In the opening chapter of Distortion, a major character climbs this building as part of a political stunt. To me, the most important part of this scene is not the stunt, not the way it launches the entire plot, but the simple act of climbing. It’s reaching.
When Jack Thomas climbs the “Midfield Tower,” he’s really trying to pull himself up to a better life. Jack may be a well-known political activist; his creativity and pure nerve inspire people, but what does that actually do for Jack himself? Could a person be doing great things, inspiring warmth in the hearts of others, while slowly falling into despair himself?
This scene, this idea is based in experience. When I was an activist, I often found that an event-or the pushback from one-would take over my life. Like most political firecrackers, I was driven solely by a cause greater than myself, so that led to my feeling guilty if I didn’t do everything possible to make the event a success. Long days, longer evenings were sometimes followed by coming home to 53 messages on the answering machine. (Yes, back then we had answering machines.)
My reward was such a beautiful feeling of making the most of myself … sometimes. Other times it was pure exhaustion or finding that 51 of the 53 messages on my machine were left by some racist crackpot who wanted to put me–or rather just anyone who cared about South Africa–into the dirt. Those days were soul-crushing. So were the times when I would show up to find only a handful of demonstrators or large contingent of skinheads across the street. The media felt compelled to give them “equal time.” So after several months of work, half my effort would promote an evil cause, the other half a good one.
Those were the times when I just kept reaching. Looking back, every phone call, every step on a march felt like Jack reaching up for his next pull up the “Midfield Tower.” One reach at a time. In real work, you don’t have a “top” but you do have moments. Like a feature on the cover of the local rag, The Public News, or getting interviewed on one of the most popular radio stations in the country, Majic 102. I guess it topped out the day I met Nelson Mandela.
Like most political activists, I found after a while that I needed to step away. To build a better life for myself, and now for my kids. My “reaching” has changed, but it’s the same feeling.
Whether parenting or climbing a skyscraper, we all want to make the most of this life. What are you reaching for?