Looking into the warm Berkeley skies, you have to wonder at the idea of June Gloom. The paradise days of late spring leading up to the summer season have always been my favorite time of year — not only for the meteorological bliss but for the peace and tranquility that seem to abound.
People take a lax approach to life during these balmy days. Cares evaporate like puddles, in part because of the sultry stillness but also because of nature’s pageantry. June’s a gorgeous time to think about nothing.
And yet, this past week, the world we created stands in stark contrast to the ostensible serenity.
As I walk down streets redolent of jasmine blossoms, I think about six Irish students and the frailty of life. I think about their grieving families, and I don’t envy the souls who had to deliver the news.
Outside my window, when the day begins to break and the mourning doves croon to one another, I think about nine black churchgoers slaughtered by racial hatred and about the rippling effects of such a monstrous act, and I shudder. I forget the warmth of the day. And though I’m not religious, I pray to God that we’ve seen the last of such atrocities.
Still, the sun shines on and keeps no tally of the iniquities conducted beneath its awning. And for that, at least, I’m grateful and relieved, until I begin to think about the human legacy we are etching into the landscape. The age of humankind’s fuck ups — the Anthropocene — is going to be characterized by mass extinctions, scientists warn.
Even if the symphony of nature serves to drown out the litany of disheartening events right now, that foretold “Silent Spring” is fast looming on the horizon.
But dire circumstances notwithstanding, at least there are still artificial distractions in which I can lose my thoughts. Case in point: “Jurassic World.”
I nestle into the cool bosom of the theater and can’t help but feel the weight of the real world dissolving into the matte screen as a new reality is conjured — a better reality.
Only, this reality is equally fucked up — maybe more so. It’s a reality where Chris Pratt gets more and more tan with each scene (Rachel Dolezal, take note on what a “tan” looks like), where a supposedly strong and intelligent female character won’t take off her heels to literally save her life, and where the villain is a dinosaur endowed with the cognitive power to commit evil by — you guessed it — people.
I leave the theater queasy from a combination of gratuitous dinosaur violence and the film’s ironic message: that from a jaded culture germinates a perverted spectacle, which is exactly what the movie became.
And I think about all the events of the recent weeks. How can I connect these ideas without being flippant? How can I derive something meaningful out of such disparate occurrences? What knowledge or insight can I offer that someone else can’t, that someone else hasn’t already?
So many overwhelming emotions and thoughts are swirling around these stories. Where do we direct our energy? People on social media buzz and hum and voice their outrage.
Maybe I should do the same.
But maybe this isn’t a time for scathing analysis or diatribes.
Maybe this is a time for mourning and deep reflection. Maybe this is a time to consign our worries to oblivion and enjoy life while we still can. Maybe this is the perfect time to invoke that “memento mori” of our age: You only live once.
Say what you will about millennials, but when it comes to having a philosophy to suit the circumstances, “YOLO” really does capture the spirit of fatalism rather nicely.
But as much as I might long to succumb to the call of apathy — to lay my head in its lap and relinquish my thoughts, my concerns, my worries over the intractable problems of society — I hesitate to take that opiate. Because I don’t know if I’ll ever wake up.
I do know, however, that using a hackneyed cliche such as talking about the weather doesn’t offer much in the way of a solution. But sometimes we have far too much to talk about, to the point where we feel overwhelmed and paralyzed and therefore end up talking about nothing.
A good friend recently asked me, “What’s the difference between the people who talk about social issues and the people who ignore them, pretend they don’t exist?”
“The depression?” I answered.
“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe the people who talk about the issues have more of an opportunity to do something, to take action.”
It’s when you allow the scope of all the issues to crowd your vision that you wind up throwing your hands to the sky and lamenting your own existence. You have to funnel your energy, choose a cause to champion and reconcile yourself to the idea that you can only do so much. Lest you end up writing an article about weather.
Zion Barrios writes the Monday column on social topics that rarely enter open conversation. You can contact him at [email protected].