My good friend and Hilltopics staff member Daniel Mehring made a humbling and disturbing observation this past week—the flag has been at half-mast far too often this semester. It’s something I had never realized; it’s rather easy, in fact, in the hustle and bustle, the “two exams this week and a paper due tomorrow,” the sometimes mindlessly self-centered and isolated lives we lead as college students here at SMU, to even take a moment to notice the flagpole as we walk by it day after day.
But the other night as dusk was falling I stopped and looked down the Boulevard, the flagpole in my immediate view. Thinking back, I didn’t so much as choose to stop; rather, I had to, pulled in as I was by the intense, grotesque contrast between the stunningly resplendent Boulevard, lit up just once per hundred years, and the American ag at half-mast, sign of the tragedy in San Bernardino, and sign also of one of the most profound sicknesses this country has ever experienced—or perhaps, as many would say, brought upon itself. I knew that what I saw was supposed to be beautiful, but I only saw reason for despair; the perfect symmetry and warm holiday aesthetic of it all was hollowed out by more important realities—dead bodies, mourning families, friends never again to hug one another.
And it was not just the shootings. The plight of refugees from Syria and elsewhere must weigh heavily on us all, as should the larger problems of Islamophobia in this country—recent remarks by the president of Liberty University and Donald Trump should make all people who know anything about history and politics squirm. Issues of racism and other forms of discrimination, as well as questions of the proper limits of speech, continue to affect us—and have had a tremendous negative personal impact on the lives of many people on this campus. And, of course, there are other problems, on all scales—climate change, the deaths of loved ones, personal stress. What it ultimately came to for me that night was a realization that it seems like the many perils of the world are overtaking us, like whatever lead we had starting this great race is precipitously diminishing.
It reminds me of a line by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, from the epigraph to this year’s common reading, Station Eleven: “There is too much world.” Indeed, during this time of final exams and in the midst of such intense national and global conflict, it is easy to feel, like I did that night at the flagpole, that our collective hope is being siphoned away by the forces of evil, conflict, and division that we face every day.
But I do think there is one way, at least, to counter this gradual sucking-away of our collective human energy and strength: talk to each other. Let us force these issues out into the open, and when we see or hear something that doesn’t feel right, that makes us or someone else less happy—and especially, less of a person—talk about it with our fellow witnesses of the miracle that is this world and this life. Keep the public conversation going on race—following the very encouraging and productive activity of the past several weeks it seems to have been largely repressed, pushed back into its hideaway in dorm rooms, Perkins Administration Building, and meetings attended by only one group of people, one side of the issue. It is certainly not happening at the agpole, where it has the chance to make the most immediate impact on those who would oppose the conversation in the rst place.
The same goes for all of these issues—let us talk about them in an open way that encourages all voices to enter the conversation. Let us attempt to come to terms with our differences in order to reject hate and divisiveness and come together as one student body, one SMU, one nation. For it is divisiveness and misunderstanding that lead to 14 people killed and 21 injured, agpoles at half-mast.
And nally, let us not forget either the famous line of Wordsworth—“The world is too much with us; late and soon.”As we wind down the hustle and bustle we have come to know so well, let us have a relaxing respite from our university lives, our jobs, and our more temporary worries, and re ect on what really matters. Let us nd it in ourselves to speak out, and speak to each other. Be thankful for our earth and for our fellow man, for the inexplicable gift of being, in this moment, that makes all of this possible. And from all of us here at Hilltopics, have a wonderful and happy holiday.