“We huddle together. My small family seeking comfort from a world determined to separate us. A fiery end is inescapable. Everyone knows this.”
This is the opening of Rick Remender’s creator-owned comic book, Low. When I first saw the cover in our local comic shop in Terre Haute, my jaw dropped. Creating an eye-catching image is an important part of developing a comic book. The cover, you see, is the first impression a book has to make. An advertisement for the promise of a good story held inside. And though we are always taught never to judge a book based on the ends that bind it, we all do, nonetheless.
Low is the telling of a family in turmoil. In a world where humanity has moved to live in cities at the bottom of the ocean, to protect itself from the surface of a radiation soaked earth no longer shielded by its magnetosphere. The sun is expanding and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. The magnificent scientific achievement of underwater cities is overshadowed by the reality that clean air is running out, food supplies are dwindling, and there is no sign of return from explorers sent to find a new planet for refuge. The picture, literally painted by Greg Tocchini, is bleak at best. But in this environment of despair there is still hope.
Superficially, Low is a tale of an unwillingness to give up. A wisdom passed down from story to story, through generation after generation. It is about the drive of humanity to survive when all odds indicate otherwise. It is a triumph in artwork as much as it is writing. But the depth of this work, no pun intended, is as genius as its surface, if not more so. Low is about humanity told through the eyes of an author fighting through his own depression.
The metaphor of the weight of the ocean, literally crushing the life out of a population trying to exist in a place where it shouldn’t, ought to be enough to make you want more. Blocked from all light, all hope, trapped in a dying world where there is no tangible reason to believe that things can get better, the characters in Remender’s story spend most of their time fighting over the few crumbs of society still left. Instead of taking action, fully within their ability, to listen to the lessons of stories handed to us over millennia; life finds a way.
Perhaps the most brilliant piece of Low is the main character, Stel Caine. She is the wielder of hope in a world gone mad. I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but her name is an anagram for latencies, that is – the state of being present but not yet manifest. A visionary representation of a state of mind we all have the ability to exhibit, whether we know it or not.
I’m obsessed with this story. It calls to my heart and brings tears to my eyes with every issue. I can hear the author’s internal dialogue as he wrestles with questions about his own existence, the futures of his children, the very reason for being in the first place. Because, if some scientists are correct and the universe will eventually collapse into one giant black hole, then what’s the point?
It is without shame I admit to my own struggles with these thoughts. Everyone experiences them, some more than others. The personal nature with which I approach Remender’s writing is not unique. Therein lies the beauty of the whole work. Everyone is going through something, but we all possess the same basic skill set to overcome our adversity. As my inner attitude toward my outer reality shapes the moments of my day, so too does the outer representation of the inner mindset held by the other people I encounter.
I don’t want to get too far into the book because I don’t want to spoil it in the off chance you decide to read it. And you should. It’s just at this time of year, in the state we find our planet, I can’t think of a story more relevant than this one. Because I think it is absurd that we have been reduced to a place as a species where having hope is akin to professing a new religion. It is depressing to turn on the morning news and be emotionally assaulted with the sensationalized reporting of events down the street, in Indianapolis, across the country in California, across an ocean in Puerto Rico, or on the other side of the world in Australia. If we are to believe what we see on television or read in newspapers, there is no hope and we are helpless.
Right now it seems as if reason has fallen to whim. That there is no accountability, or standard applied to those who think they are permitted to operate outside of normal social behavior. It is easy to allow poisonous, irrational temperament to infiltrate our perception and allow it to mutate our world into a tragic void. One where we stop looking for the light because we have come to believe there is none. And that our fates are tied to the decisions we have relegated to be made for us. Like the characters in Low, we could not possibly possess the strength to press up on the crushing weight of our impending demise.
No greater lie has ever been told.
Hope is alive and it is the strongest weapon we have against the onslaught of negativity. Hope is not the easy path. It is a decision to take up arms in the face of being told our want for something better is a fool’s errand. Hope is what we feel when we see our children pick each other up after a tumble on the playground. It is the gratitude we receive when holding the door for someone. Hope is in the hugs given after drinks and conversation with an old friend. Our hope thrives on the appreciation we show for our simple, little lives. It takes work. It requires vigilance. Hope is our community. And it is the quintessential quality we all need to recognize in ourselves, if we are going to survive whatever is waiting for us.
This is the time of year when we are supposed to gather around with friends and family to give thanks. To take a day and remember to be grateful for what we have. When we get together around the table for Thanksgiving, the sense of gratitude my family shares will not be one we promote for only a twenty-four hour period. It will be the representation of a year well spent brandishing an audacious notion that we are fortunate, we are blessed, we are lucky. Moreover, it will be an affirmation that the lives we share are enough. Because it’s not about wanting more, it’s about wanting what you have.
Hope is alive and it is the strongest weapon we have against the onslaught of negativity. Hope is not the easy path. It is a decision to take up arms in the face of being told our want for something better is a fool’s errand. Hope is what we feel when we see our children pick each other up after a tumble on the playground. It is the gratitude we receive when holding the door for someone.
It would be easy to step out of our moment-to-moment existence and simply assume it will continue in perpetuity. That step would be both naive and arrogant. Because if some of the scientists are correct, and consciousness builds reality, we would be fools to dream of anything other than something better. If seeing the world around us is knowledge, then choosing what to see is wisdom. To find joy in the little things we can rely on. Like Stel Caine, we have the opportunity to be the hope made manifest in a world that seems to be without it.
“We, all of us, carry burdens that seem too heavy. …It’s not about ignoring the pain, or mindlessly believing things will simply get better. It’s about finding the joy in participating. And when the weight of the past pulls us low, we must find the strength to release it. …And finally give ourselves permission to start over.”
Christian Shuck is a Greencastle native and Hope College alumnus who works in higher education as a major gift officer. Besides his contributions here, he also writes for his own blog cmshuckstories.com. He currently lives in Terre Haute.[/author]