The Shadowlands

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.
— Elie Weisel

Once upon a time, back in the Utopia that was an Australian Gen X childhood, it was incredibly easy to fear nothing - or at least to fear very little. Albeit recognising now the genuinely gentle upbringing so many of us were lucky enough to enjoy was a privilege and not a right, it's fair to say we grew up taking the sanctity and safety of our lives for granted. It was a marvellous bubble of freedom and laughter, a summer holiday of self; a place where nobody could harm us, there was no possibility of invasion of mind or body, and strict sanctions were placed on those who attempted to take any sliver of our mental or physical wholeness and carve their own initials into it. 

It seems, looking back, like a lost Xanadu - literally, for those of us such as myself, who had truly execrable taste in movie musicals, and wanted to be Olivia Newton John very, very badly. It helps if you aren't a stick figure with freckles and reddy-brown hair, but never mind. All things are possible, right?

We had a less than perfect understanding of what went on in the 'real' world, we children of a non-digital god. But that was to be expected. Things went zooming over our heads, because we were too busy screaming around outside, crashing rollerskates into asphalt and shins, getting double-dinks on each others' bikes, jumping off trampolines into pools/jumping off roofs onto trampolines/jumping off jetties into water, playing Hiaki 1-2-3 until it was dark, and the neighbourhood suddenly emptied. Books were paper, not iPads, and were read under sufferance, unless you were weird (raising hand). Material goods weren't astonishingly important, mainly because, thinking about it, there wasn't anything particularly exciting out there, unless your parents could afford Atari (flash). 

TV was at best five channels, and that was in big cities like Melbourne and Sydney. The news was something that interfered with Countdown on Sunday nights, and meant the Goodies had finished during the week. And everything bad was happening somewhere else. It simply didn't impact on a day to day level. Apartheid, Biko tortured to death, terrorist attacks at the Olympics, Entebbe, civil war in Lebanon, Pol Pot doing terrible things in some place called Cambodia, Tehran, the Jonestown massacre... presidents getting shot, popes dying... all out of sight, out of mind. At home, the rise and fall of Gough and the country's social liberation (and near economic decimation) had our parents in a Labor-ed frenzy, and sure, time for a change was a catchy tune, but politics? Blergh. Why pay attention to something you're not allowed to take part in?

Ohhhh, new thing called the Muppet Show!

One thing we did understand, I think, is that words are important. It's at the back of why I am still phenomenally wary about what I say on social media; I may say a lot, but I consider all of it. For example, I don't use hard swearwords, either in posts or in articles. I may swear like a trooper in private, but that's my business, and it only impacts on those who choose to listen to my disgusting mouth. I also know, as my mother told me as a teenager, that my words have the power to hurt people, and so I try very hard to minimise the sarcasm and snark. 

Unlike Gen Y, and millennials, we grew up with pen and paper. Words were not easily erasable. We were taught what sort of impact they had, because when we used them, they were generally used to someone's face.

How many times did you say as a child "I hate you!" and feel sick to the stomach afterwards because you'd used the word 'hate'? Maybe it was just me, but I doubt it. Now think about how often you use it. "I hate that idea." "God, I hate this, it's vile." "I hate him so much, I hope he rots in hell."

I use it all the time. I use it about Donald Trump on a daily basis. And I can feel the shadow creeping in on me, because I have forgotten how wrong it is to say it, and by saying it, to put thought into practice.

This childhood - it's something unfathomable for most kids now, and it's a gift any of us who were fortunate enough to be given should be incredibly, utterly thankful for. We were so, so lucky. 

This isn't looking back with rose-coloured perception, or down a tunnel of hazy memories. There are lots of bits of my childhood I would like to drop in the shredder, then stick a match to. It's fact. We had it good. 

I think it's why now, as purportedly responsible adults, in a time when we are fully cognisant and aware of what is happening around the country and around the world, when the entire planet is a powder keg of hatred, and terror, and despair, that those of us who were so lucky need to take what we were gifted as children - and start giving it back. Because we weren't just given the gift of eight, nine, ten, eleven or twelve years of freedom and innocence. 

We were given the gift of understanding, even at a very basic level, of what it meant to live without hate in our hearts, and a shadow in our souls. 

We were given the present of a sunlit mind.

We are seeing through a glass, darkly, particularly in the United States at present, the shadows of thought, and impulse, and deeds. We see shadows of power and anger in the continuing rise of violence against women. Around the world, the shadow of malevolent killer instinct that is Islamic State fuels itself with more shadows; ignorance in thought and in action. People heedlessly saying 'an eye for an eye' is an acceptable way to sort out gun related violence, and more weapons will bring closure. That some lives matter more than others, or some don't even count. There are shadows even in the way we support tragedy, because we publicly and socially mourn the loss of some, but not others, so again, a stake is driven through communities and understanding. 

And darkness finds its way in. 

Actions speak louder than words, and there's no doubt we need to be making our actions ones of hope and openness, not furtiveness and shade. But words have so much power, and at the moment, they are casting a pall on the planet of a darkness so permeable it terrifies me. And it is us, those of us who were lucky and knew a better and sunnier world, when shadowed words hit us hard, because they were said face to face, who need to stand up and fight for good words to replace the bad.

People's words were not always dealt out on a screen like a hand of cards that could be reshuffled, not understanding once the deck is cut, it's cut for life. That even though you press delete, the words remain, even if it's in the white hot glare of tears and anger of a screenshot. 

I cannot say it better than Elie Weisel, so I shan't even try.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

Once we do, then the shadowlands shall be the new age, and it will be the end of our kind, and of kindness. 

So please, in your words, whether they be on the screen, on paper, or in person, make it less about I hate you. Instead, protest the injustice of the shadows, and say -

I grieve for what we've lost, but with those who also grieve - all who grieve - I choose a different path.

I choose not to say I hate you.

It's only a little, but it's a start. 

Childhood steps, remember?