Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hardscrabble

Burden of Tomorrow - The Tallest Man on Earth (mp3)

Lonesome Dove sat on my bookshelf for almost three years, waiting patiently for me. Much like the time it represents, in an unsettled and still untamed midwest, it never got ornery or chomped at the bit as it sat there, waiting. Like Deets, expert tracker for the Hat Creek Outfit, it simply enjoyed a quiet existence and asked little. Why rush the boy? The Old West ain’t coming back whether he reads about it today or 20 years from now.

I’d like to believe George R.R. Martin read Lonesome Dove at some point before he began carving out Westeros, the imaginary land of his now-wildly successful Song of Fire And Ice books. Both explore, with such detail and splendor, settings based loosely on our own past yet easily beyond our modern-day comprehension, and both establish and accept a code of ethics and “law” that serve to remind us just how arbitrary and fragile are the ways of our contemporary “civilization.”

As I do everytime I enmesh myself into Westerns or Westeros, I find myself reevaluating certain current events. Curious George Zimmerman. The Best Little Anti-Abortion House in Texas. The Hostile Takeover of North Carolina. (Alas, the South owns a nigh-monopoly on the melodrama in today’s politics.)

As an admitted liberal, stories like these have caused some real agitation and discomfort for me. I witness what feels like bloodlust borne of a tragic death in Florida, and I watch the very people who claim Obama wrongly railroaded the Affordable Care Act through without any bipartisan support cheering wildly as Republicans in one state after another railroad any and everything that tickles their fancy. (Obviously, it’s not the railroading, but rather the direction of those chugging locomotives, that raise our political ire.)

Reading about the Old West, however, pulls these “travesties” into a healthier scale. There was a time when most acknowledged crimes had the singular punishment of hanging, when a man was entitled to do practically anything imaginable to his wife and children, when someone verbally insulting you was reasonable grounds for ending their existence. Ours was once a land where habeas corpus was a new and rare species, a land where non-white humans were often considered another species entirely.

While we can gripe and debate about whether Trayvon or Zimmerman found justice in 2013, we can rest assured how things would have played out 150 years ago on the restless frontiers of our country. While we can lament that a hundred or so men can, with nary one female voice amongst them, turn back the clock on matters of women’s health and their rights to their own body, we must also acknowledge that not even these goobers can railroad us back a whole century.

We can also rest assured that Gus McRae is right, that the nature of both rivers and time is that they insist on moving us all forward, no matter how much one might wind us this way or that on its country mile current into the future.

2 comments:

G. B. Miller said...

Just to let you know, the Republicans don't have exclusivity in railroading things. Democrats have pretty much done the same thing...except that liberals call it "we know what's best for you".

Billy said...

You're absolutely right, G.B. And in both "Lonesome Dove" and "Deadwood" characters of all stripes loathe and mock the government as a cesspool of corruption and morons, to boot. Today, we accept and assume that government is corrupt and moronic but most of us have picked "sides," as if only one party is full of corrupt, moronic, power-mad politicians.