Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
except quoted portions.
"By rights, we shouldn’t even be here, but we are.
It’s like in the great stories, the ones that really matter.
Full of darkness and danger they were.
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?
In the end it’s only a passing thing. Like a shadow, the darkness must pass.
But a new day will come;
and when the sun shines, it will shine out even clearer.
Those are the stories that stayed with you, that meant something,
even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think I do understand. I know now.
Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
They kept going because they were holding on to something.
What are we holding on to?
That there’s some good in this world; and its worth fighting for."
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"
This quote is from a movie, a fantasy called “Lord of the Rings.” Everyone knows the story, one of heroism and cowardice; of holding true and falling to temptation; of feats accomplished, and catastrophic failure. A quest that defined friendship and courage, and yet still told the dark story of how human flesh sometimes fails in the face of challenge. Similar stories have been told for thousands of years. The Iliad, The Aeneid, The Odyssey, all have contributed tales of the best, and the worst, of humankind. In those tales, people suffered and died. Worlds came apart and ended. In the reality of human history, much the same has happened. But even in those darkest of times, when it seemed that the tapestry of our collective story was approaching a ragged end, humanity still survived. Kingdoms rose and fell. Global powers waxed and waned. Swords were drawn and blood was spilled. Yet, we still stand here today, survivors all.
It becomes easy to look around at the evil we continue to do to each other, at the violence and hate we insist on inflicting and assume that once again, humanity is falling into the abyss of self-imposed extinction. It’s easier still to wallow in despair, taking a perverse kind of comfort in the idea that surrender is the only option.
The soliloquy quoted above, given in the
by the character
Samwise Gamgee, is one I find particularly poignant. Frodo and Sam, along with a fellowship of
knights and warriors undertake a journey to carry a powerful ring across a
war-torn land in order to cast it into the fires of Mt Doom in the heart of the
It was a journey that cost lives and changed the hearts of all who
shared it. But they never turned back
because they knew that the act of destroying the ring would save their world
from destruction. land of Mordor
We find such stories inspiring because they demonstrate to us the greatness we are capable of, even when slowed and crippled by our own weaknesses.
We who inhabit this world at this particular juncture of time see also a dark world. People die in wars, and in our communities by their own hands. We see floods and earthquakes, and fear what time has shown to be a cyclical shift in climate, fearing that our mother planet is somehow turning against us. Governments, always prone to human frailties, have become so corrupt, so unresponsive to human need that even those of us who enjoy free elections despair of participating. The process has been poisoned by greed and lust for power and those who become candidates we see as completely warped by the system. Some we send to office with high hopes and dreams, only to feel the crushing disappointment of just how human they proved to be.
Humanity continues to bring children into such a world, that being the testimonial act of the last remaining hope for our future. We raise them and sent them forth, praying that they may find the knowledge we have lacked, and the wisdom which has thus far eluded us.
Yet in the face of all the darkness, I can find a ray of light in the words of Sam Gamgee. Like those brave Hobbits, I think we will continue to struggle forward. Despite the mountains we must climb, the battlefields we must cross; despite the betrayal and the hate, we will complete our journey. Even though the trail behind us will be littered with the deaths of millions and the shattered remnants of dreams great and small, we will eventually discover the greatness that lies so often smothered within us. And that there is so much more power in unity than even in the greatest army.
We have not yet learned how precious a human life truly is. Astronomers have discovered at least 730 planets that lay outside our solar system, ranging from huge gas giants to smaller rocky worlds like our Earth. They think that the number of such worlds may number as high at 160 billion in this galaxy alone, and there may be as many as 200 billion other galaxies as well. But nowhere in that blizzard of zeroes and decimal places have we yet found another where we could live; or even one that harbors life. While it seems incredible to contemplate, there exists the possibility that we may be the only intelligent life…anywhere.
That truth alone should be enough for us to rethink our animal passions. And yet, throughout human history, there has never been a time when somebody wasn’t at war. Some have thus opined that conflict is a normal part of humanity’s behavior.
We can only hope that isn’t true.
I used to be passionate about politics. But I have stepped back. I learned some of the vital critical thinking skills and applied them, not only to “the other side,” but to my own as well. In the light of that dawn I saw revealed the lies that both sides tell; the blatant manipulation of their particular audience. Hitler ascended to the leadership of a war-devastated
telling people what they wanted to hear.
And the people followed him over a cliff because no one ever asked him
to provide proof to his version of the truth.
We have all fallen into that same trap.
So instead of participating, I now stand back, preferring to witness the bread and circuses, rather than standing with the mob. I can no longer support what I have come to see as a system racked with a terminal disease that infects all who come in contact with it. Everyone acknowledges that truth, but no one wants to fix it.
And yet, I still find hope. We survived the plague, we survived the Great Depression. We have survived countless wars. We will also survive this.
Someday, people will again tell great stories. Someday, people will choose to be heroic and just. Someday, we will find that it possible to live in peace.
Someday, we will choose to fight for what is right.
It is a vision, to be sure, but not one that I will witness. For the road is too long, the night is too dark.
And my journey is too close to the end.