Eucatastrophe

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Image source: Twitter

In the 10 days since I arrived in Los Angeles, I’ve experienced fire, earthquake and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This comes on top of COVID-19, extreme weather and the face mask wars. A friend recently asked, when do the rivers of blood begin? In fact, blood is already on the streets of America, emptied from the veins of citizens killed in the act of shopping, sleeping or jogging while Black.

The Book of Revelation tells us that the end of the world is near when the Four Horsemen appear. Each horse will bear a different rider. Each rider will unleash a new form of violence onto the world.

I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Revelation 6:7-8

If the Last Judgment is nigh, shouldn’t we all give up? Pull down the shades and stay in bed. Eat all the ice cream and don’t brush your teeth. Because you and your dentist and everyone else is going up in flames.

Yet here I am trying to hold onto hope. Through the smoke and the flame, I search for the faint glimmer of a far horizon. I no longer pray for rain. Now I want an eucatastrophe.

Is it a fairy tale?

Eucatastrophe is a word coined by J.R.R. Tolkien: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears. Unexpected, unforeseeable, unlikely to recur. An event that becomes all the more joyous because of its utter improbability.

eucatastrophe
Mount Doom. Image source: Wikipedia

This, in any event, is how Lord of the Rings ends. (Spoiler alert) Against all odds, Frodo climbs the slopes of Mount Doom to cast the Ring of Power into its fiery depths. The ring is destroyed and the world is saved.

Tolkien thought it essential for Lord of the Rings to close with this eucatastrophe. It is, after all, a fairy tale.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.

J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories (1939)

The events of the past 10 days, 9 months or 4 years could each qualify as wild, fantastic and terrible. We certainly deserve a break from this rollercoaster ride, if not a full-on eucatastrophe of our own. But who’s going to deliver that? The Notorious RBG was a giant but she’s not our Frodo. There is neither a ring nor a Mount Doom in which all our troubles can be destroyed. Instead, we are surrounded by many rings of power and divergent forms of doom swiftly approaching on the horses of Ringwraiths.

Hope

It seems, then, that we will have to save ourselves and therein lies our hope.

I see hope in the surge of US voter registrations for the 2020 elections, many of whom are first-time voters. For those of us who vote from abroad, it’s heartening to see state legislatures and local election officials wake up to the twin disasters of the pandemic and an underfunded US postal service. In my small corner of the universe, Democrats Abroad have helped over 1000 Americans abroad to vote in the 2020 election cycle. US voter turnout in the 2018 mid-term elections broke a 50 year record. Maybe we can top that in 2020?

I see hope, too, in the hundreds of mourners who come to the steps of the Supreme Court in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In an innocuous face mask on a Haitian-Japanese tennis player. In the hundreds of thousands of dollars now pouring into the coffers of Act Blue to flip the Senate and the White House.

Naomi Osaka at the US Open 2020. Image source: Indian Daily Post

Will it be enough? Maybe not. But that’s the point of an eucatastrophe. Logic tells you that failure is imminent. Memory reminds you that you’ve been wrong before. You climb Mount Doom anyway, on your hands and knees, if need be. Only this time, you’ll have company. In the words of @AOC: Here’s what we’re NOT gonna do: give up.

You do not need to, nor should you, ignore your fears – there is plenty to be afraid of – but we have possibilities before us. We can win, we can succeed, but we cannot do it alone. We will need the people. We must get to work. Everyone matters. Everyone has something to give.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, 18 Sept 2020

Let’s do this.

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