I wrote this several months ago and forgot about it until I just found it. This was preceded by a litany of things I was irritated by, or genuinely pained by, at the time. I’ll spare you. Apparently the way that I take a whole bunch of whingeing and sort it and study it and reshape it and make sense of it, is to open up my laptop. (Important Editor’s Note: Haven’t seen an inside roach in months but Houston, your bug game is particularly fierce.)
The truth is that everyone has stuff that they don’t like.
I’m reading James and the Giant Peach. Stories start out with boys whose parents die and who live with horrible aunts who beat them and stick them in rooms with spiders and no beds, and who get nothing good to eat and who have no friends in the world; they start that way because it’s the fairy tale version of the ick that everyone feels, and everyone does feel it. Some people have it worse than roaches and no friends within 300 miles and there are people who want children and have none, or who can’t adopt any, and we have one, and decent prospects for more. And we are 32, we are not like 60 or something that would be much more difficult. People have it worse than this. Materially we have 100% of absolutely everything we could possibly desire. That’s not even a Thing. And some people have it better. None of which means anything at all whatsoever.
I’d love to make something meaningful of all of it because that’s how art happens and that’s why people read these books.
I was thinking about why I like fiction and retreat into it so much. And part of it is that it takes that ick that’s sometimes indescribably complex (O Discordia), and it makes it into spiders and aunts and dead parents. These things are actually fairly straightforward. And then it takes evils and it makes them into monsters or Voldemorts or golden rings – fear or hatred or love of power, it makes them into a thing — a beatable thing. And then the person beats it. Duh.
But I was going to say, when I was spending 2 hours in the car with a toddler on a brutally hot July day on a tollway (TOLLWAY!) in outer Houston to get my fire extinguisher inspected, that I just bought and had inspected 6 months ago in another city and with another agency, so that I could then pay to get a permit so that I could schedule my home fire inspection… I was thinking about how the difference is that in those books and movies that I love, the difference is that they beat the thing, they win, they vaporize Voldemort or they take back the government or they bring down the Capitol or they drop the ring in the fire, and we simply never will. Never.
The montages are also different. I tried to think of this eternity-long drive to nowhere for a completely redundant and absurd reason as part of the montage. It’s not as sexy as a montage filled with sit-ups and sweat and muscles and running up steps, or as entertaining as a montage of wizard duels and DADA lessons in the Hog’s Head & the Room of Requirement, or it has less intense grimace-y Working-It-Out faces and more bored staring into the speedometer listening to pop music. Explaining things like Why It’s Raining, or alternately (for true variety): Why It’s Not Raining, 98,000x to my child.
But this is my montage. This is the part that’s the drudgery, that’s kind of boring but has to go into the narrative to show the cost, to make the victory worth it. Ok, sure, we will have a small victory. We’ll have a kid here, we’ll have smiles after weeks of no smiles, we might have hugs or trust. We might even have a day in front of a judge. Maybe we’ll play a part in building a human being’s character. A victory for him/her, a victory for us.
We won’t beat the evil though. The addictions, the abuses, the aggressions & hatreds & at the end of the day – the human beings stripped of their human-ness – that make this whole thing necessary. And after the day with the judge, we’ll have him/herself-doubt and myself-doubt, we’ll have behaviors we don’t know the root of, we’ll have questions that hurt my heart to answer, we’ll have displacement and anger and feelings of betrayal that we are responsible for and ones that we aren’t, ones we can do something about and ones we can’t. We’ll have victories but we will not win. This movie doesn’t end. And that’s okay.
Or… will we? Win, I mean?
I talked in a Sunday School class a while ago about Easter. It was before Easter, which is I guess usually the only time most people talk about Easter. It’s hard I think for some people to think of new things to say about Easter, but I have no problem with it these days.
Maybe that is the victory. There are people who think Easter is Cadbury eggs and new sundresses, and then there are people who know Easter is victory. It could not possibly be more important. It is what every story ever told is trying to imitate, trying to reach. That death has died, that justice has come, that redemption is ours.
Part of why I want to do this is because you can’t not. If we’re never going to win, at least we can say we’re never going to let THEM win either. You have to push back because the so-called evil isn’t going to quit.
But then also, a lot of the time, when it lets itself in, I know that I do it because of the fact that we’ve already won. A long, long time ago, and also right now, and also way off in the future. I don’t know exactly what it means to share that victory with my kid. I don’t always understand it myself – why we won and we’re going to win but we still have to fight and cry and screw up and learn and take beatings and (metaphorically) bloody our (metaphorical) knuckles (metaphorically) dishing some out too.
I am so scared that he won’t believe it, won’t accept it, and will let the crap win in his life just because he doesn’t understand that it already lost. It may have become the number one fear in my life, actually, these days – that my kid would not understand that his baggage has already been beaten. That the rest of the world wouldn’t understand, too… I’m sure this is true of every kid, but I know the legacy of the baggage in his bio-family tree, and I know how hard it is for someone to grow up in this world and figure out how to define themselves. I also know that that very fear IS the crap talking, and I can’t be afraid. We don’t have a spirit of fear but of love, and power, and a sound mind.
Maybe we’ll never win. We won’t see the end, see the credits roll. Tolkien’s “long defeat.”
Or maybe we already did.