We Are All On the Beach -
Date: Tuesday, March 20 2007
We Are All On the Beach -
And That Tide Rises Fast
By Michael Goodspeed
"It's been nice, Dwight Lionel. It's been everything...Oh Dwight, I'm so frightened."
--Moira Davidson, On the Beach
Our fears in childhood were both more awful and bearable than the ones in adulthood. They were awful because our naive and spectacular imaginations could conjure any scenario in technicolor clarity -- with mom and dad nowhere in sight, the branch scraping the bedroom window always sounded more like the gentle scuff of a witch's broom. But no matter how choking our terrors, we somehow knew we were safe and loved, and that the rise of the Sun would cast all boogeymen back into the shadows from whence they came.
The fears of an adult are not nearly so transient. We no longer suspect monsters lurking 'round every corner, but anxiety and worry are still constant companions. Will I make next month's mortgage payment? ...Does my boss still like me? ...Am I growing fat and ugly? ...Will the Lakers make the playoffs? These inane yet seemingly vital mentations clang in our head like the dullest cowbell. And underneath each concern, mostly hidden and unacknowledged, is the taproot of all fear, the apogee of all nightmares. It is the question that jolts men awake at night and leaves them groping in the dark for a bottle or a gun. In the end, it is the only question that matters, and very few human beings find to it a satisfactory answer. The question is:
Does my life have meaning?
No child pauses in the middle of play to worry what, ultimately, his life might amount to. But as adults, that is ALL we think about, day and night, with at best only passing relief. Am I going to be someone? Am I someone yet? Will I ever be loved? I don't feel loved. Will this huge gaping hole right down the middle of me ever be filled for more than a few seconds?
This transformation of fear has been witnessed in my own life. When I was a kid, I had an overwhelming terror of nuclear war. I watched all of the "nuke" movies in morbid fascination. Threads, The Day After, Testament these films depict how it might feel to hear the emergency broadcast signal on the radio and then be told by a reporter that the missiles were flying. In a matter of minutes, either everything would be over, or you would be left with your loved ones to wander the remains of a scorched and dying world. The radiation sickness, the blistered flesh, the agony of watching family and friends die -- what could be more fearsome, or provide greater proof of an insane and unloving God?
But as an adult, the nuke movies arouse in me completely different emotions. I recently viewed the 1959 classic On the Beach, a sober contemplation of a post-apocalyptic world. A global nuclear war has occurred, and residents of Australia spend months awaiting the inevitable arrival of the deadly fallout. To maintain a sense of normalcy and perhaps sanity, most try to lead the remainder of their lives as if little has changed. Hobbies and interests are pursued even though death is just around the corner. The philosophical question the film begs is, what, if anything, is worth doing when you know that everyone, yourself included, is going to die?