A few months ago, listening to youtube while working (ahh the benefits of a home office) I saw a preview for a movie called The Purge. So the basic premise is that we are forward in time, unemployment is nil, violence and crime are almost nonexistent. This is attributed to the one night a year when all violence is legal, the night of the purge.
I’ll admit to being interested, it is an interesting idea, though I would tend to gravitate more toward the almost utopian society that seems to exist under this regime of “New Founding Fathers” than the urge to indulge in a night of violence.
For example, this one time (NOT at bandcamp!), our cat caught a bird. The bird was in the backyard, he was damaged, very very damaged, and the cat just kind of crouched nearby watching the havoc he’d wreaked play out. If you know me, you know that my feet are always dirty. This is because I go everywhere barefoot, what can I say, I’m happy that way…but on this day I was barefoot in the back yard and I almost stepped on the cat’s prize. Casey, sweet man that he is, had to come out and end the bird, it was the only humane thing to do, but we both almost cried. So we are not a family that embraces death and destruction, is the point.
But the idea itself is interesting, one night where all violence is legal, you get it out of your system, so to speak, a sacrifice, a service, for the common good. And then the movie opened and you see Ethan Hawke in his fancy car driving into his fancy gated neighborhood. And you get a sense that his character is not a have not. You learn that his family does not participate in the purge, rather, they go into lockdown and try to pretend it isn’t happening. You come to suspect that his son has really mixed feelings about it, and your thought is confirmed when his son opens the door for a black man who is in the street, bloody and screaming for help, his cries echoing off the steel sheeted security windows on every house and the empty street.
A few years ago Casey took a class called Ethical Dilemmas. All these different ways of approaching ethics, different theories, etc. And then the actual dilemmas themselves, sometimes fiercely debated, sometimes really sensitive topics. That’s what this movie is, an ethical dilemma. Do you let the man in and risk the safety of your own family? I don’t know how to answer that. Isn’t that why I don’t pick up hitchhikers when I have the kids in the car? Because I won’t risk my family to assist someone? Because pretty soon, the bad guys are at the door (we’re back to the movie now) and they want the man. They want the man handed over, and they promise this beautiful, educated, moneyed family will be safe, as they “deserve” to be, if only they will give the man up, otherwise, they are coming in, and everyone will die.
What would you? How would you weigh a decision like that? A (we’ve found out), homeless black vet, bloody and scared. To be “purged” only because of his social status. Against your family. An impossible choice.
What I was thinking though, as I watched this predictable film play out in the way that anyone would guess that it would, is this: why a purge? why unleash violence only one night a year? Its clear in the film that many people spend those other 364 days plotting out who gets it when the next night comes, a boss, a neighbor with an annoying dog, that guy standing on a corner holding a sign that says ‘will work for food, family of four, need help’. Isn’t that a form of violence, that plotting?
I know that the world is a mean and broken place, just yesterday a child shot a teacher in front of other students at a middle school in Nevada, and then people, AND THEN, that CHILD turned a gun on himself. How shattered, how wounded does one have to be, to be a child, and to take a life and then to take one more. I know that there are ghettos and projects, I know that there are places, even within a short drive of here, that I would probably not be safe to travel into after dark and alone. I know that there is hunger, and illiteracy and desperation. So I say that to assure you, faithful reader, that I understand that one tiny little wordpress blog, with my ramblings/half assed movie review of one awful movie, will not change the world. We have been a violent civilization since what, our inception? I don’t know if there is a way to quell that, but I doubt it, that we can stamp out every burning ember.
But what I took away from The Purge was this, Ethan Hawke made a terrible movie, and this, I can be the change I want to see in the world. A sappy and sugary saying.
But I can.
What if, just humor me, what if, instead of one night of violence that is directed at the poor, and the homeless, and the sick, ensuring only the fittest survive, what if we all changed the way that we acted, every single day. What if we all worked together to make things such as poverty like polio, a scary epidemic that seemed to last a long time, but eventually was cured and almost unheard of.
Because we could.
We are called to.
Clothe the naked, heal the sick, feed the hungry. The answer is there, right there, right in front of us. Love. As you do for the least of these… Its right there. And so simple and then so… apparently not simple. Obviously we can’t get it right. As long as 13 year old kids are accessing their parents’ weapons, taking lives, instilling fear and panic, as long the soup kitchens are full, as long as the welfare rolls are overbudget and underfunded, as long as medical expenses continue to bankrupt families. Well, obviously we can’t get it right.
But what matters to me is not what you do, what the wide world does. What matters to me is what I do, what my girls do, what my husband does. If he wants to pick up hitchhikers and help people in the pouring rain stranded at a rest stop, if he wants to bring homeless men home for dinner from where he found them, camping down by the river in November, well, godspeed, I say.
If I want to work in the soup kitchen for the pure and deep something that is satisfied within me just to know that I have FED people, if I want to teach my children to love, to love everyone, no matter what, even when they’re hurt, even when it goes terribly wrong, even when the bathroom is littered with filthy towels and a scent that won’t come out for weeks because a homeless man has had the joy of a hot shower, even if you have to pack up the last of that dinner into storage dishes you kind of want back but know you’ll never see again, even when that food was what you were counting on to use as leftovers the next day… well. So be it.
Because humanity, because my family, because I, can never find peace in a world that purges the ones who need help the most and rewards the rich, who get richer and grow more entitled, and less human. And contrary to some opinions, it doesn’t take placing yourself and your family in utter and sure danger. It doesn’t take buying a home on Eight Mile and moving out of your safe and relatively un-diverse neighborhood. Its how you treat people, the example that you set as you strive to live in a state of constant, intentional, even when you don’t want to, kindness.
And I guess that is my point, my plea. Until it is not all about me, all about you, then this is the world we live in. A world where small children are cold. A world where old men are hungry. A world where young boys commit unthinkable acts. A world where people have what they need but they still and always need more. A world where we can become so isolated in our own point of view that we step dangerously close to living closed and selfish lives.
A world like The Purge.
What difference can you make? As the ever lovely and poetic Jewel says, “in the end, only kindness matters”. Be kind, friends. Start an epidemic of constant, intentional kindness.
Its the only weapon I have, the only way I can fight back. Love when it hurts, give when you can’t, forgive when it isn’t deserved, pray that it makes a difference.