• Joe Cooke

What gives me hope

Updated: Oct 8

There was this viral video circulating social media last week that showed a 30-ish woman with a shopping cart full of toilet paper trying to wrestle one last six-pack from a 70-ish woman.  A rush of nearby shoppers came to the rescue and the 30-ish woman huffed off as if she’d been wronged somehow. It went viral because it was the paradoxical sign of our times – the generosity and compassion of complete strangers in times of crisis, and the greed and self-absorption of our fellow human beings.  We all fight these inner voices – it’s a struggle as old as time; the devil on one shoulder, the angel on the other.

It made me wonder what goes through our heads.  I’m not a psychologist or sociologist. I leave that to others.  My wife loves that stuff, but it’s as incomprehensible to me as string theory.  Still, I wonder. That lady, when she goes to a movie, which character does she identify with?  Does she see herself as a superhero, saving her family from certain doom, overcoming overwhelming odds?  If we made that movie and slipped in a scene where a healthy woman wrests precious resources from a needy person, would she see herself there?  Or is there a place of denial inside of us that says, “No, that’s not me. I’m not the villain in this story. I’m the hero.”

Perhaps our antagonista does not read or go to movies or watch live theater.  I don’t watch much of the popular media today, aka unscripted TV (although I was once an “actor” in said medium for a short time in a “15-minutes-of-fame” episode of my life) and so I don’t know if that kind of behavior is being encouraged by media-mythology.  I suppose it is, from my limited experience with the way the producers twist the “story” to sell more copies to the demanding public. We’d rather watch a dumpster fire than a slow stroll, hand-in-hand, along the boardwalk. Still, don’t we ever ask ourselves, “How will my life look on TV?  Which character am I?”

As a writer, I see us in three roles, three archetypes, so to speak.  I call them the Alien archetypes. First is the hero, or heroine. In the classic sci-fi horror movie, Warrant Officer Ripley was the reluctant hero.  Scared beyond reason, she still managed to persevere and to do the right thing, in spite of her overwhelming fear. In a sense, she was Nemo’s father, swimming through a vast ocean of unknown and seemingly insurmountable dangers, in order to save something precious.  For Marlin, it was his son. For Ripley, it was the world.

So, archetype number one is the hero.  I like to think we all aspire to that standard, but after watching the toilet-paper battle, I don’t think that is true.

The second archetype is the hider.  When the alien is rampaging through the ship, the hider finds a cubbyhole with no way out, or simply stands frozen, gasping, doing nothing, and is subsequently and horribly dismembered, and we, in the audience, are screaming, silently, “DO SOMETHING!”  Is there anyone in that audience nudging the proximate person, saying with a smile, “Yeah, that’s me in a crisis.”

The third archetype is the runner.  Not much different than the hider, except running away from death, and inevitably and paradoxically running toward it.  Except the runners are often helping the hiders escape from the more certain death of hiding, and there’s a nobility in that.

The college where I work recently ran an active shooter scenario and our instructions, in a nutshell, were just that: run, hide, or fight.  I wanted to stay and fight, but instead, I shooed my coworkers out of the building and stayed behind with one person who needed help. She walks with the aid of a crutch, and so I checked corners and we left together.  Outside, we decided in case of a real active shooter, we’d make our way down through the arroyo toward the road, where there is a lot of cover from the swales and abundant piñon.

Ironically, the organizers of the event had the evacuated staff gathering in tight groups in the open areas of the parking lot.  I mentioned that we might want to hide between the cars, but the safety officer in charge of our orange cone nixed that idea. We’d been told to stand like cattle next to the cone, and by God, that’s what we were going to do.

This sounds like a digression, but it’s not.  My point is that now is the time for courage, and common sense.  This is not a drill. And yes, we are supposed to stay put. Stay away from crowds and wash our hands.  Put our fellow humans ahead of our own selfish desires. This is the time for heroes, and I saw heroes in that video clip.  One person acting like a child, but a half-dozen caring human beings coming to the rescue of one in need.

That is what will see us through this.  That is what will save us. That is what gives me hope.

And, in the unlikely case that an active shooter comes my way, motherfucker better run, ‘cause I’m gonna go out fighting.

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