Thursday, February 5, 2009
In the recent past I’d seen post-apocalyptic movies but the two that come immediately to mind had humans turning into zombies - a situation that could not be called good or hopeful - but which managed to make the enemies no longer accountable for their actions. Hey, I’m a zombie, I can’t help myself.
In McCarthy’s book there are no zombies. There are very few life forms of any description. The world has turned to ash; no food grows, waters are fouled, the sun is always dimmed. The main characters, a man and his son, are trying to make their way south across an unrecognizable America. There was a point in the story when I felt I had to stop, that I couldn’t bear to fill my mind with additional images of cannibals and all that had been lost.
But the story had me and I finished it in a morning’s sitting. It is not a novel one completes, then goes off to do something pointless. Of me it demanded interpretation, not to find what it might mean to everyone, but simply what it meant to me.
The dominant word that played over and over in my head was - savage. And with that word came a realization that the sides had already been chosen. We will not become either savages or carriers of fire, bringers of light after the fall. We are now who we will be.
Savage came to define itself in many of its forms, often cloaked in pleasing or at least acceptable exteriors. If you are on the lookout for drooling monsters you will miss some of the more ferocious beasts. I began to sense that we had reached the crossroads a long time ago, I can’t say just when, but I could easily equate cannibals with war profiteers, lying politicians, deniers of freedoms, any sort of predator, bully or aggressor, and saw the enormity of their numbers. That any one of us (or maybe just most of us) could possibly turn from civilized to savage under certain conditions was not reassuring. I began to believe than in each moment we have a choice, each decision we make in an ordinary day really does align us with one side or the other. And how important each moment becomes when we realize what rests on those choices. THE ROAD warned me to be mindful, told me where the lines were and made it clear there was not, there never will be, a gray area. We have either signed up to carry the fire and the light or to extinguish them. What I took from McCarthy’s words was that we needn’t wait for the apocalypse to find out what we’re made of. If we look honestly, we already know.