In the back room of the sanitarium, young Esther showed me a handmade plaque, about the size of a typical award plaque, which it may have been originally.
“Everyone here has gone through this,” she said. “Even me.”
I’m pretty well used to dark things (having read lots of nasty history), but this was a dark perspective that was new and slightly jarring. It read:
This is where scarred and rejected people live. Go away and don’t embarrass us any further. We’re not pretty like you and we never will be. We don’t have money and we don’t have power and we know we never will. We are the rejects of the world, and it’s your obligation to leave us alone. Don’t try to make yourself feel good by soothing us – it doesn’t help. And don’t try to make us prosperous and happy like you – we can’t do it and we don’t want to be reminded.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I simply said, “I’m sorry.”
But I still had her words in my ears, We’ve all gone through this. And “going through” implies coming out the other side,
“But this is no longer entirely true, is it?”
“Partly,” she said, “but no, not entirely.”
“Like your mom’s story?” I asked. “Wrung out with loss and anger but realizing that you’re still here… and that what’s inside can still operate?”
She smiled halfway. “Yes,” she said. “Not as crisp and clean as you say it, but mostly.”
“Mostly” is a good start, I thought.
A few minutes later I found myself at a large dining room table with most of the sanitarium’s residents. Esther’s mom, Dora, explained what they wanted.
“We want to run businesses from right here in our home and never have to go to banks and other offices. I don’t want to walk down the street and have people looking down at me and comparing themselves to me, which I know is what they do. Can we do that with these new cryptocurrencies?”
“The short answer, Dora, is that yes, you can. But you should know that it’s kind of hard, and a few parts are of questionable legality… not ’cause they’re bad in any real way, but because the governments haven’t a clue what to do with these things and they tend to lash out wildly from time to time. When someone’s frustrated and angry, and if all they own is a whip, they tend to get malicious with it.”
Dora thought for a moment, then responded, “When you say ‘hard,’ what do you mean?”
“I mean that part of it will be slow and plodding, not that it requires you to write computer programs or anything like that.”
“We can do that,” she said. (This would have been the time when I might have smirked were I her, but her face never flinched. It seemed that she had trained herself not to smile, which I found painfully sad.) “We have plenty of time on our hands.”
“Okay,” I said, “then you should be able to do it. There will be the occasional false start and all the usual difficulties of business… and you’ll be limited to the crypto-economy, which is still developing… but you can do it.”
This time I saw just a little bit of light in Dora’s face, and just as fast I told myself that I could not – no matter what – allow myself to subvert that tiny sprout of happiness.
“Will you tell us how to do this?” she asked.
“I will, Dora, but what I’m really going to do is to teach you how to learn about all this stuff. In fairly short order, you guys will know more than I do.”
Her face began to turn suspicious and I remembered the plaque: Don’t try to make yourselves feel good by soothing us, so I jumped right back into the conversation.
“And I’m serious about that. I know the broad outlines and I can tell you where to go, but I’m not up on the new tricks. I no longer have time for that.”
Dora seemed to be content.
I explained that my time was limited but that I could stop by their place the following week and get them started. I took a look at their computer equipment and their internet connection and advised some upgrades. They said they’d take care of them.
So now I have to teach a group of people how to conduct business purely in the digital economy – no banks, no offices, and so on. Plenty of people do that already, but I’m not one of them. So, I just bit off yet more learning. Thankfully, I have cool friends.
More next time.