Spider-Man, Palestine, hope and pastries

Unable to adequately process my feelings about the bloodshed in Gaza, I was rescued from my fatalistic gloom by none other than Spider-Man.

Actually, it wasn’t Spider-Man himself, it was one of his enemies, an entity called Morlun who pauses for a moment in one of the comics to sit in a cafe and espouse the value of pastry.

“Do you know why humans are a people of hope? Because you make things like croissants and pastry. Pastry in particular. You make something of astonishing beauty, carefully decorated, fragile, lovely, knowing that the person who receives it will appreciate that beauty only for about two seconds before devouring it.”

Such peculiarly appealing wisdom. In the midst of all the horrible things that I have seen and read over the past few weeks, oddly, it is this little snippet from a comic (Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1: Coming Home) that has given me the most comfort.

Even if it is only for the transient beauty of a pastry, there must be – there has to be – hope for humanity.

It’s good to be alive in our safe little corner of the world. We’re free to enjoy things like the Commonwealth Games (and Spider-Man comic books) but grating with uncomfortable dissonance in the background is the ongoing conflict in Israel. It’s awful. I don’t know what to do with it, if indeed I can do anything at all.

I’ve noticed that the ideological battle lines have advanced into social media. Suddenly it seems a lot of people on Facebook are experts on the history of Israel.

There has been a lot of focus on who is to blame. We take comfort in taking sides.

Given a few smartly produced infographics and videos it’s easy to form an opinion quite quickly.

“Aha,” I say to myself. “It’s pretty clear in this situation who the bad guys are.” It feels good to put a label on the bad guys.

But then I see an equally smart video or a thought-provoking article that challenges my bias. “Oh,” I now say to myself, “maybe it’s not so simple.”

Nothing is simple.

It feels almost distasteful to be forming strong opinions on other cultures from my comfy chair in the Bay of Plenty, here where my biggest problem is not getting to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on the big screen.

What do I know about inter-generational conflict? What do I know about rockets and rubble, or the deep-seated religious belief that fuels middle-eastern politics?

“They should just stop the fighting,” I say, as though it’s obvious and easy. The TV series Game of Thrones has some wisdom on that: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

The only thing I do know for sure is that if anyone were to hurt, murder or terrify my own children, I would probably wish my own brand of retaliation upon the perpetrators. Grace is hard. How can I say with confidence that I wouldn’t become part of the problem?

There are reasons stacked upon reasons in the Middle East that I cannot possibly appreciate. Everything is complicated.

Yet everything is also quite simple. People are being killed and it is wrong. Awfulness stacked upon awfulness.

No matter where your sympathies lie, surely human lives are the most important thing.

I return to my Spider-Man comic partly for an escape, but also to be reminded by art that humanity is not entirely lost. If the bad guy can appreciate the fleeting beauty of a croissant then we have at least one thing in common.

Blimey. A pastry seems so trivial in the face of genuine suffering, but it’s all I’ve got.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 1 August 2014. Reproduced with permission.