Friday, October 22, 2010

To the Wolves

Several years ago a friend of mine was reading My Antonia for a class and asked me if I knew the story. "Not really," I shrugged. "I've never read anything by Willa Cather."

"It's pretty intense," she told me. I looked at her skeptically, perhaps even rolled my eyes. "There are these wolves..." she said and then recounted how in order to save themselves, the brothers, Peter and Pavel, throw the bride and groom off the wedding sleigh they are driving. "What else could they do?" she finished. "They wanted to survive."

"Remind me never to go sledding in Russia with you," I joked, but I've never forgotten that conversation. Later on, when I'd read the novel for myself, I found that the determination to survive and the plight of the outsider are two of its essential themes, and I might say that those same ideas preoccupy my friend.

A strong mistrust of both the structure and infrastructure of our society have motivated her and her family to be as self-sufficient as they can. They don't live off the grid, but they probably could. They have a lot of time and resources invested in being prepared in the event of disaster. We kid them about it, but when we do, it's clear that if anything catastrophic were to happen, the rest of us would be on our own.

Sometimes I worry about my friend and her pervasive pessimism. Whether or not Peter and Pavel were justified in what they did, they lived the remainder of their lives as outcasts-- no one could blame them, but no one could forgive them either. They survived, but was it worth it?

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