(On the heels of the post about the Italian reporter.)
For about five years or so, it seemed as though everyone I met had read Ender's Game. I suspect that, especially in the '80s and '90s, it was a frequent teacher suggestion for "smart" kids who didn't fit in, in one way or another; Ender is in some ways a prototypical prodigy, a kid whose power is used by others until he finally takes control of his own narrative. It would be a lie to say that his life gets fixed, per se, but it's a good book for outcasts to read, because he does ultimately learn to make his life work within the circumstances he has.
I've been thinking about Ender more lately than I have in a long time. When I returned to DC, I joined a faith-based social justice group, and our talk of late has been on the ever-cheery topic of drone warfare. What's weird is that Ender's Game more or less exactly predicts drone warfare and its consequences (spoiler alert: not pretty). What's weirder is that despite the fact that Orson Scott Card wrote a book in which I beautifully see my moral dilemmas outlined, there are other areas in which I can't really find any common ground with him at all. It's hard to reconcile.
There are a lot of ways in which long-distance killing, of men indiscriminately classified as "militants," seems to be the next (inevitable) step in humanity's (inevitable) decline. There are also a lot of ways in which I just want Orson Scott Card to be a Dude I Can Admire, instead of finding myself on the same page with a person I find otherwise difficult to stomach. Add to that the guilt of worrying about anything at *all* as a rich Westerner, and the inevitable personal and professional stresses that some weeks hit harder than others, and it all combines with the stupid and horrible problems of the world to make everything feel overwhelming, even for a privileged girl safe in a second-floor apartment in Washington. And after a while, you find yourself sympathizing with the righteous anger of this excerpt from George Appleton's Oxford Book of Prayer:
We worship death in our quest to possess ever more things; we worship death in our hankering after our own security, our own survival, our own peace, as if life were divisible, as if love were divisible, as if Christ had not died for all of us. To You we lift our outspread hands.
As if life were divisible. As if love were divisible. What vain messes we are as humans. Seriously, how do we stand ourselves?
And yet: you can't do anything if you're drowning in a sea of worry, and if you're fretting about how stupid it is for you to fret. (Welcome to the American dream: the luxury to worry about worrying.) Being with others tonight, finding fellowship even over such grim topics, was a good reminder that, in our quest to create a better world, sometimes we have to remind ourselves that happiness remains. In the words of Jennifer Michael Hecht, in a piece I think I've quoted in every journal I've ever had,
...The way you can sit there, miserable, and every person you can think of seems miserable. A is jealous of her boyfriend, B has just been put on Depakote, and C has a cat. Which is to say that life seems gross and frustrating and you feel certain that happiness or satisfaction isn't real. At least you're not singled out for misery, at least it's endemic and egalitarian...
[But] there are moments of such joy in writing this, and sometimes in looking out my window onto First Avenue. And if all that is true, that no one is happy and yet there is happiness, that the human heart changes more than you'd ever expect and yet it also runs alongside its chariot, blooming sweat and pounding away with the same glory that I feel right now, then it might also be true that we were once about twenty-one years old and standing outside my parent's house, and it was autumn, we were in college near my hometown and you were picking me up for a class we taking together. I carried my camera around a lot back then, largely because I was inspired by the photo album you and Linda had compiled when you were together... So I have this picture of you, under the tree, leaves everywhere, drinking from one of my parents' mugs. I guess we used to bring the mugs into the car and then return them at the end of the day. I guess we were alive, and I am alive, and the person in the photograph is you.
It's not revealing too much to say that Ender does not give up, despite a series of outcomes that would make anyone else reach for their cyanide capsules. Even that prayer offers a measure of hope: it doesn't end with "We worship death. UGHHHH WE ARE THE WORST," but rather a motion towards redemption. I guess that, as simplistic as it may sound, it's useful to remind ourselves sometimes that even if it seems that no one is happy, there is happiness. That no matter how frustrating the world becomes, there is joy in learning and being with friends and seeing the night sky. That we were alive, and that I am.