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Earth, Not Mars

In Ray Bradbury’s troubling futuristic short story, “The Million-Year Picnic,” a family takes a trip to Mars. The father calls it a vacation, but without telling his wife and sons, he is leaving planet Earth for good and taking them with him. Not long after they land and start their journey on the red planet, their rocket ship self-destructs in the background, and the family realizes they won’t be going home.

The father is a practical and sensitive man and he had lost hope in Earth’s potential. He later takes his three boys fishing and while two of the boys are busy at the edge of the water, the other son notices his father’s behavior. He sees him distracted, nervous, lost in his thoughts, standing upright and looking across the sky, not realizing his father is thinking of Earth and the wars there, the hate, the endless killing and disorder, the ruined cities and the broken people. 

The son moves toward his father:
“What are you looking at so hard, Dad?”
“I was looking for Earthian logic, common sense, good government, peace, and responsibility.”
“Is all that there?”
“No. I didn’t find it. It’s not there anymore. Maybe it’ll never be there again. Maybe we fooled ourselves that it was ever there.”

The father hopes to start over. To make a life on Mars that is safe and fulfilling for him and his family. He escaped to begin something new. But the story reveals how futile it is to run away—from Earth, from fears, from wars and people and life itself. The landscape of Mars was not inviting and the chance of something new and remarkable for the family did not in the end appear any more possible there than on Earth.

That is our common human error. Whenever faced with some enormous challenge, with some situation hopelessly deadlocked, some fear inducing circumstance that threatens to undo us, or some unnerving reality we don’t know how to solve and are not sure it can be resolved—we simply leave it and take off in some other direction.

Many of us have done this in this great country of ours. We’ve attempted to simply remove ourselves from the political gridlock in Congress. Forget it, we say. They’re all crooks anyway. What can we do?

Many of us have attempted the “Mars trip” when it comes to racial prejudice, the unjust immigration mess, the long overdue advancement of gay rights that is still opposed, militarized police killing unarmed black suspects, women still having to fight for the Constitutional right to an abortion, Judges coddling white rapists because they are some rich kid whose shallow petty little life might be harmed with a jail sentence while ignoring the girl or woman whose life has been destroyed. Too many of us just turn away from all of this. Not my problem, we say, cynically. Nothing will ever change, we say, hopelessly. Let’s get the hell out of here.

Strange, isn’t it, that we really are in this country planning space travel to Mars now? And there are people, citizens not astronauts, signing up to go. What are we thinking?

Here’s a secret: life won’t fare much better there, or anywhere else for that matter. Pick a planet out in the vast solar system, not a one of them holds any promise of humans being any better to one another there than here. If we can’t make it work on Earth, taking off to somewhere else doesn’t give us any better chance at it either.

We have to fix Earth. You and I and all of us together. We have to demand a better political system and better government representatives. We have to want more than material wealth at the expense of the environment, and the middle class, and American made products. We have to be respectful of others, understand people of other races and cultures. We have to want to belong to the world, to accept that we truly are a global village. But we have to stop expecting other countries to be little Americas. We have to honor our differences and live together in them.

Whitman’s lovely lines come to mind:
In this broad earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,
Enclosed and safe within its central heart,
Nestles the seed perfection.

Earth, not Mars. Or anywhere else. Our potential here still waits our vision of human beauty and goodness.

© 2016 Timothy Moody

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