© 2018 by J. Eric Thompson

Torn

I see you guys on the train, reading George R.R. Martin and The Hunger Games and The Girl Who Ate the Unripe Banana or whatever the latest memetic literary sensation is at the moment. I want to be mad at you for being so godawful trendy, for not seeking out good books on your own and waiting for (GULP) Hollywood, of all places, to tell you what you should be reading. But hell, you’re reading, at least, although I wish someone would have caught you reading A Song of Ice and Fire five years ago, without HBO’s approval, and asked you what it was about, to which you’d reply something about dragons and magic and long winters and white walkers, at which point you’d get an eye roll not only for being nerdy  (unfortunately, we live in a world where cultural awareness is valued over actual well-readness) but for reading a thousand page book about dragons and spellcasting as a “grown-ass man”. Excuse me, seven thousand-page books about dragons and spellcasting.

 

But once the TV gods blessed double-R Marty with a superb adaptation of his work (from what I’ve heard), which is undoubtably not only enthralling but beautifully written as well, every simpleton who’d heretofore decried fancy words and learnin’ as the devil’s work dropped their sudoku puzzles (don’t get me started) and signed on to Amazon. But I am glad, albeit a begrudging joy, that you’re reading. I’m simply afraid that our country’s intelligence level is too closely related to the greenlights of Tinseltown producers. But I suppose with children putting kettle bombs in trash cans we have bigger fears with which to concern ourselves.

What happened to Braveheart? What happened to a war consisting of you and your boys fighting me and my boys in a field with truncheons and cudgels and swords? When was it honorable for wars to be won with Playstation controllers, thousands of miles distant, by men the characters of which our ancestors would be ashamed?

I often wonder if there has always been as much evil on the planet, but if, through the indifferent innocence of youth and in combination with the proliferation of social media and the drastic decline in proximity we’ve all experienced via the internet, if we just didn’t hear about it as often; the gang rapes and genocide and pedophilia and terrorism and oppression. Was it always here? Or do we just hear so frequently about it because we all have iPhones and Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds? I don’t know the last time I had newspaper ink on my hands but I check what’s going on in the world at bare minimum several times throughout every day. And the cyclical nature boggles me; in checking my Twitter account 10 days ago late at night I was informed in real time that there was a shootout in Boston, near Watertown. Then it was two males with explosives. Who had killed an MIT cop. After robbing a 7-11. People were tweeting what they were hearing on police scanners downloaded onto their iPhones. You could hear rapid-fire gunshots and explosions in the background of the transmission an hour before the first news team ever reported it. Seventy thousand people were listening to the Boston PD channel.

Recall our grandparents listening to scanners as a way to keep up with what was going on in their small communities, amplified and broadcast gossip wires, where everyone knew each other and each other’s business. We have proliferated so many cameras and voices and connections throughout the human web that we can be alerted just as quickly as they were about events happening across the globe, much less the street, and then digitally enhance and hasten the channel through which we receive the information, via a download to the computer in our pocket.

I’ve read 1984 on my iPad, which has a small camera staring at me from directly above the screen. That irony was not lost. We are all innocents and assholes.

And yet we are having babies, ad nauseam. With the world as evil and nonsensical as it is, too, although I suppose that particular platitude will never waver. The world and its human inhabitants will always be too infinitely shitty to possibly find it conscionable to bring the blank-slated innocence of a child into, especially since we are now intensely more aware of all the heinousness of our brethren. But we’ll be damned if that’s reason enough to stop us. That notion of bringing a child into a decrepit and devolving world seems the opposite of the philosophical conundrum raised by baby Hitler dying in a fire; that situation is tragic because it’s the needless death of a child, unburdened by the human penchant for selfishness and spite that no doubt eventually infests us all, but it’s fucking Hitler, so it’s not necessarily anything to cry about. Right?

So, if the world is too generally loathsome and we all began deciding that this crazy mess isn’t any place for a child, aren’t you possibly preventing a brilliant, world-changing human being from growing up and doing something to remedy the disorientation of our world? Although considering it now I suppose you could just as easily be birthing the next Hitler, too…

Whatever, I’m no philosopher. Maybe it’s just a timing thing and the mid-April baby booms stems from everybody knocking Valentine’s boots. Which, actually, renders that whole dead baby Hitler thing somewhat superfluous.

Either way, even if Martin Richard, the 8-year-old victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, were guaranteed to eventually grow into a genocidal maniac, I’d like to think that not a soul could find it in their heart to argue for killing him now, as a child, except for maybe Donald Trump (the man who tweeted and deleted the sadly popular sentiment to waterboard the 19-year-old Boston bombing suspect, who had been shot in the throat after running over and dragging his older brother’s dead body in a panic to escape), though unfortunately there are literally millions of people that would call for that child’s head if we somehow got the idea that he would inevitably turn out to be the next Bin Laden, or even the next Tsarnaev.

And at what age would we not crow for his torture, or the immediate dismissal of an American federal trial to push directly to execution? How young does a maniac have to be in order to be classified, in our eyes as opposed to our laws, as too young to know better? 18? 17? 16? Had a fourteen-year-old blown up a trash can at the Boston Marathon, wouldn’t we then be calling for the heads of his parents? And if they’re absent, thus negating whatever evil we pray that they inculcated into him, is society then to blame? Isn’t that us?

I apologize for all the hypotheticals.

If only we lived in a world where large swaths of people didn’t immediately seek out freedom-preserving defenses for the tools of madmen and terrorists as soon as the next handful of children are slaughtered. That frightening notion in itself should be enough to quell even the abstract consideration of bringing a child into the world. That there are so many people who would kill it or rape it or torture it in the name of religion or war or politics or even their own sadistic amusement. But that human stubbornness prevails in all of us, the determination to find those excuses for weapons of mass murder, that borderline arrogant confidence that allows us to believe, against all evidence, in a god who claims benevolence and all-encompassing love unless you are gay or promiscuous or unrepentant, that bullheaded, unwavering desire to do what we want to do, obstacles and consequences be damned, is tied indubitably to the determination to keep life going, against all good sense, to keep fucking, to keep making babies, to perpetuate, to keep on keepin’ on.

And thankfully so. As heinous and despicable as we are, we are just as beautiful, though it seems much less frequently, or with such spritely enthusiasm. Be that because our kindness often goes unnoticed in the cultural picture (our love and appreciative actions to our friends and family are rarely considered newsworthy), or because as a people, we are simply more prone not necessarily to “bad” or “immoral” thoughts and behavior, but to actions and desires that are inherently harmful to our species as a whole. Selfishness (in its most base form, I.e. the instinct of self preservation and survival), is by definition bad for the group as a whole simply because it doesn’t take them into consideration, and we struggle as a society to tow the line between what’s good for me and what I’m willing to give up so things can be good for you, too. Social media, thankfully, has helped pick up some of the kindness-ignoring slack (see: animal rescues, youtube proposal videos, flash mobs, upstart charities, etc). If you can’t be unbummed by watching an hysterical baby or a father/soldier’s surprise return, then there’s no hope for us, anyway. But there is, and I know this from my experience, of all things, playing golf.

Ninety percent of the game is abhorrent. It’s hot out, there’s a giant bag on my back, I’m hoofing it up and down a 5-mile hill trail for no other reason than to put a ball in a cup. I slice it. I draw it. I duff it. I choke. I’m in the sand, the trees, the water. And I hate it. I’m cursing about how stupid the game is and every last devil-fellating shot that infuriates me beyond the point of reason, considering. But on the 17th tee I. Fuckin’. Rock one. Straight as an arrow and long as a Monday afternoon, ending up in whatever that long flat green thing is in the middle. The fairwhatever. And the guys I’m playing with look at me, impressed that such a thing even existed, and we all take a moment to witness its beauty and flight and form, and throughout the sweaty, grass-laden misery of the round, that shot makes me want to play again.

 

As hideous as we are, as often as we are, those long drives, those chip-in saves, the up-and-downs, those marathoners who ran without stopping to the hospital two miles distant so that they could donate blood, the man in the cowboy hat, Martin Richard, maybe even you and I, on occasion, are what makes the game worth playing. And it is my unwavering belief that we can get better, we can make the game beautiful, as long as we all make a concerted effort to practice.

Fore.