The first straw lands so gently it is barely felt. It is lighter than a lover’s kiss – or at least it seems so, because the heart doesn’t rise to meet it. Any straw can make one sneeze, of course, but this is not just any straw: it is the first. It has a mission. And I think we must recognize that it is not altogether unwelcome. Hope had been killing us, making us feel small and weak and Left Behind. What a relief, then, to know that we can abandon our burdens and take shelter here in this toasty warm inn, which seems to have plenty of room for everybody, except for dogs and Samaritans. Sure, the soldiers are kind of noisy, get a little obstreperous with the serving girls, but hey, boys will be boys. And we must remember, they keep us safe from those terrorists up in the hills.
The second straw is a little heavier, but still, one barely notices. Besides, why should the spirit let itself be afflicted by the trivial aches and pains of the flesh? Just look at the people who make the most noise about “oppression” and “injustice” and so forth: chronic ailers, every one of them. We could be living in a utopia and they’d still find something to complain about. We’re not, of course, but that’s only because utopia is impossible. Things are probably just about as good as they can get right now. We need to concentrate on defending what we have, because all the lazy, inept and just plain defective peoples of the world are jealous and want to take it away from us. Isn’t it a shame the way envy and greed can poison the mind, make people hate what we have worked so hard to build up here?
The third straw comes with a helpful reminder: All flesh is grass, it whispers as it lands between the wingbones. It’s considered a normal reaction at this juncture to weep a little bit. And why not? I have been touched by an angel! Book deals, appearances on Oprah: truly, the sky is the limit now. I may not have been to the mountain, but this seems so much more efficient. Bit by bit, the mountain is coming to me!
The fourth straw speaks a little louder – in fact, it sings. Yes, just like a cicada. It sits there on top of the others whistling its one-note tune, and one finds oneself admiring its ability to stay on message. We should all be so persistent! If even a straw can resist going whichever way the wind blows, how much stronger should be our own determination not to veer from the path – which is, after all, plenty broad.
Spare the rod, spoil the child, says the fifth straw as it connects with our sadly sagging shoulders. Stand up straight, soldier! Hold your rifle as if you mean it! With freedom comes responsibility. Every able-bodied citizen must take his or her turn, now, to defend the homeland. Those who refuse will be sent to prison camps where lazing about is not an option. But see how good it feels to discharge a firearm? Such sweet release!
The sixth straw lands with a roar like the ocean surf: The Lord is my shepherd, all the voices are chanting in unison. There’s no more waiting for the sweet bye and bye. History is coming to an end. The pastures have been grazed to the nubbin, the still waters are brown with silt, the dead zones are growing and merging. Species that cannot compete effectively in the new global marketplace are dying a merciful death. Stranger, tell the Lakedaimonians that we lie here awaiting their orders.
The seventh straw comes soaked in gasoline. I am the first and the last, it shrieks. Our nostrils fill with smoke. The rain is black with the fallout from burning libraries. Once in a while a large piece of ash drifts slowly down and we can make out a word or two before it crumbles to pieces against the rubble. I have seen two or three such messages with my own eyes, but I dare not repeat them. Americanization is now complete. This was the last straw. Any moment now, the trumpets will sound.