Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"When the seas and mountains fall...

...and we come to end of days; in the dark I hear a call, calling me there and back again." The Breaking of the Fellowship by Edward Ross

Every great adventure is made more poignant by a romance. Why is that? I just watched The Island for perhaps the third or fourth time, and I was again blown away by the beauty and magic of an epic story--and especially the precious romance between Lincoln (Ewan McGregor's character) and Jordan (Scarlette Johannson). (Caution, spoiler coming up--skip the next few paragraphs if you don't want the story.)

The movie is rated PG-13 for language, violence, and brief sexuality, a rating well-deserved, yet the themes explored in this film are hardly capable of being dealt with in a more family-friendly environment. The story, for my readers who have not seen it, jumps to the future and shows a society of people living with the few "survivors" of a catastrophic disease. Fear of contamination renders them helpless to escape their small, self-contained world, except when one lucky winner is chosen, every so often, to go begin the repopulation of the world on "The Island," and escorted by the staff.

Lincoln is the only person to question his environment ("where do the tubes go?") and he finally escapes, with his best friend, Jordan, and they discover they the people who leave are not taken to any idyllic island, but rather harvested for their organs for their sponsor--because it turns out they are all clones--a live insurance policy for anyone who can afford it.

After fabulous action sequences and amusing misunderstandings about the outside world and other aspects of humanity unfamiliar to the duo, they find Lincoln's sponsor, and show him the truth about his "life insurance."

The sponsor proves a maxim quoted throughout the movie, "People will do anything to survive," and double-crosses Lincoln. With the help of a mercenary hired to bring them back Lincoln and Jordan escape and return to the clone factory and attempt to release the other clones and show them the truth about the Island and the world outside.

Many questions are aroused by this film--ethics of cloning, issues of a god-complex, parallels to racial profiling such as the wars in africa that ultimately deem some people sub-human--but this time, the issue I couldn't stop thinking about was, is it true? Will people do anything to survive? Why, then, do some people choose to do the very worst possible action, survival-wise, to follow a higher calling?

I watched another epic film lately--The Book of Eli. (Rated R for violence and language). This too discussed many questions of ethics and philosophy, but in the end, the same question persists--if not in the forefront, then at least inextricably tied from the characters themselves. Why is it that so many people will do anything to survive, yet a few see something else as more valuable, even, then life itself?

Many stories--in fact, most epics--have this theme. The only thing that changes is the noble cause that is higher than life. For example: Batman seeks justice over life and over his own good reputation; Sam follows friendship despite almost-certain death, and Frodo seeks the destruction of evil over his own future; Harry Potter looks to stop dark magic though it costs his family, friends, and foreseeable future; Westley seeks the true love he finds with Buttercup over anything else; Mel Gibson--well, he seeks many varieties of liberty and freedom for his fellow patriots over his own existence...and the list could continue ad infinitum.

And we in the audience, we happy, comfortable, safe, self-focussed, 21st century people see these "higher causes" and we resonate. We resonate so much, in fact, that even down to something as inconsequential as a football game (Think of Blindside, Remember the Titans,Radio...) makes us weep at the beauty of self-sacrifice for the team--for friends--for love--for justice--for liberty--for truth. And yet we live our lives, looking to ourselves and our comfort and our little circle above everything else.

Oh, I do not mean to say that we don't do good things--why, I imagine I could think, off the top of my head, of a hundred good things any one of you have done in the past week alone--but a significantly lower percentage of us have done anything to our own loss--in short, a sacrifice. (I know there are some of you reading this who DO sacrifice and DO live for others--hopefully you know who you are, though the very nature of your gift makes that somewhat improbable. Try to disregard this if it does not apply to you.)

I should doubtless take myself as example--I am not trying to point fingers. It is, we must admit, a highly contagious human trait, this self-centeredness. So, look at me. I was raised in a healthy home, parents still married happily to each other, a good healthy heritage dating back to the Mayflower of solid, moral, upstanding citizens who worked hard and achieved great things. I was fortunate enough to not only receive a college education, but a private college education, and besides that I was personally tutored by the most attentive teachers possibly from fifth grade up through high school (that is to say, I was homeschooled). I have traveled more than most of my peers (I've spent time on three continents and six countries), am engaged to a wonderful guy with excellent career prospects and have friends, support, and a very bright future, in terms of the American dream.

And what have I done with it?

My Grampa said yesterday, regarding the raising of children: "All you can give them is a chance--their choices are their own."

What have I done with my chance? What am I doing? I have not made even a small difference, I don't think, in the world. The only thing I've sacrificed in is being a loyal friend to people who probably didn't deserve it, but really, who does? Do I even need to decide that? Does it change the worth of my sacrifice based on the recipient? On the one hand, surely not, but on the other hand...surely it does? And what kind of a gift is that anyway, coming from such a one as me? I really have so much more to offer than I do, and I what little I have offered was probably still pointed the wrong direction--in the hopes that it would bounce back and help me along.

I've been told that I have a problem with self-esteem. I sometimes wonder if I am really the one with the problem--because I do see how other people are better than me, yes. I feel inferior, yes. But I also see their flaws and faults and issues--and regardless of whether I love them or dislike them or perhaps hardly know them, I often wonder at the high opinion of self they all seem to hold--a somewhat undeserved rating, I sometimes think. (Again, those of you who do NOT struggle with this--who DO have perfect humility, you probably don't know who you are, but I am not talking to you anyway.)

I don't know what my problems is, that I sometimes seem to have slipped too far the other way--perhaps it's a different sort of pride--but I have clearly missed this boat too. What is it about ourselves that makes us willing to do anything (or not do anything) to survive? What is different about those heros that we celebrate--the stories with the sometimes-happy endings, and sometimes-tragic endings, that makes them choose to give it all up--everything they have, know, need, want, or can imagine for something else. Something bigger, better, brighter. How is it, we can see it when THEY do this, but turn around and continue in our own little bubble of comfort?

It seems we think we ARE the highest cause. Perhaps not consciously, but the truth of the matter is this: sacrifice is inextricably linked to humility.

Food for thought, eh? That is all I have to say about this issue.

I ought to start another post. Probably with the lyrics, "I want to touch the earth, I want to break it in my hands, I want to grow something wild and unruly." (Cowboy Take Me Away by the Dixie Chicks.) But I'm just going to continue on, if you don't mind.
I went with my mom today to the farm. I forgot how much I loved it--seeing it again, walking through the mesquite and bear grass and salt bush--I felt the pull of the land, as my ancestors no doubt did, moving west and staking a claim to start a new life, a new world. Everything is so tame, anymore, that pioneer spirit I have inherited doesn't seem to have a proper outlet anymore. It's a shame, and seeing our land again, and digging in it and letting it run through my fingers reminded me of just how closely linked I am to this land, how much it means to me, and how much I will miss it. It was so invigorating and marvelous to stand by the old burned-down milk barn and smell the earth, and to see no one for miles and miles--not even another house--and to not hear anything but the creak of the old windmill. It was so empty and clean and dear, and it makes me cry to think of it.
(As an aside, I think one of the saddest parts of modern life is the loss of silence and the change from a few good, industrial sounds that speak of hard work and a good meal at the end of the day to nothing but engines and thunder and hums and buzzes of everything constantly doing something with no end in sight, and no personality--definitely not a personality one would care to invite to dinner, anyway. But I digress.)

Even more clearly than when Mel Gibson stars in one of his classics, I see why a person would lay everything down for his land. And I see why America is what it is--though the rest of the world may never understand, and even we, ourselves, may forget. This country, at it's roots and rocks and sand and oceans and streams and trees and canyons and wide open spaces, is a land where men can be anything, and go anywhere, and live to their full potential. Talk about having a chance! With a land like this, how can we not? And the women can be ladies, if we care to be, or we can be less. And over the years, it seems we have chosen the latter path--to be less. In fact, we have chosen it with such vigor and majority that our country is like those other places across the oceans. It grows more and more to resemble the sad, closed-up, fearful little places in the world that realize the dangers of freedom and rather than keeping it in recognition of the value, have taken it away for security.

And thus independence and imagination and ingenuity and adventure have been conquered, at last, by the suit, the bureaucracy, and the queue. To take risk is to break the law, and those who respect the law are at the mercy of those who don't, regardless of the true strength or ability of either. And rather than strengthening the good and upholding truth, justice, and the American way, the law grows into such an unwieldy creature that it cannot be controlled nor rightly used; and those values it started out to protect it ends up destroying. And though successful much of the time in protecting those who deserve protection from those who attempt to harm, at such a cost as to bring one to question the purpose in it all.

This is an ironic perspective, since I'm marrying a cop.

At any rate, we had a lovely time digging up yucca plants to use for centerpieces, and it was good to see the old home place again. Pictures below of our little outing.
Momma with our first find. :)
My proud display against the setting sun.
Aaah, the old home place.

Isn't it ironic?

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