I was in Vegas earlier this month for a surgical nursing workshop. On the way back to the airport, I asked our Uber driver if he minded if I ate in the car. He thanked me for asking and said he didn’t mind. Then he told us about a passenger who’d once asked him if he could snort a line of cocaine in the backseat. The driver said, “Yes, I do mind!”
Welcome to Vegas.
A different Uber driver told us about an inebriated couple he’d once picked up on The Strip. It was around lunch time, and they asked him to go through the In-N-Out drive-thru on the way back to their hotel. When he turned around to ask for their order, the man was passed out and the woman was stripped down naked, fondling herself.
Welcome to Vegas.
I don’t think one can visit Vegas and not feel led to question the condition of humanity. The city seems to be a perfect metaphor for the human condition—an eerie blend of abundance and waste, lust and satiety, highs and hangovers, delight and desolation.
You can have anything you want at any time, yet you are still thirsty.
After class on the last day, my husband and I went to the pool and soaked up the desert sun, drank mojitos, and ate nachos. As I enjoyed the high-life by the pool, I checked my phone and saw news reports of a chemical attack in Syria with images of children who were convulsing and frothing at the mouth. My stomach turned. How could I be lying here in my bikini while things like this were happening around the world? I wondered, what do I have to ignore and what do I have to accept in order to live this life?
I’ve learned the hard way that I am not a savior. This realization knocked me on my can during my first year out of nursing school and multiple times thereafter. There are problems far beyond my ability to fix, so when I start to feel distraught by the state of reality, I mostly turn to prayer, poetry, and people who are as neurotic as I am to comfort me. Liquor on the rocks helps too. This reminds me of a poem called “Pancake Dilemma” by George Bilgere:
Another subway station blows up in Europe,
it’s right there on the front page,
and I’m about to pour some syrup on my pancakes.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be doing this.
Maybe I should just put the syrup down
out of respect for the victims and their families.
Yet who is there to witness my sacrifice,
my gesture of solidarity, however small,
with the international community?
My wife is playing with our son in the living room.
I’m at the table by myself, and I could just go ahead
and pour the syrup and smear on some butter
and think compassionately about the victims
while eating the pancakes while they’re hot.
No one will benefit from my eating cold pancakes.
Instead, I call out to my wife from the dining room,
“Another subway station blew up in Europe,
they think it’s terrorists,” but she doesn’t hear me,
the TV’s turned up for Paw Patrol.
So I just sit here quietly for a moment,
then start eating the pancakes,
trying not to enjoy them too much.
I don’t think God wants us to be miserable. God wants us to celebrate what’s good, to lament evil, and to wage war against injustice in the ways we can.To be honest, I don’t know how to straddle the opposing realities of life. It makes me crazy. I’m always waiting for the next ball to drop. I think we find Jesus smack dab in the middle of this mess, but I still don’t feel certain of what it all means or what the point is. Maybe we go to places like Vegas so we can temporarily forget.
On the last night of our trip, my husband and I enjoyed an expensive steak dinner, a belated celebration for our thirteenth anniversary. As I sliced through my buttery filet mignon and drank my glass of red wine, I thought about the war in Syria, the cow that had to die for my dinner, and the immense pleasure I was somehow allowed to experience. I enjoyed it, but I tried not to enjoy it too much.
If you, like me, are seeking ways to make a positive contribution, check out Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit that’s bringing essential food, water, supplies, and medical care to wore-torn Syria.
Peace to you, sisters.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.