Friday, November 21, 2008

Quality of Life: the prisons we occupy

At ACT-SF through this weekend, Jane Anderson's play, "Quality of Life," looks at love and loss and how much courage is involved when one choose life rather than death when this great love is gone. The play, extended though Sunday, Nov. 23 at the Geary Theatre is a metaphor for so much. I had a conversation Wednesday, Nov. 19, with Albert Woodfox's brother, Michael Mable, who has been visiting his brother held at Angola State Prison for over 30 years. Woodfox spent 36 years behind bars and after fighting for his release for even longer, the ruling over a month ago was "the man is innocent, release him," yet his case is still undecided after a recent hearing in New Orleans where the judge is still deliberating.

The Quality of Life.

What or how does one measure his or her quality of life? Is good quality a life where there is no sorrow or pain? Is the opportunity to suffer best avoided? Is one's ablity to take a life or give life to another justification to compromise its quality?

These philosophical questions are addressed in the play as two couples meet in the woods where one couple having just lost their home and everything in it to a huge fire caused by negligence, the fire nothing when they consider Neil's impending death, his wife of 30 years, Jeanette's choices, and their cousins' Dinah and Bill's inability to recover from the murder of their daughter.

Dinah and Bill stay together, yet to what do they owe its quality and should two people stay together when all they do is exacerbate each other's suffering? They have a choice, yet, the dying man and their daughter do/did not.

There is something to be said about freedom here and what we take for granted especially when all is reduced to charred wood and mangled possessions, skulls and bones licked clean by savaging animals. What is control and how much is our surrender to the process, called life or the soul's journey connected to this

Does the quality of life need qualification or is their an unspoken consensus? The couples, who haven't been very close share this question, share these thoughts with one another as Neil dies and Jeannette wants to die with him, so that she doesn't end up like her cousins' Bill and Dinah.

I wonder about these prisons, imagined and real we inhabit where the rules are already posted, most of us compliant, even when the quality of our lives and those affected by our lives is negatively impacted.

Neil in his final lecture to his students at the university where he is an anthropology professor address the choices we are faced with and how is all boils down to the quality of the life we chose to live and the multiple obstacles many of us face as we tread the road to its fulfillment. These barriers could be financial or they could be seated in policies which kept one perpetually incapable of achieving what one envisions.

How can those who erect such barriers have a good quality of life? What are the consequences for such persons whose life's work seems devoted to erasing hope and barring access of many to what we are all --just because we are present in the world, living organisms entitled too?

I loved the play. I loved the questions raised. And I loved the challenge posed to live despite the ugliness in the world, despite the unanswered questions one faces on this often lonely journey.

Thursday night, Nov. 20, I was left with hope that I am capable, that though my quality of life might fluctuate, I possess what I need to be happy most of the time and fulfilled all the time and as Kwame Ture said, always ready for revolution, ready to fight for our brothers and sisters behind bars, like Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, like my cousins and classmates, like my sisters and their children.

My quality of life is connected the values of freedom and liberty and justice. The American Association of Anthropology Conference is this weekend in San Francisco. I thought to myself, how fortuitous.



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