“…but some of us are looking at the stars.” -Oscar Wilde
When you’re raised down the street from Disney World, you come to acquire an appreciation for the strange, performative nature of everyday life. Fireworks rumble the world every night like the footsteps of giants, keeping children up and imagining alien invasions outside the window. Spotlights illuminate the night sky with their dancing patterns.
And yet life is rather dull. We wake up, we battle the tourist traffic to cross I-4 and make it to school, where we spend seven hours or more being molded into perfect little citizens. Questions are discouraged; conformity is praised. We are raised in awe of astronauts and their shuttles, yet math and science are made out to be obscure, inaccessible subjects, especially to young women, to our friends who come from poor neighborhoods.
There is a deep dissatisfaction with modern life. Seventeen-year-olds bring wine and vodka in their water bottles. Music provides some escape. Outfits are more highly regulated than bullying. Students are singled out for holding hands with someone of their own gender, no matter how platonic the action.
Then there is the ever-present fear of the future. The hammer of student debt hovering over the anvil of underpaid labor. The knowledge that one will likely work until they are seventy in order to see any form of retirement – if one is lucky. When the stock market is doing well, only the mega-rich see any benefit; when the stock market crashes, us at the bottom rung of the ladder fall off. More accurately, we are pushed.
Political divisions don’t help. Red and blue, white and black and brown, we’re all poor, we’re all scraping by, and yet we don’t see as the Elite we fear so much push us into blaming one another for their own crimes. We praise and uplift “saviors” who will bleed us dry and throw us away as soon as they’ve wrung a nickel or two out of us, just because they promise they won’t.
Anhedonia: a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts (Merriam-Webster.com).
When we feel as if we live upon a world spiraling out of our hands, is it any wonder that this is happening to us? Is it any wonder that we come up with wilder and wilder explanations for our loss of control, our loss of the ability to lead meaningful lives? Is it any wonder that we turn to conspiracy theories and magic?
I was raised an atheist. When I asked about the Bible stories my friends knew, my mother sat me down with a gigantic pad of paper and drew all of them from memory, drawing upon her Baptist upbringing. I learned about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Ark, and the life and death and rebirth of Jesus. About the Trinity.
When I told my mother it all seemed like a fairy story, she agreed with me, and she told me: “You can believe whatever you want. But I think that people wrote these books, and that people aren’t always right, but that people want to believe that they are always right. They want to believe in a right and a wrong, and they want to believe that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. When bad things happen that they can’t fix, they want to be able to say to themselves that the people who have harmed them will be punished by God someday, if not now. And I believe that that’s all there is to it.”
There are many oversimplifications when talking about religion. This is a Christian worldview, after all; Jewish people don’t even all believe that there is a God, much less that we should blindly follow any of the ancient rules set by such a God.
Like it or not, however, this Christian worldview has shaped so much of our reasoning as Americans, as citizens of the world – the idea that there is a Right and a Wrong. Order and Disorder. Natural and Unnatural.
I believe that a better world is possible. A world in the grey. A world that celebrates humanity as a whole, while decolonizing our minds from centuries of belief in hierarchy, in the inherent supremacy of one kind of human over another.
When will this world come? Most likely after I’m dead. But I don’t fear death. I fear a life unlived – a fate much worse than peaceful rest.