Friday, February 15, 2013

The Brink

In the recent movie, Star Trek, a young James T. Kirk drives a stolen classic car across the wide open plains of what appears to be Iowa.  There is not a thing in view in terms of a hill or mountain, only miles and miles of wide open space.  He is having a great time, thrilled with the act of driving a fast car without any external limits, only wide open space and long straight roads.  His is an act of rebellion, apparently against the situation he finds himself in - too young to legally drive, an absent mother who is currently "off planet", a step-father he doesn't respect, responsibilities to his family and school he doesn't accept, and a sense that he is above it all, smarter that everyone around him.  He is complete within himself, confident of his abilities, sure of every action he takes and makes, respectful of nothing and plunging headlong into the future.

Eventually he is chased by a possibly robotic cop on a futuristic motorcycle without any actual wheels since it floats over the road.  To escape this annoying reminder of his responsibilities Kirk turns off down a dirt road, at high speed, heading apparently nowhere.  The cop is in hot pursuit, demanding that he pull over.  The metaphor of the cop is clear: he represents the world that requires the young future Captain of Starfleet to acknowledge his place in things, that there are forces larger than himself to which he must submit, forces which he must acknowledge and to which he must conform.  Kirk will have nothing to do them at the present, as he is all about himself and the present moment.

As an audience we are suddenly pulled back, and what is revealed is an enormous chasm, a crack in the earth where the road upon which the young Kirk is traveling abruptly ends.  If he continues his current course he will plunge headlong into the abyss to his end.  The depth of the chasm is not clear, but it is DEEP, really deep, and it is a one-way trip.  It is the Brink of Existence for Kirk, if he doesn't change his ways.  Sirens blaring, the cop is hot on his trail.  Oblivious, Kirk plunges on.

What will happen here?  What does the edge really represent to Kirk and to all of us?  Is this an ending?  Is this a beginning?  It is a Brink, a forced epiphany where we must confront something fundamental about ourselves.  We can't escape it, it bears down upon us relentlessly.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray and Phil, the groundhog, drive off the edge of the cliff to their demise, only to wake up at 6:00 a.m. the same day they departed as if nothing ever happened.  This doesn't happen to the rest of us.  We suffer the consequences of our actions in linear time, with day following day, consequences following acts, in a billiard ball universe where actions create reactions ad infinitum.  Things done cannot be undone.  Balls set into motion continue to move.  There is no do-over.  There is no control-Z on the keyboard of life.  More's the pity.

We face more situations where brink-like conditions exist than we may realize.  Every day we are faced with choices that, if taken one way, could lead to the precipice Kirk faced.  Roads that appear fine and safe, and are, until they come abruptly to an end.  Can we see the end coming?  Maybe.  Maybe friends can help us see the end.  Maybe we can see them ourselves but choose not to see them.  Either way, there are situations that are more than crossroads, they are the precipitous Brinks that mean everything.  Fall over them and you are lost.  Step back and you can save yourself.  Lines that should not, cannot be, crossed.  Brinks.  The Brink.

Metaphors abound in this arena.  How about the tightrope walker?  Does that work for you?  He walks the high wire where any misstep will mean disaster and death.  Walk the straight and narrow and you are safe.  How well does that represent life as we know it?  Not so well, I think.  Things are not as black and white as that.  Or maybe they are even more stark, and we choose not to see it.  Believing is seeing, as we learn.  If we believe we are safe, we can't see how far gone we are.

I have a friend who is at a brink, and it is painful to see the process unfold.  What will happen?  What can I do to help?  What action that I can take is too much, and what is too little?

How can I reach out and help?