We 21st-century 20-somethings like to think ourselves the chosen ones.
We are new-wave, radical, cutting-edge. We are modern. We are postmodern. Ensnared in a web of social media, modern appliances and an increasing variety of processed food options, we navigate layers of reality that our parents don’t even know exist.
We do dim the screen occasionally to eat, pee and sleep. But aside from these minor interruptions — and some obnoxious body hair — we have little in common with the stunted, cave-painting hunters who inhabit our genetic history. Even our grandparents, a relatively new addition to the homo sapien lineage, lived primitive lives in the company of black-and-white television and rotary phones. The even further outdated — the flea-infested, nature-worshipping civilizations of centuries past — may as well have been primates.
In contrast, we, the Enlightened, lead lives of bold drama and frantic activity. Unimpressed by wheels and sliced bread, we divert our innovative spirits toward lifting humankind to new planes of consciousness through truly brilliant and necessary technologies such as the Snuggie. Our internet-rich hearts brim with pity for those who came before, forced to spend countless evenings sitting around fire pits or scratching quill to paper with only the same old stories for entertainment.
And what’s the use of those old stories, anyway? We go to UC Berkeley. We are serious people. We, as every wide-eyed freshman in your lecture hall knows, are expected to do things. Living in the age of Jeopardy-playing robots, we can hardly be concerned with the meager legends of bygone eras. The age of the fiery hunt has passed. We fear no dragons. We wield no swords. Reveling in our hard-earned social freedom as we tramp down Telegraph in the wee hours of the night, we scoff at the ridiculousness of Peter Pan never wanting to grow up.
By now, the past is out of tricks. The feeble whininess of sleeping beauties is not lost on our generation. Crossroads tries not to make a habit of distributing poison apples, and the only folklore we care to know chronicles the antics of our inebriated peers. Besides, every foodie knows that the difference between a “gyro” and a “hero” blurs more the better the falafel is.
It seems even modern-day god Mark Zuckerberg would have a hard time making a case for the existence of Facebook fairy tales.
But hold on, modern madonnas. We are not quite jaded enough to call ourselves iconoclasts. We simply don’t believe those syrupy stories have much to offer the multidimensional space cadets we have become.
We future-dwellers sit on the shoulders of giants. Even our remote satellite colony was settled by the protagonists of the past. If we can muster the patience to study their stories as they unfold at dial-up internet speed, maybe we’ll begin to see something different.
Because, let’s be honest, no matter how modern we become, our lives are full of old stories. We are inspired by our heroes and dismayed by our villains. We root for the underdog. We fail and suffer and fall in love. The same patterns have surfaced again and again for thousands of years. As it turns out, the experience of being a person in this world — for all its profound differences — hasn’t changed all that much.
So let’s see if you know this one.
Once upon a time, a man is traveling. He is a Jew. He is robbed. He is beaten. He is left to die on the side of the road. He is five feet under. He is toast. People pass by. Noblemen. Priests. Their eyes widen. They do not stop.
Now, another traveler. He is reputed poorly. This Jew is his greatest enemy. He is a Samaritan. He, of all of them, stops to help.
Berkeley may not lie along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, and that Jewish man’s particular experience with social injustice was nearly 2,000 years ago. But just last week, I saw a homeless man on Telegraph holding up a cardboard sign. It said, “It would seem I have become invisible recently.”
While not a case of anti-Semitism, the wounds of cultural discrimination were just as deep.
You see, this told-and-retold story is not dead or irrelevant. It is not about the politics of Samaritans hating Jews or the crime stats of early roads. It is about the world’s unfairness.
It is about suffering and needing help.
More than anything, it is about the rare determined soul who does not avert their eyes.
So let’s think for a second about what it’s like to feel invisible. Because that simple justice — looking someone in the eye — hasn’t changed.
Yes, millennials, we are progressive. Yes, we live our lives at breakneck speed. But we are also human beings. We are also captivated by beauty, striving toward honor, figuring out for ourselves the meaning of the word heroism, of what it means to be brave.
We are good Samaritans and hopeful lovers, just as we have always been. We, Enlightened or not, are capable of loving our neighbors and considering the complexity of the truth.
We may as well make a place in our lives for fairy tales.
Nina Djukic writes the Friday column on the relevance of stories in life today. You can contact her at [email protected].