A friend of mine announced today that he has pancreatic cancer and is in hospice.
And in that bombshell of a sentence, the word I debated using the most was “friend.”
See, I’ve never met this person. I have only ever communicated with him through Facebook. I was introduced to him by a former boss, a person I had a lot of respect for, and even though she was conservative in her views, she saw that we were both secular liberals, and put us in touch. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to know him, he has made me laugh and made me feel less alone. I have come to recognize his name with joy, and respect his words. So even though I’ve never met him, I don’t hesitate to call him a friend—and I don’t even feel the need to add the qualifier “Facebook” to that word.
His communication that he was dying was honest and dignified. He said he accepted what was happening to him, that he was OK with where his journey had brought him. It was a sharp reminder that we should all be so lucky to make the same claim, and an inspiration to this atheist of what I strive for. Happiness, contentment, love. The true meaning of life, the most important things.
I have had family members die that didn’t make me cry, but I cried today for this man I never met. For the reminder that all of us have a time limit, and that all good things come to an end. For the bitter fact that life isn’t fair. Out of gratitude that I live in an age where it was possible for me to meet him without meeting him.
Social media gets a lot of flak, much of it deserved, but it is a force for good as well. Today, as I think about my dying friend, I’m thankful for it. It allowed me to not only get to know this person, but also to experience his last digital words, his acceptance of his fate. That is something I will treasure until my own time comes, when hopefully it will serve me as well as it served him.
I knew going in to Black Panther that it would probably be good. The reviews were roundly positive and it was making a lot of money globally. I did not expect it to be my new favorite Marvel movie.
It has the superhero, the action scenes, and the single nemesis I expected. On face, it also has a familiar plotline: Acts 1, 2, and 3 pretty much follow the broad strokes of my expectations. But it broke the mold in two key ways that elevated it for me: First, in its unabashed embrace of African culture and the beauty of black skin, and second, in the character of Wakanda itself. Because Wakanda may be a fictional nation, but it is absolutely the main character of this movie.
I was expecting a good guy vs bad guy story, but I was delighted to find much more: an exploration of protectionism vs global engagement and a candid acknowledgement of the costs of colonialism, particularly as paid by black people.
Danai Gurira and Michael B Jordan steal the show. Gurira is a joy to watch; her character (Okoye, a bodyguard for the king) has a surprising and pleasant depth for this sort of supporting character: a good person who makes some questionable decisions based on her interpretation of the law. She exemplified, for me, the sorts of difficult decisions countless government officials (Preet Bharara and Sally Yates come immediately to mind) had to make after Trump took power. She effortlessly joins the ranks of Eowen, Rey, Wonderwoman, and the other incredible female role models we’ve been blessed with in recent history. And Jordan presents a fascinating and compelling antagonist, whose flawed actions are driven not only by a sympathetic backstory, but by the untenable continued oppression of black people worldwide. I didn’t want him to achieve his aims, but I was still rooting for his cause to be taken up, and that’s part of the beauty of the film: its protagonist’s victory would be hollow if it didn’t involve an acknowledgement and even adoption of his enemy’s motivations.
All of this depth, wrapped up with some fantastic set pieces and driving action. Eye candy galore, intimate personal conflicts, AND deep political and philosophical questions? In one movie, and a MARVEL movie at that? I loved it. It made me ache for what the current Star Wars trilogy could have been. I hope Rian Johnson is taking notes. Coogler and Cole have shown how to incorporate meaningful politics into pop culture action without missing a beat.
I hear a lot about these Parkland kids that are standing up for themselves in the face of both the horrific gun massacre that slaughtered so many of their classmates, and the Republicans’ continued appalling failure to act to prevent more like it. I hear that they are courageous and visionary, and that they are going to rise up and fix this problem. People say this like it’s a good thing.
Are they courageous? Absolutely. Visionary? Certainly.
But I feel like this calculus ignores that they are also terrified. That they were dragged into this fight, literally, at gunpoint.
I love these kids, but I hate that they have to do what they’re doing. They never should have come to this point, because we—YOU and I—should have solved this problem long before it shot their friends to death.
Claiming that “they will solve this problem” is a copout. It is just another way to wait around and hope someone else fixes it. Do they need our support? Yes, absolutely, of course, but the fact of the matter is that WE SHOULD HAVE ALREADY BEEN DOING ALL OF THIS. They should be getting our backs, not asking us to get theirs.
The fact that we claim a bunch of teenagers in Florida are now responsible for solving this problem is ghastly. They aren’t. They are children. Our continued and abject failure to demand change has resulted in a massacre that has altered the course of their lives forever. That is not a cause for celebration. It is a reason for shame.
After Columbine, we should have demanded change—of our laws, of our legislators, and of ourselves. And certainly after Sandy Hook, we should have refused to accept inaction as a possibility; we should have staged a die-in at every state capitol, barricaded doors, swarmed the news, and demanded better laws that would actually protect our children. We spent far too much time waiting to get angry, and we cannot now allow these kids to pick up our slack. We need to pick up our own slack.
Post. Donate. Protest. Call your rep, call your rep, call your rep.
Don’t leave these kids carrying this god-awful burden alone. We failed them once. We should be carrying them now, not the other way around.
One of these times it’s going to be my kids. I’m going to hear the sirens and be choked by sick dread. I’m going to check the news and hear the worst words I’ve ever heard. I’m going to hate myself for keeping them in school when we could’ve had them use the internet, I’m going to wonder why the fuck we stayed in this shithole country when we knew almost 100 people get murdered by guns here every day, and none of it is going to matter. None of my self-hate or screaming is going to be matter, because my kids are going to be dead.
One of these times it’s going to be your kids or grandkids. You’re going to feel that bubble of fake security shatter, that invincible sense of “it won’t happen to us” vanish and leave you alone in a sea of thrashing horror. You’re going to stare into the camera of a news station that temporarily gives a shit; you’re going to sob and beg before the red eye of the camera turns away and moves on.
One of these times it’s going to be our nieces or nephews. A shadow passing so close it’ll freeze the blood in our veins. Will that be enough to make us write or call our representatives? Maybe even the ones that don’t directly represent us, but instead use their power daily to shut down any possibility of action on the floor of congress? If our precious niece with the chubby cheeks gets slaughtered in her kindergarten room, or our nephew who finally got to start driver’s ed is gunned down in the back while fleeing for his life across a football field, will that make us pick up the goddamn phone and stop acting like such complicit pieces of shit?
One of these times it’ll be our rep’s kid or grandkid. They’ll be the ones who have to watch the news, horror-stricken; they’ll be the ones who finally realize how fucking absurd it is to insist that more guns will solve the problem. And maybe they’ll finally even think about banning bump stocks or limiting clip sizes, briefly—before Wayne Lapierre steps on their necks.
Then, with tears still drying on their cheeks and the blood of their own kin still staining their hands, they’ll knee down and lick his shoe.