“The place to begin is at the bottom of the trough. How long I had gone through the motions, living days as alike as beads on a konchu wire, I don’t know.”
With these words, Dr. Gregory Benford begins his novel The Stars in Shroud. Ling works in his apartment, managing machinery via remote control. Once he was something more, a starship captain. But the colonists he rescued from Regeln have infected him, his family, and most of Earth’s inhabitants with a mysterious psychological condition. Like so many, he and his family fear to leave their apartment. Once each day, Ling and his wife Angela force themselves out of their apartment to walk the hallways. But they cannot face going outside.
His wife Angela has resigned herself to this unreasoning fear, yet she hopes for a better life for her children. The government can perform frontal lobe taps. Through this procedure, Chark and Romana could be programmed to focus upon specific tasks. This would ensure that they became productive members of society. But Ling resists putting them through this irreversible procedure. He hopes that they can all battle through this condition. If they can, he wants his children to be fully balanced, not drones controlled by government programming.
In “The Cage,” Captain Christopher Pike battles fear, doubt, and guilt. He even contemplates retirement to free himself of such overwhelming responsibility. Dr. Phil rebukes him: a man must face his life head-on, not be cowered by his fear or hide from his destiny. In “Star Trek V,” Spock’s half-brother Sybok offers to cleanse Kirk of his pain. Kirk’s response: Don’t you dare: I need my pain!
Fear, insecurities, and regret are part of the human condition. Like Angela, I sometimes yearn for a frontal lobe tap. I think: if only all my fears and insecurities could be taken away, I could focus unimpeded upon life’s great tasks. But then I remember Ling’s refusal to accept the easy fix. I remember how Pike resisted the Talosians because he cared so much for the Enterprise crew. I remember Captain Kirk’s great speech, in which he asserts that pain and guilt can’t be taken away; nor should they be. For our unique fears and insecurities define us. “If we lose them,” Kirk says, “we lose ourselves.” (And indeed, most of Sybok’s followers, when cleansed of their pain, resemble the unquestioning drones Ling fears Chark and Romana might become if they undergo these government-sponsored operations).
While I don’t want my pain, Captain Kirk has told me that I need it. (And I don’t want to get thrown in the brig for insubordination). Like Ling in The Stars in Shroud, it appears that I must struggle on with my fears, my insecurities, and my regrets. Perhaps they are just as important to me as my strengths. Could it be that, lacking my unique fears, insecurities, and regrets, I might not strive so hard to accomplish my goals? That I might not dare to dream of greatness?
Related Dragon Cache Links