“I always hope, in fact, that my interlocutor will be a policeman and that he will arrest me for the theft of ‘The Just Judges’.” So said Albert Camus in his simple short novel “The Fall”. The theft of the just judges; a metaphor for the opening of people’s eyes, ‘rose colored’ glasses slipping to fall onto the pavement where they are trampled under the feet of refugees fleeing rape; of men surging toward those who should protect them, soldiers who have instead inexplicably spun to fire into the oncoming parade. Children looking desperately into the heavens, as they too flee, with that one silent plea screamed from parched throats “But who will help us?”
Humanity has always cherished our heroes. My little boy often sets up armies of ‘evil’ stuffed animals at one end of the living room to be fought off by the Transformers he requests for each Christmas, each birthday; stories for children to teach them of good and evil, of right and wrong. Novels like “Lord of the Rings” and “Chronicles of Narnia” where good triumphs over something profoundly wicked but only after so great a struggle; ‘Frodo of the Nine Fingers’ broken and sad but somehow satisfied for he has stayed the course, and Sauron was defeated. We see it in our movies too, The Gladiator saving the Roman Republic from the depredations of crazed emperor Commodus. Art pointing us back to that part of our nature where we hold our understanding of what is right and true.
But not, alas, anymore in our lives…
If Camus lamented the loss of ‘Just Judges’, I sorrow at the destitution of the ‘Noble Nobels’. Of course I’m referring to Myanmar, Burma of old. How could I not? We all had such hope, such dreams – those of us who watched the torture of monks were amazed when that Saffron Spring slowly cracked open a door that amazingly stayed open; allowing a Nobel Laureate into the light. It was the symbol of everything for which I have fought my whole life. How has that hope slipped away?… How did it become ugly? Isn’t there enough of that in the world – and can’t they leave us at least with our Just Judges, our Noble Nobels? Why must we always watch as the pedestal is upended, as the “democratic flower that has germinated is crushed under the weight of ancient prejudices and our legendary tolerance for injustice,” as Oscar Arias once said. And Desmond Tutu, emerging sclerotic, old and tired from self-imposed retirement to protest so great injustice – a fight that is not his, for his fight is cemented firmly in the past, “It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country…” as Burma has become.
Alas I have grown old, crusty and hard, we all have – accustomed to the prejudices and the brutality. They have, after all, been part of the human condition forever – something too that does not seem to want to change. But I am reminded, when I read the stories, that the children are still the same – each generation fighting again the battles between the evil stuffed animals and the Transformers who shine pure and bold in their minds. Except the ones who have to flee; and our rage burns bright again as we double down, what else can we do? Because we can still work, and we can still dream.
Which brings me full circle to our art, the last line of defense exhorting us to, “live very well, and grow old,” and reminding us, “when you step into the light (…) play your role with everything you’ve got. Invest every tear, every laugh, everything beautiful and ugly from your lives. Do your show, and live your lives with humanity; because whatever you do, it changes someone’s life forever.”
Words to consider, especially for those who so recently themselves have stepped into the light.