Many times in life we come across a day in which it feels like Newton’s First law of Motion has been rendered null and void and the world as we know it stops in it’s tracks. 16 years ago, we witnessed such an event on the 9-11 attacks. Today, we have watched as hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastate Texas and Florida while forest fires ravage the West Coast. Thanks to our 24 hour news cycle and social media we seem to read about another tragic event in some corner of the world.
It makes it hard to want to post something fun and frivolous to social media. None of us want to seem tone deaf and immune to what is going on around us. I was wracked with guilt for having posted about having seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with some friends of mine in a midnight showing when hours later the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut unfolded. And just this week I was putting finishing touch on an installment for my E.T. blog series, as news of Hurricane Irma filled the news, causing my fingers to tremble on the “Publish” button as I wondered if it would be in poor taste to continue posting my series when people are fleeing Florida to escape Irma’s wrath and recovering from Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
As well-intentioned as my concern may be, it is impossible for my posts not to come at a “bad time”. Even if something huge isn’t happening in the world, for somebody somewhere on this little blue/green sphere is going through a day in which it feels like the world has stopped. I know it first hand. This past spring my grandmother died of a year-long battle with stage 4 cancer. Two years ago, a family friend who had been like an uncle to me died on the way to work of still unknown causes, while a year before my younger sister experienced the heart break of going through a miscarriage of her first baby. Each time, while my heart may have been broken, the world seemed to continue on.
This was all the more tragically apparent to me eight years ago when a friend of mine was killed on the way back from her first ultrasound appointment when a semi-truck driver looked down for only a moment and smashed her car and the one in front of her into a truck carrying thousands of bees. I was in a haze all that week, and yet when I walked down to the library to try and clear my head and stopped by a gas station for lunch, I heard a kid pitch a fit about how it was the “worst day of his life” when his dad wouldn’t buy him a candy bar, and then later at work had a customer yell at me about our stores credit card policy wherein we asked to see ID with every purchase to insure that the card wasn’t lost or stolen. Nobody knew what was going on in my life, and I doubt they would care if they did, despite the fact that her death was state wide news. My mom even called out jerks online who made inappropriate jokes about it in comment sections.
Heck, even in the wake of big news stories like 9-11 or Sandy Hook there are still people who can be colossal jerks. My dad works in the transportation and shipping industry and two days after the 9-11 attacks he had a costumer yell at him when an item that was supposed to come to him on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, didn’t arrive on that day , despite every flight in the country being grounded. My best friend’s wife worked at a book store and the day of the Newtown shooting, a woman came in and tore into her because a section of her newspaper was missing.
So, where does this leave people like me? Can we go about idly posting our “fun posts” like I do that analyze characters from favorite stories, even if it looks like we are insensitive jerks to the pain and suffering in the world? I have to say, “yes” and here is why.
Travel back with me to the day of the 9-11 attacks. Don’t worry, we won’t stay long, as I’m sure by now you know the details as you either watched the events or you can read about it on Wikipedia or a Google Search. By the mid-afternoon all the major networks had been showing over six hours of coverage devoted to the attacks, and at that point our local affiliate for the WB network ( now the CW) preempted regular programming to show reruns of Full House and the Andy Griffith Show movie Return to Mayberry, in order to help families distract their children from the horrible news. Even on a personal level I found myself going back to familiar stories. At that point in my life I was obsessed with Christian apocalyptic thrillers. While I still enjoyed them, the current events in the news at the time robbed them of any escapism. So where could I escape?
I traveled back to Narnia. I got excited about Star Wars. The first Spider-Man movie reignited my love of superheroes. It was also at that time that I first traveled to Middle-earth in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I was hardly the only one in America to do so. A month after the 9-11 attacks The WB reported their highest ratings with the premier of Smallville, the long-running series that chronicled the story of a teen-aged Clark Kent , while the top four movies at the box office that following year were Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter.
Not only did these stories provide a much needed escape from what was going on, but more importantly we saw in Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Frodo Baggins, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Harry Potter one of the other things we witnessed on 9-11. Not just evil in the form of terror, but heroes rising to the occasion in the form of first responders racing to the building to save lives, volunteers coming from states away to help in the recovery efforts, and a group of scrappy, determined passengers who fought to take a Flight 93 back from the highjackers. Time and time again, we’ve seen this played-out on the news. We saw it in Newtown, Connecticut when a teacher, did everything she could to protect “her kids” from the gunman, because she loved her children that much. It’s something we are witnessing again in Houston as ordinary people respond to the call for help from states away to rescue people and animals from the waters.
As Aunt May told Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2,
“Too few characters out there, flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to HOLD ON a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.”
Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Gandalf , Obi-Wan Kenobi, Aslan, Spock, Charlie Brown, E.T., and even others I have yet to introduce you to in full like Dr. Grant, Marty McFly, Indiana Jones, Buzz Lightyear, Woody the pull-string cowboy, Simba, Roy Montag, and a whole host to others gave that to me. It was through these worlds to which I escaped that not only did I find such heroes who would become my “friends” and provide me encouragement, but guidance on how to move forward. Through Tolkien I was reminded of the importance of these stories, as Samwise Gamgee said in the film adaptation of The Two Towers,
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something…That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for. “
Sure enough many times in my life, these worlds have spoken to me. The year my friend died in the car crash also saw my dad get laid off from the job he held for over two decades, I lost my own job, and the first woman I ever loved got married to someone else, and in the wake of all this I watched the entire Spider-Man trilogy and saw Peter Parker go through some of the same things I’d gone through, yet find a way to carry on. My mom used Clark Kent’s alien heritage or Spock’s duel background to help me cope when I was diagnosed on Autism Spectrum Disorder. When my dream was crushed Junior Year of college when I was rejected from the education department, it was Tolkien’s words that gave me comfort and encouragement to move forward, while my college professor would use the applicability of The One Ring to describe my decision to decided to pursue writing and help me figure what to do with the time I had been given a few weeks later. When my grandma got sick, it was reading Narnia and watching Star Wars took me back to a childhood in which the love of my mom and dad who shared those stories with me made me feel safe, secure, comforted, and loved.
So, I’ll continue to post my blog series. If for nobody else, then for me, the person who enjoyed these stories and found a priceless life long treasure through them. Because the fact of the matter is, someone else somewhere in the world may need the escape they’ve found. Maybe someone who escaped Florida decided to unwind and while surfing around on line comes across my blog series on Superheroes, or Charlie Brown, or Yoda, or E.T. and it’ll bring a smile to their face as they think back to the simplicity of childhood. Maybe the words of Tolkien or Lewis will give them some wisdom and clarity.
After all, the news media still reports on sports and entertainment news. People still post funny memes if for no other reason than to use humor to cope. The world keeps spinning and we all have to find a way to keep plugging away, and stories can help us do that. They can provide us an escape, a sense of comfort, and even some wisdom as our heroes navigate the darkness of their own worlds. More importantly, they remind us that even in the midst of chaos and hopelessness, as a very wise man, Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, once said,
“Life, uh, life finds a way.”