A simple horse opera. A sense of honor. A reminder of what we once were, and sometimes, it seems, can only dream of being again.
I’m a fan of western movies, period pieces that take us back to what we always believe was a simple and cleaner time. In effect, that west of the North American 1850’s or so was a brutal time when the mettle of every man, woman, child and beast was sorely tested. And it wasn’t nearly as neat and clean as we were led to believe.
Those westerns I watched as a kid, featuring the starched-shirt hero with the fresh-scrubbed face, boots with a shine that rivaled the sun, the perfect pair of pistols from which bullets would not merely emerge, but seemingly sing, as they exploded from the chamber and never missed the bad guy?
All fantasy, of course. Dramas. Well-written fables. Little more than Hollywood luster and cowboy storytelling.
Even when western movie heroes straddled across the screen, there was never a hint of perspiration on that perfectly placed neck scarf. The townspeople were so prim and proper, strutting about the not-so-dusty streets as they never once had to worry about tripping over the saloon drunks or the seedy prostitutes that permeated so many of those real towns.
It made one yearn for those “simpler times”, forgetting of course about the lack of consistent medical care, the sometimes impossible nature of hewing out a living in an unforgiving land that often showed no mercy to the hoe and till, or the wanton lawlessness which often descended upon towns everywhere because, well, because it was easy.
The west was, of course, a Hell of a lot tougher than the movies led us to believe. Hard men. Harder women. Hard life that many times was nowhere near the poetic setting we were introduced to as kids. Death, disease and dust bowls were in many instances a part of every day life.
Over the years, I’ve watched the genre change and take on a deeper layer of grit and necessary grime. “Deadwood” on HBO remains to this day one of the more fascinating looks into a west many of us never could have imagined existed. “Open Range” with Robert Duvall, Kevin Coster and Annette Benning was, as far as my research can tell, about as accurate as one might get when it came to the free grazing wars of the era. “The Outlaw Josey Wales” still reverberates as an honest depiction of the brutal nature of time post-Civil War when America was still, in many ways, unsuccessfully trying to sort out what it wanted to become.
Each one, and many others, examples of a western culture some of us have always wished the more positive parts of which could have lasted a little longer. Where gentlemen tipped their hats to ladies, family was paramount to those who sought that better life, and the first thing employers considered was the desire of someone to work, not the exclusionary algorithms that decide futures at every age and in every profession today.
Perhaps pieces of what America was positively becoming in that era might still have washed off on what we are today.
If we looked long and hard enough, there might be something from both the real and Hollywood versions we could take forward and find in current times.
A sense of honor. An ideal of defending those in need. A desire to not only seek out the truth, but put it to use in our own lives.
Perhaps the key is not having to be concerned about that sense of honor being discovered. Rather, that it’s there all along, right in front of our eyes. All we have to to do is open them, just a bit, and maybe we can see a glimmer of hope in changing what has become a confusing place where honor and righteousness seems to be tucked away as little more than cow patties.
Back then to the western analogy.
The Netflix series “Godless” was a mere seven episodes of all that was right and wrong in the American west. And in the end, despite telling a story we’ve seen and heard before, this Scott Frank vehicle managed to escape it’s cliche storylines and leave one with profound considerations.
Where we are today, where we’re heading, and perhaps how we stop ourselves from going down a dark road before it’s too late.
Oh, and as it’s become necessary to warn readers rather than incur a social wrath, there are indeed spoilers saddled up here and about to break from the gate.
Boiled down to the story of a boy, Roy Goode, adopted by a character that might rank as the most soulless killer ever captured on film, “Godless” is indeed the story of a man who is just that. A story altered when Goode, having lost his parents in gun battle, is adopted by outlaw Frank Griffin, a menacing and unemotional mass killer. Goode grows into adulthood, and can no longer stomach the lies, deceit, and killing orchestrated by his surrogate Father.
Those that follow Griffin, and there are plenty of wanton butchers, are satisfied in gleefully going about their business of burning and destroying the lives of anyone that gets in their way. Without digging all too deeply into the storyline, suffice to say we all know that good guy Goode and bad guy Griffin will wind up facing each other come the end.
They do, following a pitched gun battle that involves a town, the innocent, and those who have never before held a gun in their hands. As noted, we’ve been here before. But the ease of pacing that gets us there, the intricacies of the story line, and the subtle back stories to everyone circling around this murderous Griffin-sun that threatens to burn everyone to cinders in his path, remains the essence of storytelling.
Which leads me to the story here, and the message left to ponder as the credits rolled.
Where are those truly and honestly willing to take a stand that could impact negatively impact their lives, perhaps even leading to something fatal in both life and reputation? Why is it so difficult to do the right thing, especially when it’s unpopular? Why is the noise of evil so shockingly loud, to the point where no amount of doing the right thing can hope to drown it out for even an instant?
Where are the brave wiling to speak loudly and without fear about the lies and injustice that surrounds us all, in every pocket of the globe?
Where are the good guys?
Where is Roy Goode?
We are, of course, surrounded by good guys and gals every day. They’re just tougher to find, which is amusing when one considers how every little slice of information and rumor flies around the world instantaneously via social and “unsocial” media.
Some, thankfully, are not so difficult to find. If you know where to look.
The young lady I met via Facebook who wanted a beagle puppy so bad, and when her mother picked up the one she chose from a local farmer, her Mother suggested she choose another. This one, you see, was born without eyes. Certainly her daughter would prefer to have another dog, as this one would never be the companion she wanted.
But she kept her word and accepted this pup into her life. They’re still together, and Squints the beagle is as precious as they come. A living example of what happens when you make a choice for all the right reasons, and stick with it no matter what.
The grocery store owner I know that tired seeing so much good food go to waste, that he took it upon himself, at his own expense, to deliver that leftover food every day to shelters, group homes, schools in need, anyone who would ask. Overwhelmed with requests, he’s been doing this for three years now, without asking for a dollop of recognition. I’ve offered numerous times to get his story to a local TV station, and his response was something along that lines of “do it and I’ll drop a truck load of rutabagas on your head”.
Not wishing injury from vegetables, I have, of course, deferred.
The member of the military I know who has been overseas on duty more times than two hands can count, active and private service. Who has recounted to me the sweats, the chills, the nightmares and what can only be described as “mind numbing images” which are always flooding his mind every time that head hits the pillow.
Who now carries on a mission to save as many children as he can from being blasted to pieces in war zones. Who has carried, sometimes in those pieces, what remains of those caught in the crossfire. Been wounded in every limb. Has a few fingers on those hands missing. Yet like the grocer, has sworn me to secrecy over his identity.
They don’t feel a need to be honored, prayed for, thanked or lauded. They and so many others simply wish to slide into the shadows of a life well lived for the right reasons, believing good deeds are those what go unnoticed or without fanfare.
Which brings me back around to “Godless”, and that time worn lesson.
The good guy here was something of a Robin Hood, albeit with something a lot more accurate than bows and arrows. His shame at being connected with a criminal led him to steal the loot from a robbery obtained by the bad guy and his gang. At the time, it may have seemed nothing more than a little payback and seeking revenge against the old codger. Even shot the bad guy’s arm off as he was heading into the hill with his stolen twice cash.
But it was more than that. It was self-realization that something here wasn’t right. There was more than personal gain to be had here. There was a wrong to be righted, even if it meant a personal journey changing his own life, not knowing if it would be for better or worse.
The story leads him to a town. A widow. Her son. A wise Native American grandmother. More bad guys. Cheats. Scoundrels. Gun fight. You get the picture,
In the end, he, of course, goes eye-to-eye with the “Godless” namesake in this drama. Good wins out, as it usually does.
But he decides to leave this town and the woman he seemed destined to be with. Forgetting that she shot him in the opening episode, there was still a connection between them. She was as tough as nails, tougher perhaps even than he, and was as loyal as they come. It would make sense for him to remain, help to raise her son, make a family with her, and use that money for something good.
As with many pieces of uplifting fiction, there was more that he desired than a family.
He leaves for California, a solitary man with so much blood on his hands, a lifetime of figurative and emotional scrubbing couldn’t possibly wash it away.
One day, the woman is fixing a fence post on the outskirts of her property that had been slightly knocked over. As we see him riding his way west, she digs into the loose earth and uncovers a saddle bag. In it, the money he liberated and left for her. Inside the bag, a handwritten note from the man who at one time could neither read nor write, but got a taste of both skills thanks to her.
A smile crosses her lips as she faces the generosity of a man she hardly knew. Yet one she showed kindness to, and found it returned thousands of times over.
No strings. No fanfare. No way to ever say a word in response. Just a life forever altered by one act of kindness.
There was a time, and I remember it not so long ago, when random acts of kindness seemed to be everywhere. For some inexplicable reason, we all seemed to have them touch us in one shape or another.
There was no Internet. No Instagram. No Facebook with which to share, Such moments were so intimately personal and, quite often, became the stuff of stories passed down by word of mouth, at coffee shops, meetings in the park, school recesses, personal chats with friends.
All, and more, seeming to be lost arts in our lives.
I’m the softie in the bunch. The one who posts the stories asking people to sign petitions that change the lives of people and Mother Nature. The one that actively seeks out a positive story for no other reason than trying to blunt the daily argument hammer that seems to descend from very angle and often bludgeons us into anger, rage and depression. The one that stops himself about ten times a day from posting certain items and discourses, knowing full well all it will do is raise ire and hackles.
I find myself more often reaching for that simpler time. A more uplifting story. Something that will bring down the temperature in the electronic room, perhaps changing one other mind about the need to start a textual fight.
Because as in stories of the Old West, there are plenty of fights around us every day. There are those who seek to do us harm, damage our reputations, exact a little revenge here and there.
I’m guilty of it, just like everyone else. It’s something I work on improving every day.
Every day, a little less argumentative. A bit more patience. A desire to not so quickly lash out, draw them typewritten and verbal pistols to start blazing away.
Some say it comes with age, knowing there’s not much time left to leave behind a positive mark. I’ll agree there’s a piece of that in my decision, and it could be the same for you.
I would hope, however, something else comes with age. Maybe changing that one life without ever knowing it, satisfied that somewhere down that long and finite line, the journey has been worth it.
There’s a part of me that knows, with complete certainty, I was born too late. The American West would have been the better era for me. When a pioneering spirit was laudable. When hard work and determined effort was appreciated. When no matter someone’s age or social status, they were given a fair shake to prove their value.
When honor meant something. And didn’t have to be celebrated because it seemed to be more a part of our lives. Granted, not to everyone, and there were certainly scamps and scoundrels afoot, but people seemed to do things more often without seeking fame or fortune.
They did it just because it was the right thing to do.
Do something honorable after you read this. Don’t tell anyone.
You’d be surprised how good it makes you feel, knowing you changed a life.
Knowing they will never know where it came from. A spirit that will invariably give them the impetus to do the same thing.
In this case, good guys still can and do wear the white hat.
You may just find the fit to be damn near perfect.