Departures

America, whatever its flaws, is very often amazing in its efficiency and compassion. It did not escape my mind that in some other place I might have died.
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I. Jeudi

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Yesterday I ate a bad nut on the train to Boston and went into anaphylactic shock.  A doctor who happened to be seated nearby shot me up with an epipen. The train made an emergency stop in New London where the paramedics were waiting. I was shivering crazily, which was better than the bullets I'd been sweating moments before. The doc told me it was the adrenaline. I kept apologizing. I couldn't believe I was making a scene on the Quiet Car.


The paramedics came in and took my blood pressure. They were moving to get me on a stretcher. I told them I could stand. They told me I could not as my blood pressure was such that I would likely faint. So they hauled me up and off, got me to the hospital, ran some oxygen through my nose and put an IV in my arm. When I got the hospital the doctors took great care of me. Two points: First, my theory of assholes clearly should be revised; the kindness of strangers is always amazing. Second, America, whatever its flaws, is very often amazing in its efficiency and compassion. It did not escape my mind that in some other place I might have died. This is not chest-thumping or jingoism. It is a fact of my residency.

Through it all, I could only think of one thing: Will I get to Europe? The doctor came in after I'd awaken. My swelling had gone down. But the drop in blood pressure spooked him. After some deliberation he released me and told me if I had no problems over the next 24 hours, I would be fine to fly. 

I have not had any problems. At 8:45 I will board a ship. It will punch through the sky. At some point, God willing, that ship will emerge over airspace far from the beloved West Baltimore of my youth. Something is happening in this world. I think of my grandfather, lecturing from the daily newspaper, drowning in alcohol, addicted to violence. I think of my father, working all summer as a child, saving his funds for a collection of recordings that promised to teach him French. He didn't learn French, but he learned to compel his son to want to learn French. I think of my grandmother pushing up from the Eastern Shore of Maryland raising three daughters in the projects, somehow sending them all to college. 

I think of what these folks might have been had they not lived in world intolerant of black ambition. The world has changed. It has not changed totally, but it has changed significantly. When I fell out on the train, everyone on the car was white. So were all the paramedics and all the doctors and nurses. The challenge for someone trying to assess America, at this moment, is properly calibrating how far we've gone with how far we have to go. Too much optimism renders you naive; too much pessimism makes you cynical.

Je ne sais pas. What I know is I live in a time that people who made me possible only dreamed of. And then yesterday I almost lost it all. Today I called the doctor who assisted me on the train. He told me that by some act of magic the guy behind him had an epipen. He had no idea what would have happend if not for that fact. I remember standing in the bathroom thinking, I don't need to tell anyone. This will pass. And then my vision started going. I stumbled out of the bathroom and said, "I need help." After I laid down, I heard the doctor say, "I can't get a pulse." This is something no one ever wants to hear.

But I have seen the elephant now. It would not have been the worst way to go--kinda quiet, as Biggie would say--but it would have been going all the same. And I am most happy to still be here, to be with my family, and my friends, to be in the world with you. I'm not very good with crisis. I tend not to grasp the import until years later. 

For now, I am off to partake in an adventure, armed with a sack of meds, the works of Brendan Koerner, Ursala Le Guin, Antony Beevor and enough French to defend myself. I look forward to reporting back in the days to come.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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