The Tools of Conquest

I recently read The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper. It’s a theological exploration of themes in modern story-telling as they play out in television and film. It’s not a heavy read, and as thoroughly entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

Stories capture themes that are timeless, warning of futures that could happen. Sometimes they peek out from the past, old stories that suddenly become appropos, that we perhaps wish had been heard and considered more thoughtfully back then. Cosper quotes one of those, from the Twilight Zone:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices-to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill. And suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own…” Rod Sterling, “The Twilight Zone”

I think that it’s import to consider today what the fallout of our suspicions, prejudices, and searches for scapegoats will be the future. Perhaps our children will wonder why we didn’t listen to our stories.


Signs of the Times

Sign stating "store closed."This summer, while driving back from a day trip to the beach on our vacation, Karen and I passed a closed business in a small town in New Hampshire. The scene was what one might have expected. The storefront looked hollow, the windows dark and seeming like the eyes of a person who had seen tragedy…detached, too troubled inside to fully comprehend what they see externally. The parking lot empty. The sign still advertising, forlornly, the business that was no longer contained therein.

I found myself wondering why it is that businesses, when they close, leave their signs?

I pass old storefronts like this periodically, mostly when we’re traveling, that have closed but that still have their old signs in front, or on doors, or both, even though everything else looks abandoned. I’m always struck by a certain sadness when I see this. That was someone’s livelihood lost, devoured by a merciless system, perhaps leaving lives in its wake, certainly trailing dreams and hopes lost, unfulfilled.

I’ve worked for myself, but never owned a physical storefront. I have no referent as to what that might be like. Perhaps, when a business closes like this, it is too expensive to remove the sign? I wonder how the owners feel when something else goes into that space and removes their old sign?

I wonder what the new business owner feels like, replacing the old sign with their own? Does the sense of loss pass on to them, a warning of what could be in the future?

The sign left behind adds to the sense of tragedy in many ways. A document of sorts, a monument, almost, that a good thing once stood here. I’m sure that many times my feelings about these scenes are melodramatic. Certainly, businesses move, close after a good many years when the owner retires, and other perfectly normal scenarios.

Sometimes, though, I’m right. Sometimes, something was lost, and, for whichever times that fact is true, I empathize deeply.

Image attribution: Chris Chan under Creative Commons.

Holiday Retrospective

Somewhere around the second year of our marriage, Karen and I decided that we should have a family computer. We had both been Mac users for a long time, and we each brought our grad school laptops to the marriage, which were beginning to become dated and underperform basic tasks. So, we purchased a desktop Mac into which we consolidated both of our old laptops. All of the things from grad school and earlier transferred into users on the new machine, and life moved forward.

That computer lasted us until only months ago, at which point we upgraded. The users on our old computer? Transferred right over, meaning that everything from grad school and earlier is still there. The end result of this is that my email application has a habit of storing “archive” messages from forever ago. When it does so, it stores everything in the email conversation…the original email, the replies, every part of the thread. Entire conversations that I had long forgotten about there at your fingertips when you find yourself wasting time (as I was a few weeks ago), and wanting to browse through the past.

Karen and I were part of the same theatre group for some time, and there are a lot of conversations with other members preserved in these records. Conversations with members of our old faith community about the things that were going on in our lives. I miss those friends, with all too many of whom I’ve fallen out of touch.

I love the opportunity to live in different places. You never know when you move to a new place if you’re going to like it or not…sometimes it’s a wonderful experience, sometimes a terrible one, but always an experience from which one grows. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that I’ve only one or two big moves left in me. Partly this is because I’m starting to feel old, but I think that this falling out of touch is a large part of the problem. After moving back to the South recently, we’ve had the chance to re-connect with many old friends that now live only a few minutes or hours away instead of all the way down the East coast. I’ve cherished those opportunities, but I’ve discovered, as well, just how dynamic all of our lives are.

I mean, that works out well in theory…we know we’re not static, that our experiences and relationships are always altering the way we navigate through this journey called life…but it’s much more striking in practice. As we’ve re-connected with old friends, I’ve noticed profound differences at times, even to the point that I’m not certain friendships would have formed between some of us had we met now. I’ve also heard the stories of what has transpired in their lives since last we were in regular contact, and I understand, at some basic level, why these changes have happened. I’m only left wondering how it is that I’ve changed, how different I must seem to these old friends.

Advent is winding down, and Christmas in mere days away. I’ve lived long enough, and traveled around enough, to have friends in many places. Most of them I won’t speak to before Christmas aside from cursory greetings on cards, but there are days when I carry them all with me heavily through the day.

It’s frighteningly difficult to remember at times how interconnected our lives are. Today, we are interconnected despite geographical distances. I hope we can all slow down this week and remember each other, because that’s a part of what the Holiday Season is about.

Polar Opposites

One of the things that Karen and I try to take advantage of since moving to the Southeast again is visiting friends that we didn’t get to see while living in New England. We’re within a two-hour drive of many old friends in most cases, and we make every attempt to take advantage of the opportunity to visit them.

A couple of months ago, we went back to the city in Virginia where we met and married, and where we lived for some time after. We had a wonderful, if all too brief, weekend, in which we saw as many friends as we possibly could, as well as driving by the landmarks…the old apartments, old workplaces, the memories that accompany a life lived.

When we were planning our trip, we began organizing and arranging times to meet with our friends. Our closest friends sprang to the forefront of my mind, and I began contacting those who I was looking so forward to seeing again, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to in nearly two years, occasional social media interactions notwithstanding.

One of our close friends is an author and professor. He and I became friends while acting and directing in a theatre ministry at our local faith community. Theatre forms a sort of fox-hole experience. There are long nights, intense debates and emotions, and sets of experiences that no one who hasn’t been involved in practicing that particular creative pursuit can truly understand. This is a friend with whom I had spent the long hours and held the passionate debates, with whom I had celebrated the publishing of his book, and who had graciously read some of my own manuscripts. This is a friend whom I met at a restaurant in the wee hours of the morning for coffee when something tragic had just happened. His daughter would babysit our daughter. Even with distance between us, we’re close.

What’s surprising about this is that, in several ways, you couldn’t get more opposite than he and I are. Yes, we’re both odd creative types. He, however, is a scientist by day and at heart, and I have always been quite the opposite of that, immersed in the humanities. Politically, you really couldn’t imagine two more opposite perspectives, as he leans far to the right of my own views. He eschews Mac computers on principle, and I use them exclusively.

We regularly engage in Twitter banter that makes others assume we can’t stand each other, and yet we know that we have each others’ backs.

When I think of how opposite we are, I think of how some say that opposites attract, but, more importantly, about how, despite our polarizing differences, we’ve always respected each other, always known that we’ve had a friend in each other. We’ve seen what we’ve held in common more prominently than we’ve engaged our differences. I think that this is a standard to which I need to live up to more, something that only has good results. If I generalize this, after all, I become a kinder person, less prone to anger and frustration with others, less prone to bitterness that clings long after I wish it gone.

Sometimes there are insurmountable differences between two people. I’m not so optimistic or naive as to think that this isn’t sometimes the case. I think, however, that the things that we see as insurmountable are, in fact, often not. The minutiae of our theological bent, our political views, our subcultural associations…more of these than we care to admit are autobiographical preferences at the end of the day. I wonder how much less prone we would be to anger and violence…and how much more prone we might be to healing…if we took the time to focus on our similarities instead of becoming so increasingly, arbitrarily polarized.

Because I think that it takes both sides of many of these perspectives to form a holistic truth, perhaps one of which none of us are capable of realizing on our own.

Well, except for the part where some people don’t like Macs. That’s just wrong…