2 days ago, I woke up sleepy and instead of working or reading, I watched the Netflix series Wormwood. This odd journey detailed a man’s death, first played to the family and the public as a suicide, then a botched CIA experiment where they gave unwitting participants LSD that caused the suicide, and finally revealed to be an execution perpetrated by the agency itself. It was a day for me and a lifetime of searching/discovery for the man’s son. Not only did the intelligence agency take one man’s life, but many others as collateral damage. They just took longer to die than a fall/jump/throw from a hotel window.
As I watched one disgusting revelation after another, it occurred to me that I wasn’t actually surprised at all. Born post-Watergate and the Vietnam war, I have never known a day where I trusted any government agency or politician for a moment. The show did a masterful job at slowly pulling back the curtain, surely eliciting shock and disbelief from some. Sadly, not from me.
I said to my wife, “and then these 2 guys killed him,” incredulously. These 2 guys believed in something so much that they would heave another person through a window to protect it. Maybe, if the thing being protected is so fragile that it requires such action, it should be allowed to fall. How many deaths over the course of humanity have been attributed to just such blind obedience and disregard for life?
I have a buddy who has been an addict his entire life, practically. When he’s clean, he is quite judgmental of the ones who aren’t. He tells stories of their disease with a familiar air of superiority and condescension, as if they are a completely different species with different wiring and mismatched parts. And I look at him with the same sort of incredulity that I communicated to my special lady about these 2 guys.
What I want to explain to my buddy is that he is them. They are him. It’s unbelievable that he can’t see it, but he has divorced himself from the reality that there is so little that separates his situation from theirs.
But that’s the thing, right? We need to draw lines that separate us from them to maintain that superiority, shaky though it is. We desperately want to be ok, we really want there to be a fundamental difference.
But there’s not.
What makes those 2 guys believe so strongly they would kill? Who knows, but I know I’ve hated another and in the Bible, it says that’s just the same. Maybe it’s fear. Of course it’s fear. The 2 guys protect what they love at all costs. Would I point a gun at an intruder in my own house, while my family slept? Would I pull the trigger? Maybe. I suppose I’d have to get one first, but if I did, maybe I would.
I read these books by Fredrik Backman and perhaps his greatest gift is destroying those walls, those myths that they are so different. The characters in his stories we dislike the most are the most sympathetic, forcing us to examine what lies inside our own hearts. My buddy is wrong, he could be them, and so could I. He is them, and so am I.
2 weeks ago, a protest became a riot inside of the U.S. capitol building, and as I watched on a screen in Pennsylvania, I had thoughts and feelings about those people. Those people. Are we really so different? The same whose marches turned into riots in May were outraged at what happened in D.C. Why? It’s the same impulse. There is an us and we are right and there is a them and they are wrong. We are superior. They are inferior. You see where this line of thinking can take us.
Now, I think those 2 guys were WRONG to throw that guy out of a window, and I’m RIGHT about that. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe a better question would be, what made 2 guys so afraid that they would? What contributed to my buddy’s addiction? What motivated a group of folks to release, as the headline screamed, “tear gas in the rotunda?” I bet I’d be able to understand the answers to those questions, I bet I’d see far more similarities than differences. Maybe we’ve just been asking questions that lead to division and misunderstanding. Maybe we’ve been building ever more walls when we should be tearing them down. And maybe those walls that we’ve erected to keep them out have done the opposite and isolated us from our shared humanity, making us shells of who we could be, who we have been created to be.