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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Merely Surviving

Pin It I watched the film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road last night, Truitt snoozing docilely in my lap and the kids playing Battleship in the other room. I'd read the book several years ago, working my way through it fits and starts, unsettled by the sadness of its story and message. It's one of those works, though, that deserves a second, closer look. There is so much there in way of character and symbol, image and theme.

The film version was no less beautifully "written" than the text, the actors and cinematography all poignant words on the screen. There was this one scene that tugged at me, a flashback where the protagonist recalls a pivotal conversation with his wife. In it, she raises the question of survival in their post-apocalyptical world. They live in a world where humanity is all but non-existent, and existence itself is marked by constant struggle for food, shelter, and protection from bands of cannibals. As a mother, she comments that the day their son was born was both the best and worst day of her life. She means to end her life as soon as she has the opportunity.

"It is not enough," she tells her husband, "to just survive." Unspoken is her desire to live fully, and see her son live as well.

Later, as they make their way through a barely recognizable ash-strewn world toward more southerly climes, the father pauses for a brief stroll through memory lane in his old childhood home. While his son looks on in confusion, he touches a doorframe that bears the faint measurements of a growing boy. He reveals the holes in the mantle where stockings once hung. He traces the pattern of a sofa cushion lovingly. His son,though, does not and cannot understand his attachment to these things. He has never known this childhood. His own has been filled with tramping through a barren world, scavenging for meals, flinching from human contact. He does not know what it means to have holidays, and relationships, and comforts.

He knows how to survive. But is he truly living?

It's hard to envision a world such as this. As a mother, I hate to think of a time when my children would need to be consumed with survival over living. There's a Suzy Sunshine part of me that holds on to a faith in the greater good of the human race...I have to believe that we wouldn't simply give way to that tiny terrible ego that's in us all, but would instead take whatever circumstances we were dealt and turn survival into living.

4 comments:

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I have to agree. I read the book and saw the movie.. Loved both.. The characters and choices they made really hit me.

Anaise said...

A saying of John Adams comes to mind--not a real quote because I can't remember his exact words--but he said something to the effect of: I study politics and war so that my sons may study law so that my grandsons may study the arts.

We all want more than mere survival, and each generation hopes that the next one will have even more opportunity than the one before.

"They" say (and who are "they?") that the next generation is the first one who won't actually have the opportunity to improve over ours. I don't know if I agree. Perhaps financially there may be more struggle instead of less, but I think, as I look at my children, that they can enjoy the liberty of becoming more socially, emotionally, and physically because of the things I am teaching them.

And there are cave paintings out there . . . even if I don't agree with the history of man as defined by archeologists/anthropologists . . . there is evidence of the triumph of living over surviving under primitive circumstances.

So I'm with you--I believe we'll live!

Karen Peterson said...

In a much more philosophical way, I see a lot of people that are merely surviving. Just trying to get through each day the best they can. They're alive and their lives aren't threatened by starvation or cannibalism, but they aren't really living either.

I can't imagine living in the world Cormac McCarthy wrote about. But I don't want to live like that in this world either.

Kristen said...

Sometimes you have to "survive" in order to begin to live again. I say that from personal experience. I still listen to "Never Alone" from Barlow Girls (If you've never listened to that song... I think you might like it) ... because last summer I just needed to take life 1 moment at a time. One step at a time. Until those steps became walks ... and became journeys again. It is a grey area... I want to LIVE ... but sometimes SURVIVAL is just going to have to "do" ...
Kristen
www.alittlesomethingforme.com

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