Sometimes, the odd intersections catch me. The moments flash, like glimpses into some mysterious and profound story, something I fail to grasp. Today I drove to the dump and as is my habit I watched the country houses, fields, and farms as they slid past. I drive the same route often–it was the same houses, the same farms, another day. Then I saw the man in camo military fatigues standing in the driveway, shutting the car door. He had the look of a soldier fleshly home.
Yesterday evening I had spent too much time watching video clips of soldiers returning home to their families. I don’t normally watch that kind of video, and equally it is not common to glance out your truck window on a country road and see in that fleeting moment a lone soldier returning home. The oddness of the intersecting events caught me, as if the strange confluence couldn’t have come together without meaning.
Homecoming stories, videos, are viscerally compelling. They are the tales told from antiquity, and remain as gripping today. But the modern age has made the capture of such moments easy, the sharing so simple that there overflows a glut of naked emotional manipulation. I don’t know how a warm blooded man can not be moved by the sight of a young daughter running to greet her father, in tears of joy at the meeting. So what then of this great digital sea called the modern world where people trawl the electronic tide and string together long clips of such love-meeting. One moved you? How about twenty in a row. And we have more. You can watch them until your eyes cross.
Then comes the loss of orientation, the dizzying internal feeling when the emotional compass has lost all bearing and the inner self staggers. What started as a heart’s recognition of the raw emotional honesty and vulnerability in homecoming and joy becomes a cynical recognition of manipulation and being manipulated. There is a reason the videos are collected into montages. We know what the moment does, and so in blatant moves we gather and replay. Let us feel it again. And again. What was first a unique meeting, a special moment, is gathered in the dozens and one marvels at the creeping feeling of numbness. What is has been before, and yet again. In its surfeit does it have meaning? What before seemed so special begins to almost feel alienating. Is it not, in the end, a sea of people?
Have we found yet another way to spoil what was special, to render to our hearts utterly mundane what was meaningful. We have those brief moments of tears, screams, smiles, laughs, and long hugs of what it means to be loved, to be longed for, and to bring joy and meaning into the life of another. We take that and do what–make it mawkish?
It meant something, everything, and now nothing. Wine first tasted is fine, then dulled in consumption, and finished in drunkenness. There is no greater thing to witness than the reunion of love. Surely, it is what all creation longs for. But do we unintentionally mock and trifle the longing of hearts with the powers we have today? Is the society of our time wallowing in emotional drunkenness, filling ourselves with the dregs of over potent emotional cocktails? Watch enough homecomings in fifteen minutes, feel yourself undergo a strange inside-out where the special becomes crass. There the thoughts circle.
If we are emotional sots, what does that mean and what is the consequence? Surely the right path is not coldness, but what is feeling truly and honestly? How do we not make a profane show of the deepest things in a human heart?
I can say with fair certainty there wasn’t a camera waiting for the soldier I saw today. I caught him in a glimpse, not even a full moment. He was alone, a young man in sunglasses and boots, with a sure stride. Then I was gone, the road a ribbon running out, and he won’t be a social media video sensation. Maybe today he didn’t have someone run screaming into his arms, and maybe he never will (but I hope he does). Yet, for all that the homecoming today he lived as himself, and was his in truth.
Maybe there is a lesson in that.