Let’s Talk About Movies, Let’s Get a Bite to Eat

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I feel like I’m too young to have this many friends dying already, but then again, everything we know today, from the streets of tear gas to the weary figures of the ICUs, who grind through the exhausting fluorescent and gray in scrubs twelve or thirteen hours at a time — all of this reminds us that no life is to be truly expected. Two old friends of mine passed away recently and unexpectedly, but not entirely shockingly, in deaths that will fall forever into the quantum space between maybe-COVID, maybe-not. They lived reasonably long and mostly rewarding lives, so what can we complain about?

I’d complain that this man and this woman both lived for learning, teaching, and social justice, and they did not get to see some of the things we’re seeing now. No one lives to see everything. But sometimes the really big surprises come a few diurnal clicks too late. There is plenty of horror to behold, not the least of which is the brute force of police violence that goes on taking lives metronomically, unfazed by communities in convulsion around them. But I also wish my friends had gotten to witness a quickening groundswell of rage and political commitment not seen in America during my lifetime, and not really seen since my friends’ own youths in the 1960s — Americans who are willing to risk life and limb because they can’t bear to live another day, week, or year where their lives are treated as worthless anyway. I wish they could have seen the truly shocking decision from the United States Supreme Court of June 15, 2020, which confirmed against seemingly all the odds that our queer and trans friends, neighbors, siblings, and children deserve to be able to earn a living in America. I’d wish that their hearts could hold out to see more of the dignity of those who work patiently and without fanfare to keep them beating, just a few minutes, hours, or days longer. I’m also glad that I’m still here, because there were many times when I thought I wouldn’t be.

The writer John Green recently told a story about Polish goalie Jerzy Dudek on his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed. It’s a sports story, seemingly incongruous to our times, and perhaps even banal. But its lesson was nonetheless timelessly true. We find it very easy to anticipate the terrible things to come — losing our parents and other loved ones, becoming frail and sick, facing death, knowing full well that at least some injustice and cruelty will go on in the future, even if we move Heaven and Earth to try to prevent it. But we often do not think of the wonderful and beautiful things that will happen in the future, because they are almost always more difficult to imagine or predict than physical pain and death, which we know will come. But both bad and good things are ahead of us, and we shouldn’t let the certainty of the former snuff out the grace and generous serendipity of the latter.

To our friends — we miss you, and we’ll keep trying to bear witness, to keep the human panorama going on a little longer.

Author: Alex Sayf Cummings

Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.

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