Friday, March 13, 2015

A Footnote From Roundworld

Y'know, I have amazing taste in friends.  Today that was confirmed in the worst possible way, as my Twitter, Facebook, and text messages all blew up with news about Terry Pratchett's death.

To say that I'm sad would be a huge understatement.  Still, I debated whether or not to write this, for the same reason I usually don't comment on a public figure's passing: what can I say that hasn't already been said to better effect elsewhere?  What could I add that hasn't already been exhaustively reiterated?

But here is a thought, which maybe you haven't had too many times already.  Like... when I think about the people I miss the most – the ones I didn't know personally, I mean – they are loved for their generosity and enthusiasm as much as their talent.  Right now I'm thinking of Mr. Rogers, Carl Sagan, Jim Henson, Molly Ivins, Robin Williams, Leonard Nimoy, and yes, absolutely Terry Pratchett.  They aren't the only people to produce great work, or to establish a personal connection with audiences through said work, but with them, you feel like you're connecting with someone who finds immense beauty and worth in other people, someone who's just massively in love with the world and its possibilities.

And of course, the great thing about great people is that they are truly one-of-a-kind.  They're all lit up by that same love and zeal, but they refract it at different wavelengths: you would never mistake the Land of Make-Believe for the Discworld, or Mork for Spock.

So when I think about what's truly unique about Pratchett, what runs all through his work and what most impresses me about it, it's compassion, yes – his insistence on treating every character as a fully-realized, sometimes-ridiculous person.  But more than that, his work is proof that compassion can intermingle with everything except contempt.   It doesn't just live in charitable giving and tender moments and wise sayings from the Dalai Lama.  You can cultivate it anywhere. 

You can poke fun at someone without diminishing their humanity. 

You can satirize a belief without doing violence to its believers.

You can love the world, and still be righteously, intractably angry with some of its workings.

And it doesn't surprise me that he spent over thirty years writing Discworld novels, because any fictional world large enough to contain an idea of that immense power and importance is one any reader could spend a lifetime exploring.  There's so much you can read into it, and so much to take away from it.

For me, the biggest takeaway is this: our better nature does not live in opposition to our stubbornness, pettiness, fearfulness, idleness, and foolishness.  We don't have to divorce those parts of ourselves to realize our potential. On the contrary, they are essential to our greatness – and for those of us who are fortunate enough to have Pratchett's books on our shelves, so is he.

Well, that's what I got out of it, anyway.  What about you?

There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.

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