Recently, I finished a book called Little Bee and it was brilliant. It is the kind of book I would dream of writing, but never expect to in this lifetime. When I try to pinpoint exactly what about this novel captivates me, I can't.
It is beautiful. And tragic.
It reminds me of the visceral reaction I used to have as a child when I saw Peter Paul Ruben's painting, Prometheus Bound. The first time I saw it I had turned a corner and come to it head on. It loomed above me, huge, and gorgeously detailed-tragically beautiful.
Prometheus Bound 1610 11 - www.peterpaulrubens.org - Large
Little Bee is like that.
Without giving much of the book away, I must admit, it's subject matter made me think of something an new acquaintance said not too long ago.
"People are mean. I don't like most of them."
Sadly, that seems all too true. Books and movies can horrify us with their depictions of dergradation and cruelty, but these do not compare to what humans do to each other in reality. Holocaust, genocide, jihad, ethnic cleansing, the list goes on...Serbia, 9/11, Darfur, Gaza, the Congo, countless wars...
And over what? Diamonds, mineral resources, oil, water, power, religion?
I cannot fathom what it takes to treat another being as a piece of meat or worse. I do understand rage. At times in my life, red-visioned wrath has been something I nurtured. I was not a nice child. I was angry and hurt and very good at lashing out, but I never considered killing another. I wonder, is it an animalistic throwback- a kind of cat-like cruelty- to play with our prey, maim it and chase it, before dispatching it? Most animals don't prey upon their own kind. But I have never seen an animal comtmeplate and devise methods to create pain and suffering the way humans have. We are sometimes too smart for our own good.
If you look at the evidence, people are, indeed, in a nutshell, mean.
But then I must look at most of the people I know. I don't consider them mean. In fact, there are so many I have met who are kind and considerate of their fellow man. The bad eggs are far outnumbered by the good. So why does it seem otherwise in the larger picture? Is hummanity measured by our ability to dominate or our capacity to empathize?
Most of the good people I know have been the victim of cruelty in some form or another. Does victimization create compassion? God, I hope not.
Now I am not professing that we all become extreme Buddhists, though I do admire them, most of us fall somewhere in a gray zone, but I desperately want to believe that we are closer to kindness than cruelty. It feels naive to say that.
I don't expect answers to these questions and they are heavy musing for late on the eve of my birthday. Perhaps the power of Little Bee is that it made me think on these things and like a ripple on water, the thought spreads and grows outward, and outward...