It was a lovely weekend.
It wasn’t cold out, and the valley was domed by one of those crystal-clear skies that hurt to look at directly but lift your spirits when you catch them out the corner of your eye.
Saturday morning, Anne and I ate breakfast at a favorite greasy spoon, then did a little shopping. We delivered a few items to a Toys for Tots charity drive organized by some local cosplayers we know from Salt Lake Comic Con. Later, we raked leaves and laughed at the antics of our kitty-boy Evinrude, and later still we watched Ian McKellan’s latest film, Mr. Holmes. (Highly recommended, if you’ve not seen it.) The following morning, we slept late, then I spent several hours tagging and Photoshopping our photos from Scotland. That evening, we went to dinner with a friend and coworker of Anne’s. We shared a hot fudge brownie for dessert.
Meanwhile, in Paris and Beirut and Kenya, people were mopping up blood and tallying the dead.
It feels uncomfortably like 2002 all over again. The shouts of the fearful and the xenophobic are drowning out everybody else. Cynical politicians are trying to figure out how they can use the situation to their advantage, or at least to score some snarky hits on the despised President Obama. There’s a chill of hysteria in the air, and even people I personally know to be rational and decent human beings are hardening their hearts toward those who have no place to go — those we should be helping if we were true to our ideals of what America is supposed to be. And underlying it all, I can hear the drums pounding again, those drums that have always been there, somewhere off in the distance, since that sunny September morning all those years ago, urging us to stop thinking and just fall into step and march off to… where exactly? Does it matter? Will this tiresome shit never end, or is the rest of my lifetime going to be just rinse and repeat, one step forward and three goose-steps back?
Last Friday, on the day of the Paris attacks, a good friend of mine said, “Days like these really make me wonder if we as a species are even worth saving.” I don’t blame him for thinking that way, I really don’t. Not when you get a good look at all the ugly, wriggling, pale things from deep in our collective psyche that are so easily exposed with so little prompting. But I myself can’t give in to that kind of defeatism. I just can’t, for my own sanity, believe that humanity is doomed to always fall back on our own worst impulses.
I spent Friday thinking of Jor-El’s comment in Superman: The Movie: “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be.”
Or the lines spoken by Danny Glover’s character Simon in Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon: “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
Or the earnest words of the great everyman hero of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee:
“It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. … [the idea] that there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
Of course, the fearful and the xenophobic and the self-proclaimed strongmen have a different idea of what “some good” actually means, as do the men who shot up Paris and Beirut and Kenya. And that’s the really disheartening, depressing, frightening thing.
To me, the good that we need to hold onto is the idea that we can find a way through all this bullshit. That we can find a way to live together with all of our differences, to stop killing each other and to heal our wounded planet, and to become… better. You know, all that naive, idealistic, bleeding-heart Star Trek stuff. Not so long ago, it really felt like it was within our grasp. And sometimes, for brief, fleeting moments, it still does. Like, for instance, on a Saturday afternoon following a Friday of grim headlines, when you see a grown man dressed as the Incredible Hulk on a street corner, collecting toys for poor children…
It really was a lovely weekend.