Renae and I went over our cable TV-endowed friends last night to watch the season premiere of Veronica Mars. Which turned out to be a rather interesting experience because it’s been ages since Renae and I have watched broadcast TV. (We ingest most of our television in DVD form these days.)
I was prepared to write a nice long rant that wondered how the rest of you people could stand to watch such insipid commercials, and so freakin’ many of them. How you don’t become nauseous every time some blatant promotional stunt like the “Aerie Girls” pops up with their sterling insights into today’s culture. Really, how in the world can you stand to look at yourself in the mirror every morning after letting it get this bad?
I was planning to write this clever, snarky rant and just leave it at that. But then I remembered all of the news that’s happened within the last week or two, and I was bluntly reminded that it’s much, much, much worse than the unconscionable amount of advertising on television. So much so that it’s rather pathetic to even try to draw some sort of parallel, even for snarkiness’ sake.
There’s that government official who has resigned in disgrace following admissions of so-called “inappropriate behavior” involving underage boys. And along with this announcement comes all of the sickening (and sadly predictable) finger pointing, name-calling, cover-ups, blame-shifting, damage control, and moral relativism.
Also, let’s not forget that one bill. You know, the one granting the world’s most powerful nation “flexibility” in interpreting internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, “flexibility” in determining what is and is not torture, “flexibility” in allowing hearsay evidence and “coerced” testimony, and a whole host of other things which most people would agree are “iffy” in principle, but then quickly contend are necessary thanks to the amount of fear we’re handed every day.
And God forbid your conscience experience even a slight twinge of regret that things have come to this, or that you bring up questions about previous decisions and behavior, lest you be grouped in with those who seek to bring about the nation’s downfall.
However, I’m also terrified that the terrorists — whoever they are — might, indeed, win because not enough was done, or because we didn’t know what to do, or because we were too eager to point out the logs in each other’s eyes rather than actually do a damn thing. That we might wake up one day and realize that maybe there was something to what we had dismissed as fearmongering and political maneuvering.
As often as I identify with those who love to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (God bless ‘em, both) sock it to Bush and Co. courtesy of YouTube, the snarkiness and sarcasm — however well-deserved it may be — just don’t seem to do as much for me as they once did.
A well-done bit of parody seems rather pointless in light of the clash of ideologies, systems, and worldviews that threatens to tear this world apart. An otherwise hilarious and spot-on bit of political satire just seems so woefully inadequate a response when compared to the burning hate that consumes so many people throughout the world — a hate directed at us but that we are doing so very little to understand, address, and placate. Sometimes you do need to crack a smirk in the face of madness, and sometimes you need to do something else.
But there’s the infinitely depressing fact that not even the strongest anti-terror legislation, not even the toughest stance or loudest sabre-rattling can protect innocent children within these very borders. No matter what we do, we can’t change the hearts of men who are filled with “unimaginable emptiness,” men who decide to take their own lives — but not before holding young children hostage in their own classrooms, where they proceed to molest and kill them.
And in a case of disgusting irony, the dead include those who seek nothing but to live out the laws of God as best they can, who keep to themselves and seek nothing more than peace and a quiet life. Folks who, even as they wrestle with this horror, respond with strength and grace, even going so far as to forgive the murderer and embrace his family.
But somehow, it still gets worse. People who claim to be followers of the same God as the victims’ are planning to use this tragedy to give voice to their own twisted, self-righteous, hate-filled agenda. Not only do they spin this tragedy into a political assault, but they also chalk the deaths and suffering up to God’s celebrated wrath — just like they’ve done with so many other atrocities.
There seems to be precious little hope going around. Precious little hope in our leaders, who bicker and fight, and whose cries against partisan politics themselves reek of partisan politics. And even less hope in ourselves, who will bend over and kowtow to whatever or whoever promises security, even though it often seems all bluff. After all, no amount of legislation will ever make us safe from the horrors of the human heart.
And I know that the recent deaths of schoolchildren, as tragic as they are, are really just the tip of a bloody iceberg, that far worse things are almost daily ritual in places that most Americans probably can’t even spell, much less find on a map.
And yet, we’re still called, even commanded to hope. And we’re commanded to pass on that hope. I don’t have any children, but someday I probably will. How will I inspire hope in them that they have a future, even as I struggle to believe that we still have reason to hope? How do you do that without being a liar and a hypocrite?
When I look at the screwed-up-ness of the world around me, when I see and read things that make me want to pull out my hair, shake the people around me, and yell in their faces “What in the hell is going on?” I’m reminded of the thoughts of one Andy Whitman, who can say things much better than I can (emphasis is mine):
…I get up and go to work, spend time with my family, try to become a little more like Jesus and a little less like the jerk who inhabits my skin. It all seems so futile. Ray Bradbury’s solution seems like a form of insanity to me, a willful denial of reality, but I surely don’t like the alternative. Because the alternative says that the future is not wonderful; that it is bleak, and full of suffering and pain. And what can I do? I am powerless to change any of it.
I don’t have any good answers. About all I know is that I’m supposed to stay out of that hole in the ground, which is where I’d like to go. I’m supposed to walk around on the planet and care about it and the people who live on it instead of hiding from the holocaust and impending doom. And maybe that’s the best I can do; flash the big middle finger of love in the midst of despair, fly hope as an act of defiance, quietly insist, through the way I live my life, that meaninglessness and death and destruction are not the final word.
Honestly, it would be easier to crawl into the hole — a literal cave, or the metaphorical hole that numbs and softens the shrieking awareness that we live in one hell of a big, scary place. But today — at least for today — I can choose to stay out of the hole. It is a simple act of faith, but it’s all I can do. And that’s how I pray these days. Help me to get up, God. Help me to walk across the blasted, fear-shrouded planet, and through little acts of kindness and selflessness help me to demonstrate the ultimate reality — You win. And then help me tomorrow to get up and do it all over again.
Sometimes, though, that’s a very thin line on which to balance yourself.