” from the lyrics of “Under Pressure” as written by members of Queen and David Bowie
It was still dark as I drove alongside the glinting waters of the Ohio River, but I could see the sky lighting towards day. I tried to listen to the news when I first left home, but on this particular day the stories were making me feel way too anxious. Thus, I switched to a favorite satellite radio music channel as I made my way onto the 6th Street Bridge heading into Huntington, WV. As I took the exit ramp and began motoring towards the school in which I am currently an educator, I heard the unmistakable beat drop for one of my favorite teen anthem songs, “Under Pressure,” written and performed by Queen and David Bowie.
As is my habit when I hear an old favorite, my hand automatically went to my heart. It was late fall of 1981 when this song was wildly popular. As a teen, I was attracted to socially compelling song lyrics, and the words of “Under Pressure” certainly were thought-provoking. While I cannot pretend to recall my exact mental state in 1981, I do remember feeling the song’s lyrics resonating with me on a visceral level . . . and, boy do they ever resonate now.
“ . . .It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
‘Let me out!’
. . .these are the days it never rains but it pours . . .”
In the 80s, from my know-it-all teen perspective, I thought the world was incredibly messed up! From the rallying cries and images of “Tear down the wall” to songs calling for us to “Feed the World,” and from the music and message of “Farm Aid” to the drama and news headlines surrounding the AIDS/HIV crisis alongside all of the other world/political problems that created newspaper headlines, it seemed in my young mind that the older generations were creating a world of chaos that the younger people would have to fix. How ironic now!
“ . . . Ee do ba be
Ee da ba ba ba
Um bo bo
Be lap . . .”
Shaking my head out of my 80s remembrances, I observed what once must have been a beautiful young lady, now bedraggled and disheveled in appearance, stumbling along the sidewalk next to the traffic light at which I was stopped. Across the street, an older man, wet down the front of his pants as if he had unknowingly (or knowingly?) urinated on himself, began screaming curses at the woman. She shouted incoherent phrases back to him as she attempted to stumble, bumble, fumble ahead at a faster pace, and I drove on, but the image still haunts my very human heart . . .
“ . . . People on streets
Ee da de da de
People on streets
Ee da de da de da de da . . .”
Images from my life flashed before me as I continued to drive. Images from childhood, teen years, college years, early adult years, parenting images, teaching images, images from past world events through where I have lived, and images from on-going current events. Words seemed to fly through the mental space of my brain. COVID. PANDEMIC. CHAOS. QUARANTINE. DIVIDE. HATE. DIVISION. HURT. DIVISIVENESS. PAIN. DISORDER. DEATH TOLL. VIRTUAL. MISTRUST. . .
“ . . .Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why?
Love, love, love, love, love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking . . .”
Am I the only one with a heart that is breaking? It seems as if we often become wrapped up in minutiae of policies, partisanship, and even personal egos that we lose focus of our commonalities and the lives, the real lives of people. Why is it now okay to speak, post, tweet, and write rudely? Why does the concept of compromise seem unacceptable and/or unattainable. Why is mountains of completed paperwork for health care workers, educators, law-enforcement, and all other humanity-based career fields more important than actual time focused on real people-to-people interaction? Why is society as a whole burning bridges of connection?
“ . . . Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?”
As a young girl in the 80s, I was a hopeless romantic who believed that words like love, empathy, compassion, and understanding were the answer to all world problems. My grandfather used to teach the importance of “walking a mile in another man’s shoes.” In fact, it was a consistent message I heard throughout my childhood from the adults in my life. While my grandfather was far from perfect, he certainly tried to apply this expression to his own life. He, along with my grandmother, would take food to those in need, offer rides to the elderly who could no longer drive, and were overall kind and pleasant with all those they encountered–even if they didn’t agree with their personal views. Am I naive to think this aphorism should still be practiced today?
“ . . . Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves . . .”
Currently, I feel “under pressure” in a number of ways, and I suspect, I am not the only one. First, and foremost, I feel the pressure to remain healthy and behave safely for the sake of all others with whom I have contact, but even more so for my loved ones. I am not sure I could live with myself if I caused another person to become sick.
Additionally, I feel professional pressure. Like most other careers, education has had to dramatically change and respond in the wake of a pandemic. Teaching simultaneously in-person students and virtual students, as I try to meet the needs of both groups, challenges me in ways for which I never dreamed nor was prepared. Then, there is the additional pressure of keeping the in-person students safe, their environment sanitized, and still allow them to be kids. It is a delicate balance of walking along a tightrope with strong crosswinds of politics, policies, and personal egos abounding.
Finally, I feel pressure as a responsible citizen. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff? How do I parse out the truth from the half-truths and outright lies? And, what, if anything, can I do about the people suffering in the streets, in the hospitals and other health care facilities, at their work-sites, or currently in their own home? Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses seem at an all-time high with negative coping mechanisms providing easy and quick relief, but not solving problems long term. Meanwhile compassion, concern, and care seem harder to find.
“ . . . This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
My grandmother used to tell me that things had to get worse, before they could get better. Meanwhile, my grandfather used to say that diamonds form under pressure. I have a Ninja pressure cooker in my kitchen. As the pressure builds, the food inside is cooked and transformed into a tasty treat. In order not to overcook the food, I must release the pressure valve, allowing the steam to rise as the temperature and pressure inside reduces. I pray for the pressure valve to release soon. I pray this isn’t “our last dance.” I pray that love will dare us to care, once more, for others, and that we will soon dare to “change our ways” . . . .