Tuning in to the middle of "Road to Perdition" on TV yesterday, I found myself willing to suffer the insufferable ads in order to reach the conclusion. The 2002 movie, beautifully photographed, tells the tale of a 1931 mobster (Tom Hanks) who, with his son in tow, seeks vengeance on other mobsters (including Paul Newman) who have murdered his wife and other son. There is actually a plot. There are actually people with mixed, human characteristics. There is actually some character development. I enjoyed it.
And the movie gave rise to the question, "was there ever a child who did not think in one way or another, 'My parents were abducted by aliens'?" Inexplicable visitations of disappointment, fear, frustration, anger or denial ... and the only explanation (using whatever words) is: My parents were abducted by aliens.
And it's barely a hop, skip and a jump to suggest that adults aren't all that different: Somehow the vicissitudes of life have deprived me of or short-circuited some deepest wish, and an imagined parental benevolence "was abducted by aliens." Something, someone, somehow ... there's an explanation and a meaning and even if it's not exactly aliens who robbed the scene, well, how about god ... god's a pretty good alien and a good repository for all the good and peaceful and hopeful stuff that was mysteriously withheld or the ugly stuff that was painfully inflicted.
There are a couple of things worth noting about this strand of DNA, if strand it be: 1. If everybody's parents were abducted by aliens, then where the hell are they? and 2. While there is no problem finding the negative effects of alien activities -- the loss of my good parents, the ones who would let me go to the movies or buy me a bike, or land me a perfect job or a perfect spouse -- still the exact description of what things might be like if my true parents were around is never precisely defined. How things wouldn't be is easy; how they would be is hard. It may be easy to imagine how my good parents might be if I got the bike I wanted -- the instant gratification -- but envisioning how that satisfaction might become more generalized and long-lived leaves me uncertain and confused.
Perhaps this is one reason that some religions kill off their offspring as a means of delivering a long-lived promise: If you drop dead, everything will be better ... 77 virgins, heavenly companions, etc., but you have to drop dead first... and in the meantime you have to suffer the slings and arrows of parents who were abducted by aliens.
It's a rock and a hard place ... no one wants to die and yet dropping dead is the price of admission to the place where your good parents were abducted to. And so the beat goes on, the stories get more and more complex, the promises become more and more ornate and, since no one wants to die, it is easier to believe -- in god or the intellect or the emotions -- than it is to investigate the scene and actually find the place to which your true parents were abducted.
My parents were abducted by aliens.
But were they really? Are my parents and your parents off in some far corner of the universe playing bridge? Is this the best I can do with my life, weaving tales and explanations and meanings that will put meat on the bone of some alien abduction? Is there really an 'out there' where all true parents gather and grin and I'll get there too if I live long enough or die soon enough or act virtuously enough or ... some damned thing?
I'm not just chiding religious frameworks. To me, this is a human framework and human frameworks precede the human fairy tales that anyone might tell: My parents were abducted by aliens. Well, who are these aliens and what do they do with all their kidnap victims?
I guess this is the time to consult the bathroom mirror.