Columnist John Paradis: Face adversity by taking it head-on, together


Thursday, December 07, 2017

It’s December and I’m in that in-between-holidays season of binge watching and binge reading.

I yearn for down time when I can watch and read at will. Best is when I can watch show after show with family, curled up on the couch with a favorite libation. And then in the morning, with coffee in hand, while everyone is zonked out, I can get to my books. Quiet time with a good book, preferably with a cat or two purring beside me, is bliss … and therapeutic.

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend with leftovers to refuel us, we devoured two seasons and 17 episodes of “Stranger Things,” the hottest show on the planet.

The Netflix “watch it now” streaming made it all too easy to binge. Plus, the show, with its ‘80s nostalgia and science fiction references all mixed in, was incredibly addictive. With its unpredictable plot lines, it’s exactly what you want when you search for the best in binging.

And, given the times we live in, I think the greatest appeal is the show’s key themes of love, empathy and resiliency. There’s a lot going on here — way more than just killing monsters and solving a mystery. The show is really about saving the only things that matter in this world — your family, your friendships, your community.

A lot to do with the show’s popularity, too, is how things are playing out in today’s world. David Harbour, who stars as the local police chief Hopper in the show, has said that he and his fellow “Stranger Things” team are using their energy and artistry to take on today’s real-life “monsters.”

“We will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts; those who have no home. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters,” Harbour said at last year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. “And when we are lost amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions … we will punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak and the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul and with heart and with joy.”

How’s that for tapping into the inner resistance in all of us?

Giving purpose and meaning in our current lives should be what we’re all striving for, which next brings me to my three most favorite books at the moment: “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” by Belmont’s Sebastian Junger, “Being Mortal” by Newton’s AtulGawande and “The Book of Joy.”

I’m rereading all three — they are all that good.

In “Tribe,” Junger, who recently spoke to an audience at Amherst College, writes that people need community and a sense of belonging. A main thread in the book is that humankind has lost the tribalism of our ancestors who understood that cooperation was paramount to everyone’s survival.

Furthermore, today’s materialism and narcissism has created great alienation and isolation, says Junger, the author of bestsellers “The Perfect Storm,” and “War.” American culture, unless we take it back, is on a path toward destroying our souls.

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary,” writes Junger. “Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

In “Being Mortal,” the 2014 book that’s still on best-seller lists, Gawande explores aging, death and the medical profession’s mishandling of both — but the topic isn’t as depressing as you might think. Gawande, like Junger and the kids in “Stranger Things,” is a problem solver.

He challenges all of us to examine the true meaning of our lives — to make the most of what time we have on this planet. Having a purpose and being of service, is what we crave.

“For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story,” writes Gawande. “A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.”

Finally, if, like me, you’ve been transfixed by the daily barrage of negativity in Washington and the ugliest side of politics ever seen, I have found great comfort in reading “The Book of Joy,” words of wisdom by two of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Both also stress the importance of community and in finding generosity in our hearts in seeking justice, even if it means forgiving our enemies. Channeling our anger into energy to help others who are being harmed is what brings us lasting happiness and purpose.

In short: Don’t let the haters out there rob you of your joy.

“Start where you are and do what you can where you are,” says Tutu.



’Tis the season for reflection and my binge watching and reading is allowing me to weave my way through our own “Stranger Things” upside-down world and back to my “Tribe” and joy.

Thank goodness for the many masterpieces out there. No matter how desperate the current state of affairs may seem, they are helping me recognize that we can all defy complacency and face adversity by taking it head-on, together.

“Nolite te bastardescarborundorum,” wrote Margaret Atwood in that other best binge-worthy book, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Or, take it from me — you can also binge-watch it on Hulu.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He is a veterans’ outreach coordinator for VA New England Health Care System, and can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.