The Dilemma: should I pick up the paperback of Rutherford’s The Forest that I started a few weeks ago? I’d put the book down just as the narrative plunged me into a Georgian England setting. Or would I rather start another Terry Pratchett “Discworld” adventure, a wild ride into his magical realm of absurdities? Either choice will take me away from today’s news stories, importuning me from every media source. Should I feel badly about wanting to escape from those stories?
Earlier today, during my usual morning workout at the gym, I glanced up at the t.v. monitor just as the closed captions scrolled across images of scattered bodies after yet another massacre. The flames of eighty-plus souls, ten of them children, snuffed out in less than a minute. A commercial for fast food cut in just as I finished reading the caption. You saw the dead. Now buy a burger, dripping with cheese and bacon, waiting for you in a shiny bun; don’t forget your coffee and six or seven different doughnuts to go.
The messages were clear: yes, the news is horrifying but you need only buy a burger or a frosted pink doughnut to escape the world’s miseries and enter a more comforting zone of easy, warm treats that reassure your growing gut.
By choosing to continue reading The Forest, I escape into historical fiction, imagined in a way that persuades me temporarily that surely, in the past, people lived through worse times than our own. Certainly, if I don’t snack, the time I spend reading will be less harmful to my metabolism than a half dozen doughnuts; but neither opportunity to escape for a bit from the woes of Planet Earth excuses me from responding to crises reported in the media. The temporary relief I experience, however, gives me time to reflect and renew my commitment to be more generous and compassionate in the face of global road rage.
But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish all those murderous, angry folk responsible for so much grief would volunteer to man the Great Silver Cylinder destined to bring Earth’s first colonists to Mars. There, they could work out their anger and resentment or die for lack of cooperation. There, they might gain a new perspective of Planet Earth, rethink their plans, re-do their agendas, and eventually regret that they ever meant to harm, that they ever wanted to escape. Sounds like a good story waiting to be written.