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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's like riding a life-cycle

Over the last three days I watched the first six installments of the British "7 up" series. You know, the one where they interviewed 14 seven-year-olds in 1964 and then revisited them every 7 years to share with the world how their lives unfolded.

On the one hand I'm desperately impatient to watch "49 up" which was released in Britain last year but won't be available over here for several more months. (And, weirdly, I'm even impatient for 56-up, which hasn't been lived yet, much less produced!)

On the other hand, I can't take any more. Michael Apted made an interesting editorial choice to start or sequence each participant's new segment in almost exactly the same way as his or her previous installment, so repeating the same archival footage from age 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, etc., as he sets up the latest - "at the age of 42..." So we hear seven-year-old Paul say at least six times how he doesn't want to get married because what if he has to eat what his wife makes for him and say he doesn't like greens, which he doesn't, and she serves him greens... even though he appears to have been happily married for over 27 years (and his wife says not only does he love greens, but that the 7-up series has maybe saved their marriage because it forces reflection and ownership). After awhile, it becomes not just tedious, but depressing - to hear over and over the repeated, embarrassing phrases which revealed racial prejudice, marital infidelity, psychological and emotional sickness.

But then, I suppose we weren't meant to watch them all at once. There's something to waiting seven years and then being reminded, after all that time, what came before.

There's something odd - inspirational, confusing, frustrating - in watching other people's lives and reflections like this: marriages stay together, fall apart; a homeless man becomes a city councilman (and a Christian?); 41-year-old missionary-minded Bruce finally marries; "I'm too selfish to have kids"-Jackie has three and ends up raising them on her own.

Meanwhile, as I play the DVD's of yesteryears, the news of today is created and broadcast, two clicks away. Lately I find my head echoing with Susan Powder's voice from yesteryear's infomercial: "Stop the insanity!"

Is there any way to get out of the stupid, childish, pointless cycle of violence and political-military retribution?

The original socio-political point (or assertion) of the 7-up film was that a man's (sic) destiny is pretty much determined by his socio-economic (especially education and family related) background. "Give me a child until the age of seven and I'll give you the man." Apted humbly admits (in the director's commentary for 42-up) that he was wrong - repeatedly. Assuming that certain marriages were doomed, characters bound to end up in jail, etc., he filmed himself being proved wrong, seven years after seven years on.

Are the political and military leaders of the world destined, bound to make statements and choices which are murderous, selfish, and solution-less? Are the experts and media commentators unable to extract themselves from the habits of using game language to describe the deadly serious, un-fun and un-funny reality of retributive violence?

It's hard for me to imagine what Israeli or Hezbollah or Iranian (and American, British, and Russian) People With (Gun) Power are thinking, how their minds and spirits are human and therefore created in the image of God (as it is hard for me to understand the God who seems to model a comparable relationship to violence in the Old Testament).

It's like the unfathomably un-entertaining repetition of archival footage over and over again and I just want to shake someone and cry, "Can you not imagine another way? Can you not see how stepping down, stepping back, softening your words, pausing your power, could make the next seven years so much more livable than the last?"

Sometimes I feel torn between wanting-needing to broaden my perspective and yet also to narrow it. Despite the fact that they knew they'd be accountable to millions of people eventually, still most of Apted's participants made some pretty poor life decisions (and yet most of them also seem to have just lived life without a thought to what the world would think - and some of them did great things). I'm trying to figure out how to live my life accountably, in relation to a world at war and a neighborhood in growing/living/dying pains, and friendships, job, and individual spiritual health.

But what I too often, too easily, end up doing, is repeating the same stuff I did yesterday, last month, last year.

Except when, by grace, and through confession and reflection (sometimes in bloggish fashion), I break the cycles and resist the expectations of determination.

(Now I should have an icecream sandwich.)

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