I’d like your help casting a terrible Hollywood blockbuster I just wrote. Here’s the pitch. We open on a chain-link fence with countless governmental signs warning of lethal consequences. In the background we see a nuclear power facility. A light from the top of the tower sweeps across the camera as three shadowy figures hurriedly approach the fence. An insert shot of a padlock. Bolt cutters make quick work of the deterrent. No alarms go off. The three figures walk right past security like ghosts. They are confident. They know their plan will succeed. They walk up and down the corridors of a top-level nuclear facility as faulty cameras cut out around them. Finally they reach the reactor itself. Security is unaware they’re in the building, let alone the most dangerous room in the facility. The three break into the room and begin spray painting the reactor. When security finally arrives the three have completed their task and are awaiting the hordes of government officials with nothing to defend themselves but a smile and a song. Charming. Daring.
So are you thinking Brad Pitt? George Clooney? Scarlett Johansen? Great. You’re fired. First of all because at the beginning of this pitch you let me say my movie was “terrible”. It is not terrible it is fantastic. And secondly, this script is based on a true story and none of those actors fit the bill. Did you do no research walking into this meeting? Get out of my sight. Just kidding. Stay. I have a point to make and you’re the only one listening right now.In real life these three were members of a social advocacy and peace group supported by Pax Christi. Here’s the reason you’re fired. They’re seniors. One of them in fact is 84. None of your casting suggestions reflected this. Right now they’re in prison just as they intended. They were protesting the dangers and security flaws at a nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, TN. So why is it so often our idea of a hero is tied to Matt Damon in a tuxedo or camoflauge? Bravery doesn’t care about physical prowess, fluency, or looks. Sometimes the bravest people aren’t wearing tuxedos. Sometimes the bravest people are wearing sweaters with stupid looking birds on them.
Obviously I’d like to now expand on that last sentence but wouldn’t it be crazy if I didn’t? What if I just ended with “Sometimes the bravest people are wearing sweaters with stupid looking birds on them” and then flat out didn’t explain.
Nah. I’ll finish. On our first day here in Las Cruces we visited the El Paso chapter of Pax Christi and met a woman named Pat. Pat was a middle-aged woman with a few gray hairs and a calming smile. She carried countless binders with black and white print outs for upcoming meetings and information on her community. I would also assume there were some Sunday school coloring sheets in there because if I’m being honest that’s the best way to describe her appearance: classic Sunday school teacher. Pat wore a gray sweater. Scrawled on the front of the gray sweater I mentioned just one sentence ago; was a little cardinal, building a nest. Pat explained so much to us in such a short amount of time that to assume she was anything but a remarkable woman would be absurd. Her knowledge was clear but Pat kept hitting her head with her hand. People who value only knowledge don’t hit their head because, as we all know, knowledge can fall out of your ears at ANY MOMENT. People who hit their head are compassionate, frustrated, fighting, and also knowledgeable. So as Pat explained her role in the situation at the border I became enthralled. And I was enthralled by the disparity in my mind picture.
What she was saying was so much worse than I had imagined. It inspired in me visions of war scenes, action sequences, and high-speed chases. I felt as if we should be in some sort of situation room, and not Wolf Blitzer’s CGI piece of garbage on CNN; a legitimate situation room with a conference table, holographic globes and blueprints depicting the ways in which Pat and her crack team would fight the system and fix these problems. The disparity came in the fact that I was in reality sitting in the midst of the most generic church meeting room I had ever been in. It had one of those carts with the tube TV and VCR strapped to it. You know what I mean. It’s a metal cart and the TV is held to the top shelf with a nylon strap. The VCR usually has exactly two veggie tales tapes lying next to it. A far cry from my much sought after: “Holo-globeTM”. And before me, again, stood not George Clooney, but Pat; a middle-aged woman who smiled more often than I did and had made the choice that morning to don a sweater with some dumb little bird on it. As the rest of her team arrived they fit the bill for her off brand Oceans Eleven. Comb-overs, bottle rim glasses, mismatched blazers; things no Bond would be caught dead another day in. They were so much older than us, and so much more active. They were heroes.
As we began interfacing with the group a feistier member from Ireland asked why our generation found it so hard to care about the issues they fought so hard to bring awareness to. Firstly, I do believe this is a stereotype. Secondly, it’s true. The people at Pax Christi watched documentaries, read, discussed and personally gathered their info. It was valuable. It was a game plan. But they had nothing on us. Because in my pocket I had every fact we as a society had every culled together since the dawn of recorded history. The difference was that I didn’t value it. Never in our entire run as a race have we had so much information and known so little. Our generation might be the first one to have this tenant instilled in our DNA. So perhaps that is an answer to why, with everything we have at our disposal: smartphones, social networks, youth, great hair, tuxedos… The people who show true bravery and initiative are the last ones you’d expect: the ones wearing silly sweaters. If we don’t value or feel for the information we have at our fingertips constantly it’s because it’s there constantly. So our smartphones minimalize difficult, deathly important causes by putting them on the same plane as “finding out which friends character you truly are” and “12 things they didn’t tell you about being a sophomore in college”. So the best we can do for now is what we’ve always done, learn from our heroes; the ones breaking into nuclear facilities and fighting drug cartels. But don’t look to the person with the fanciest gadget and the slickest car. Look to the person with the comb-over and the silliest bird sweater.