“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a poem written over one hundred years ago by the poet T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  Written in 1910, the poem was immediately cast into a new category of poetry called modernism, “a literary movement at the turn of the 20th century that emphasized themes of alienation, isolation, and the diminishing power of the traditional sources of authority.”   Sound familiar?

Eliot’s poem is presented as a dramatic monologue, in which the speaker exposes his anxieties and preoccupations with life, with love lost, wondering whether he has made, or can make, any sort of impact at all. His self esteem seems to be at an all time low tide.

Because of Covid19, a number of people at various stages of rehabilitation have been sent out of care facilities at varying levels of their own low tides. One, released early and anxious to get on with life, joined his family, girlfriend, and other friends with full intentions of getting back into the service industry, cooking food in the kitchen of a local restaurant where he played an important role as chef before his drug conviction. He was admitted to a special program, the SMART Program, (Supervision and Monitoring for Alcohol/Drug Related Treatment ) which has a very good track record working with dedicated individuals for eight or nine months. His term there would have extended for a much longer period of time, but the SMART program had orders to evacuate according to some authority, and perhaps, unaccustomed to sanitizing techniques or material support to do what was needed in a pandemic, perhaps, just maybe, it was with good reason. This young man tried to find work, but unfortunately he showed back up at a time when bars and restaurants were shutting down. The truly sad thing is, this young man didn’t make it.  He needed the rest of his program time. He needed to work through his life script a few more times, set and review his goals. He needed to feel like there was hope, and to understand that he would need to wait for things to turn around. Like many young deaths, his overdose was tragic and most unexpected. Families are still reeling.

Then there’s G who, after having spent time in SMART, followed by some amount of time in jail for a repeat drug offense, was also recently released early for the same reason–Covid19.  He returned home, sporting an ankle monitor, to a complicated situation involving his mother in need of drug treatment herself. Dropped off with no money, no clothes other than what he was wearing, and the ankle monitor to remind him that he was not to leave the premises, he was expected to phone in a certain number daily to see if he needed to report for a urine analysis. If his color came up, he’d have to figure out how he was going to get down to the testing site, about ten miles away. But first, there was the matter of food–just finding something for him and his mother to eat. After reading a desperate plea on Facebook for some support, written by G as he paced the perimeter of the apartment complex over and over like a wild animal caught in a new kind of cage, someone dropped off a couple of bags of groceries. G’s story is still being written. He’s now living in a hotel in order to have space away from his mother while he job hunts. Last we heard, he had an interview at Dollar General.

This country has never been through a pandemic before, but I have to wonder what some people are thinking as they release these, our, citizens back into our community before they are ready. What is the plan for their support, emotional or otherwise?   Many have the mental capacity to figure out what to do next based on their hard, soul searching work at SMART, but what about the others who don’t have a solid support system at home?  That traditional support system so crucial to re-entry and future success just isn’t there.  What do the “authorities” know or care about these people who have been under their supervision, in their facilities, for months? Do their daily schedules allow time to get to know their charges? Do they feel anything when they drop them off? Do they say, “See you later!” and speed away? Who would believe how our city and country is handling this situation?

What about those citizens who feel completely alone, isolated, and don’t see a path to succeed during this pandemic, whether returning from rehabilitation or not? These times are the déja vu of the modernist era of J. Alfred Prufrock playing out for too many.  When I think I have it bad during this pandemic, I have to remember there are people literally fighting for their lives in various ways that don’t directly involve the virus. They are victims who’ve become the collateral damage of a justice system, or a community system, doing whatever it thinks best, under the direction of our elected officials, during uncertain times and in uncharted territory.  I won’t dwell on the negative too long, but I see how we are as a nation in times of crisis and it’s not pretty.

I hope when I send it to them, the mayor and a justice official will read this and respond. Next time, there’ll be no excuse for doing such a crappy job of caring. I hope we’ll do better, because we’ll know better.  If we don’t, shame on all of us.

LitCharts gives a beautiful line by line interpretation or analysis of T.S. Eliot’s poem here: https://www.litcharts.com/poetry/t-s-eliot/the-love-song-of-j-alfred-prufrock

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