I have taken about a six month hiatus from writing here. The main reason being that sometimes, particularly in the blogosphere, you can end up writing just to make yourself write. I think the content of this writing, for myself in any case, often becomes akin to “talking to hear your own voice.” In other words, I felt that if I didn’t have anything intelligent to say, it was better to say nothing at all.
I have gone through a period of reflection the last several months. I have spent most of my time (other than for work purposes) away from the computer and enjoyed the beautiful spring and summer weather we had here in the Pacific Northwest. Alas, the rain is now upon us once again and I find myself in the inevitable place of introspection.
That, and things are starting to get crazy.
For quite a long time there has been a feeling amongst the masses that something is not right with the world. Most people can tell that there is something wrong, but they cannot seem to put their finger on it, therefore they do not actually do anything about it. How could they, how would they even know where to start?
We have come to live in a world that is so bogged down in its “meat space” of rationality and boring scientific explanations that they are literally unable to see that we have become completely blind to what is going on in the (mostly) invisible world around us, not to mention what is slowly but surely slipping away within us.
To demonstrate my point, I would like to use The Neverending Story as an example of what I mean. As a child of the 80′s, this was one of my favorite movies of all time. (However it was first a book, written by Michael Ende. I have not read the book.)
For any who have not seen this movie, I highly recommend that you do. The plot can basically be broken down with the following description, however you could honestly analyze this story until the cows come home as the symbolism is rampant throughout the entire story. But, for the sake of this blog post, I am going to keep things as simple as possible in order to illustrate my point. (For a more in-depth plot summary, feel free to visit Wikipedia’s).
The main character of the story is a boy named Bastian who is living a rather dreary life in modern-day America. One day, while hiding from bullies he chances upon a creepy bookstore with an equally creepy bookkeeper who introduces him to an ancient book that he warns could be “dangerous.” Sebastian then basically steals the book and runs off to read it in his school attic.
Once he begins reading this story, the rest of the movie mostly takes place in the parallel world of Fanstasia, which he is quickly drawn into. Fantasia is in the process of being destroyed by the Nothing, which is meant to represent people’s greed, apathy, and lack of imagination in the “real world.”
Fantasia has a child empress who has become very ill due to the situation described above, so she sends a young warrior boy named Atreyu to stop the Nothing. In the end, it is only a real human child (Bastian) who can stop the Nothing by giving the empress a new name, and from there he then crosses over into the parallel world which he begins to rebuild with his imagination.
My point in using this particular film as a reference is that throughout the story the world in which these characters live is being eaten up by nothingness, yet many of the characters that Bastian/Atreyu encounter have no knowledge of this. Some may seem to know that something is amiss, but they think they can do nothing to stop it, so they do nothing, even if the world is crumbling right in front of their eyes.
Now, to bring this back around to a recent, modern day experience of my own:
The other day I was riding my bike to work. It had rained heavily the night before and the roads were still wet and slick in many places, yet I had managed to make it about 85% of the way without incident. As I was closing in on the home stretch, I was in a bike lane to the right of a two lane, one-way road going in the same direction. The lane immediately to my left was a lane that is also shared by train tracks used by our light rail line. These kinds of tracks are known to be treacherous to bicyclists because the grooves they make in the street are the perfect width to catch a bike tire.
This particular morning I noticed that up ahead there was some construction going on about half a block ahead of me in the bike lane. In order to avoid the construction, I would have to move over, across the train tracks. Well, as luck would (not) have it, I hit the tracks at the wrong angle and crashed my bike, hard, on the pavement.
My first reaction was a kind of shock. I had landed HARD on my right thigh and my right hand. I looked at my hand and it looked bad, but it didn’t seem to be bleeding thanks to the fact that I had worn fingerless gloves that morning. Weirdly my first reaction was to look up at a man who I had seen on the sidewalk right before I crashed. He was no more than three feet from me, putting coins into the meter and did not even look in my direction. No concern necessary, I guess.
Proof of bike injuries:
Next I looked down the block to where the construction that I had been trying to avoid was taking place. I saw one of the workers point at me and nudge his buddy, to which they both audibly chuckled. Nice.
Finally I realized I needed to pick myself up and drag my bike over to the sidewalk before a got run over by a train or a car. I managed to pull my bike onto the sidewalk before I had to put my head between my legs to help catch my breath. When I finally stood up again the man had come back to put more coins in his meter and looked at me strangely and said, “Hi.” A greeting that I begrudgingly and sarcastically returned. He didn’t mention anything about the crash or ask if I was alright, although he could not have missed that spectacle if he had tried.
I thought that odd.
Living where I do, there are tons of bike commuters. People ride their bikes everywhere. It’s really quite nice. However, with all the bike traffic, I have certainly been witness to more than one bike accident. My immediate response each time is to run over and help the person get out of the street, and to make sure they are ok. I have seen other patrons do this exact thing to help fallen bikers many many times. This was what I thought was the norm. That is, until I walked (limped) by the group of construction workers (who I irrationally feel like blaming for my crash). They had certainly witness my accident, I had seen them point at me, yet none of the three said a thing.
What the hell? Yes, thank you. I’m FINE. Just walking my broken bike…
After relaying this story to a few friends and coworkers, who were equally appalled by the reaction, or lack thereof, of the witnesses to this accident, I started to think, what is going on here???
What did I come up with?
Short story: The Nothing.
Long story: My theory is this: I do not think the behavior of these men is typical of a regular Portlander, or even a regular human being, which is why I was so struck by it. It is not necessarily that I needed them to help me, although the story would have been much different had I hit my head or been knocked unconscious. It just shocked me that something obviously phsycially painful happened to someone right in front of their faces and they didn’t even flinch! The absurdity of it is almost funny.
Now, I don’t mean to let these people off unnecessarily, but I do feel like maybe people are so bombarded with information and visuals, and so desensitized to things by living so much of their lives digitally, that they don’t know how to react when something happens right in front of their face. Crashes/violence and the like happen all the time on TV, in the movies, and in photos online, and the viewers don’t have to do anything but passively watch. So that is exactly what they did in this situation.
There is something happening here. There is something of our humanity that is disintegrating. Something is eating away at our empathy. Something that we should at least be attempting to save, just like Fantasia. I think within all of us there is an Empress/Atreyu/Bastian trifecta. Each of us carries within us the prism of the victim, the observer, and the hero. Each of us plays these roles at different parts in our lives, or at least we should at some point. When we start forget what we are as humans, when we let our world fall apart before our eyes, all that is left is Nothing.
I want to explore this idea of the victim/observer/hero trifecta in future posts. I hope you stay tuned.