Yes, by all means, let’s talk about gun control. Neither you nor I need a semiautomatic rifle to kill a deer. Or an intruder.
And yes, please, let’s talk about mental illness, the silence, the stigma, the misconceptions. Let’s consider what we need to not only detect but also restrain, support or integrate the severely distressed. Too many people are dropping through the cracks.
Also, we owe it to ourselves to continue asking if there is a connection between young men clad in black, camouflage or Kevlar shooting up malls and classrooms and the excessive, explicit violence in our games, movies and books. Too often in our media violence is made chic or unspeakably gory for the sake of realism or an adrenaline rush. We are being challenged to “take it” and becoming mesmerized and de-sensitized in the process.
And yes, let’s talk about God, but please, not by offending the millions who hold sacred the separation of church and state. Let’s change the argument that Newtown happened because God has been “escorted” out of our schools into a broader, more meaningful discussion about our dis-connect from nature and the feelings of alienation and emptiness we have acquired from living in a hyped-up, stressed-out, gadget-obsessed, consumerist, painfully fragmented society that appears to have misplaced its moral compass.
It takes a perfect storm of conditions and circumstance to shatter the peace in a Newtown elementary school or a mall in Portland or a theatre in Aurora and every thinking person who feels moved by these incomprehensible tragedies will attribute them to something on his or her own agenda. Each of us will struggle to make sense of the senseless by tracing it back to what we consider most lacking, out of joint or corrupt. We all have our favorite complaint.
And here is mine: the emphasis we place on darkness over light. I am not referring to a conclusive war between evil and good. That is a large subject and I would need to be more confident about my own theological convictions before tackling it. And I’m not talking about seeing the world in black and white terms; I appreciate the many shades of gray in between.
I’m talking about a cultural mind-set, the way our storytellers portray what it means to live with uncertainty, the way we are expected to depict the moral ambiguities of our time.
As a writer, I often grow discouraged over the number of agents or publishers who express a strong preference for “dark”, “edgy” or “dystopian” novels. One agent, in his submission guidelines, specified that he was looking for “dark, dark, dark. The darker the better.” Quirky is a virtue. And twisted. They love twisted.
I never enjoyed the classic argument that Milton’s Lucifer is a more attractive, more compelling character than God and all his angels in Paradise Lost. I am sorry that Bruce Wayne became The Dark Knight and that the new Star Trek movie will be called Star Trek into the Darkness.
Apparently this suits us now. This is what we make profitable. This is what we deserve. We are not gullible. We are not vulnerable. We are not sentimental or naïve. We know too much. We’ve seen too much. You can’t put anything over on us. Call me anything, but don’t call me a fool.
It’s a fear-based narrative. Too many of our stories feel cynical, mean or despairing and so we never get over ourselves or above ourselves. Our storytellers are reflecting our experience but not transcending it.
The world can still be dangerous, ambiguous and absurd. It can be as dark as we wish it to be. But let’s not become too complacent, too discouraged or too lazy to try creating new paradigms.
I’m not talking about turning back the clock to a simpler, more innocent time. I’m talking about moving forward. If you believe vision creates thought and thought creates action, then make your visions whole and leave room for unambiguous hope.
Let’s tell a new story. Let’s re-frame the narrative of our times, get our heads out of the apocalyptic or dystopian future and collaborate on an ethos in which compassion, nobility of character and a moral center are not the properties of one or two super heroes only, but the potential mettle of each one of us and the power of a people united by their longing to create a just, safe and abundant world for all.
Let’s plot our stories around the deep hurt and deep ache and resilience of the human spirit. For the sake of our children, let’s take their hands and walk them out of the darkness into the light.
Hope is not a dirty word. It’s not a sentimental cheat. Hope is the redemption of the world, any world, your world, mine. Ours.
Let it shine.
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