Feature Friday: Pumzi

Recently a couple of stunning short films about the apocalypse landed on my Facebook feed. I was so impressed by their beauty, clarity, and messages, I decided to share–not just those two, but any others I may hunt down along the way. Not only do they have something to tell us about our possible futures, but I believe it’s important to support the artists that created them.

To that end, welcome to Feature Friday: short films, books, movie and TV shows, and other digital media that can help shed light on our human condition in these days of rogue weather, terror attacks, deadly viruses, and other threats to our health and sanity. I hope you enjoy our first installment: Pumzi, a short science-fiction film written and directed by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. The title means “breath” in Swahili.

Never Look Away

You may wonder: why the apocalypse? You may wonder how I can stare into its darkness daily and not go mad. Let me explain, starting with a story.

In September, 2010 I came to New Mexico for the first time to study with writer Natalie Goldberg. Before I came, I had been trying unsuccessfully to make changes in my life. I enrolled in her retreat to get out of dodge and hopefully gain some perspective, find some hidden clarity, decide what to try next. Given that I moved to New Mexico only six months later, clearly it worked. But it wasn’t just the move that mattered.

During the course of that first week, I learned that in Natalie’s practice she has three unflinching commandments: shut up and write, continue under all circumstances, and never look away.

Natalie had recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz with the Zen Peacemakers, led by founder Bernie Glassman, where they sat by the tracks reading the names of the dead, bearing witness to their suffering and death.

I believe it is only through witnessing the suffering and darkness as well as the joys of life that we can embrace the whole of humanity, both in others and in ourselves. By trying to avoid the pain and fear, we cut ourselves off from a big part of what makes us human, what makes us truly alive. It can also cut us off from something just as important.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man,” but what are we without it? Contentedness has a way of slipping into complacency. Complacency into apathy.

Hope can cost us dearly, just as looking into the dark heart of humanity can fill us with pain and fear. Then again, without the dark we have nothing against which to measure light.

Within each apocalyptic and dystopian story, within the heart of each prepper lies a seed of hope–of survival, of a chance for a better world.