Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Drowning Eloi

It took me a little while to identify the scene that kept replaying in my mind and why my subconscious kept trying to push it to the surface over the weekend. 

There's a rushing river, a girl drowning, a man shouting to save her, and passive onlookers frolicking on the river bank. Yes, it's like that, I thought.  That's us.

After some mental rewinding and rewatching, the pastel mini-dresses came clear in my mind along with the lead actor's jawline and that afternoon when I was nine years old that I got sucked into an old movie on TV.  It was The Time Machine from 1960.

I have no idea how true to H.G. Wells' story the film is as I've never read it, but what that adaptation has always suggested to me is that over time humanity will lose its empathy, will no longer react to human distress, and will rather watch it and then move on as if it hadn't occurred. 

We all watched the news and later cried while wrapping Christmas presents this weekend.  We all have shaken our heads and wagged our fingers and snuggled the heck out of our kids.  We've all talked of gun control, mental illness, and our culture, all in some collective search for reasons, answers, and direction. 

I certainly have views on all of that, but what haunts me most right now is the idea that if our reaction ends, if our conversation stops when the news cycle dies down, that's like waiting for the river to carry the screaming girl out of earshot so we can get back to our frolicking.

Whatever aspect of this moment in history is firing you up, please don't let time burn that out.  I'm saying that to myself as much as anyone else.  For me, that aspect is character.  Instilling empathy, creativity, and accountability in my children and students is always in the back of my mind, and I believe those traits are what prevent most of us from choosing to become monsters.  I'm not naive enough to think that's the ultimate solution, but it's what I can do.  I need to keep that effort at the forefront of my parenting and my teaching, ahead of letters and numbers and showing growth on tests.  Humanity still has a heart, and we have to cultivate it.

Otherwise the cannibals will get us. 

See the movie.  You'll feel me.

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