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Judging by the rush of citizens from cities to live in suburbs and rural areas, many feel an urge to escape from today’s political upheaval and disease, to cocoon away from trouble. We’re weary of feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. To make matters unbearable, we stopped believing in one another.
The central character in the 2021 film LAND (directed by and starring Robin Wright with Demián Bichir) wants to distance herself from people—family, friends, all people. She tosses away her cell phone. She has sustained a cruel, unendurable loss, so she moves into a remote mountain cabin, determined to live off the land. She brings informative books and equipment, but she’s a city attorney, suicidally unprepared for the brutal demands of wilderness. She lacks essential skills and survives physically and emotionally only through the kindness of strangers, which brings the narrator to observe that we need other people.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of recent history has been divisions: dividing friends and family members from one another, dividing communities, and dividing a nation. Many institutions that sustained us previously are fractured. Little wonder, then, that people teeter on the brink of mental and/or emotional collapse. Defensiveness and cynicism metastasize. Despair feeds illness, and without the support of one another, we easily fall into despair. The solution is both obvious and readily available.
The narrator of LAND comments that there are many good people around us. They may not be easy to identify and most have no idea how good they are. Utter cynicism is unwarranted, even in these times. The first solution, then, is to allow ourselves to accept help, to believe that we don’t have to match one another to be able to care for one another. For example, in the excellent film COURIER, based on a true story of the Cuban missile crisis, a Russian government official gives his life to protect the world from nuclear destruction. He is aided by a British salesman. In this modern age of pandemic and political propaganda, there is no disgrace in admitting we don’t completely understand the complexities of our situation or how to sort out opposing advice. Only a wise person recognizes that no one has all the answers to life, but there are individuals who have earned expertise in certain areas, and there’s no shame in seeking them out. Discredit lies in rejecting them. When someone comes to you with a lifeboat during a flood, you climb in and say thanks.
In her interview regarding the film, Robin Wright says she decided to do LAND because of a single line in the script. When the lead character asks the man who goes far beyond what could be expected to assist her, “Why did you help me?” He answers, “You were in my path.” The second solution, then, is to pay attention to the opportunities and people in our paths. They’re there as a chance for us to be better human beings—as one character interprets it, to find grace.
Recently, a family member who had been held distant from me for years unexpectedly sought me out. In an instant, both of our lives are enriched, although neither of us could have predicted it. We need other people. We need the perspectives of good-hearted others who may be vastly different. We need people who are willing to try to understand and accept our naked selves. We need to help and be helped. Connections are a tonic available wherever good will is sold.