*AKA our very own TXRed. For those wondering about the sudden number of guest posts — this week and until Monday there will be more than I intend to keep to go on with, but I’m REALLY trying to finish books! And Alma is always worth it. Give her nice comments and buy her books!*
In the Northern Hemisphere on Earth, this is the season of cold and darkness, as the sun creeps low on the southern horizon and ice begins building while snow becomes a resident instead of a passing guest. For many cultures through the centuries, light-centered festivals helped to bring the sun back and drive the dark and cold away. Human history also shows a pattern of light and darkness, of bright moments and long slogs through the valley of shadow. Yet someone always kept a light burning, someone always looked to the better, brighter time. I see Human Wave stories as part of that long tradition.
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie described the patterns of cold and warm climate that influenced French history as being secular—that is, the cycle repeated but not on a set schedule. The rises and falls of human history are much like that. Chinese dynasties rose and flourished, good times came, then something went astray, the wheels wobbled, chaos spread, and the dynasty collapsed while a new one took its place. The history of the West is very similar. Rome established order and spread culture (and running water, and public toilets, and two common languages [koine Greek and Latin], and heated rooms), then fell apart, allowing northern Europe to sink into what used to be called the Dark Ages.* The climb back up began with Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance, brought us the High Middle Ages with the great Gothic cathedrals and the stabilization of Christendom, and then dropped back into a trough with the Little Ice Age, Hundred Years War, and the Black Death.
Yet people kept working, kept looking up and out. The Renaissance, in its various forms, led to the spread of ideas, as did the Reformation. Life flourished despite the trials and tribulations. Then along came the Seventeenth Century and “whap,” pretty much everyone on the planet endured a hundred years of cold, privation, war, and basic misery. But out of that came the Scottish Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, the rise of technology and the sense that things could get better and were getting better, until optimism peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (after a minor setback in the 1870s.) A second peak followed WWII in the US, before the forces of doom, gloom, socialism, and post-modernism inflicted hair shirts on the rest of us.
Through all of these ups and downs, someone kept the ideals bright. Someone always said, “we can make it better if we try,” and “people have value because they are people, not only because they are kings or abbots.” Human Wave stories tap that tradition and we can be those voices if we try.
It ain’t easy and doesn’t come with instant gratification. One of my great heroes is Alfred of Wessex, the only British monarch called “the Great.” He fought both the Vikings and ignorance, reestablishing schools, stabilizing the church, and establishing lines of defense that helped southern England stay Viking free for the next generation. He looked back to Charlemagne and to Rome, but also tapped Saxon ideas and pushed (as best we can tell) for new technology and organizations. And those ideas and organizations worked, not perfectly, but they worked. And biographers recorded his life, using it as a model and example of what a ruler could do, even when all seemed against him.
Human Wave stories are not about plaster saints or the “hero” as victim. Human Wave history isn’t either, and never has been. If you read saints’ lives, (and not the 1950s Catholic School versions where the proto-saints never set a foot wrong and always helped their parents and cleaned up their rooms and always remind me of “that kid”), you find a whole bunch of really flawed people who somehow managed to get it together and accomplish something. St. Dunstan lost his temper. Ignatius Loyola led troops in a civil war that turned rather uncivil when the French got involved. Saints become saints, and heroes become heroes, despite themselves, and sometimes in spite of (or to spite) their families and societies. The real people of history had warts and “minor” flaws too. The climb back up to the mountaintop has always been a hard and messy slog, even after we invented flush toilets and water purification systems, and the internal combustion engine.
The best of Human Wave lights a beacon. It says, “people matter.” It proclaims, “Some high prices are very much worth paying.” Do we always get a happy ending? 99% of the time we do, but it’s probably not “happily ever after.” Athena gets her Kit, and the basket of kittens that inhabit his brain, and his family, and his home world. Lucius gets Nat, and a whole lot of work and headaches and trying to learn how to raise a bunch of kids and puppies that chew on everything and oh, yeah, there’s still a war on. The prince slays the dragon, wins the princess, and then they get married and, as the traditional German fairy-tale ending puts it, “Unless they’ve died, they’re living still.” But the fight is worth the effort, even though there may still be a few dragons, evil wizards, and potential usurpers lurking in the underbrush. There’s a new pocket of order in a crazy world, a new story of courage and triumph, “a standard where a standard never flew.”
Human Wave distills what Eamon said earlier – that people, especially Americans, clean up the messes and work together to put the pieces back together, and we do it best with minimal meddling from above. Human Wave stories are sparks that ignite the kindling that feeds the flame that lights the bonfire that dispels the cold and darkness. And one bonfire inspires a second, and a third, especially when people are peering into the darkness looking for a sign of something better.
It’s an awful lot to ask of a story, isn’t it? But we never know what stories will stick with people, what will ignite that spark that lights a fire that dries up the Grey Goo or that provides hope in confusing times. Someone always tells the stories. Someone always looks back at what was and ahead at what can be. The village story tellers recounting the adventures of a local noble who fought off some raiders and used bits of old Roman culture in his household could not have imagined that, a thousand years later, King Arthur would combine with the Christianity to produce Courtly Love, the Peace of God, and the ideas of chivalry. We can be those storytellers, and the darkness will overcome us not.
*The current academic term is “Late Antiquity.” But if you were one of the people being flooded, frozen, plague-ridden, or overrun by Vandals/Huns/Avars/Magyars/Baiuvari/Saxons or Angles, it was pretty dang dark.