“God, help me to never fall into quicksand,” I earnestly prayed as a little girl one night. As a kid, I was petrified of quick sand. A few weeks ago, I listened to a Radio Lab podcast about quicksand. Dan Engber was curious why kids are no longer afraid of quicksand like I was decades ago. He looked at the how often quicksand appears in television and movies. It peaked in the 70s, I saw enough in the 80s to be scared. Currently, though, it is almost non-existent. Even the television series Lost decided quicksand was too overdone to include it on their island. It is interesting to think about the role that entertainment plays in a culture’s fears. Art teaches us what to love and what to fear. Art reflects the love and fear of society.
I couldn’t help think about the rise and fall of quicksand watching the movies Gravity and All is Lost. Gravity, staring Sandra Bullock, is a movie about an astronaut being stranded in space. All is Lost, staring Robert Redford, is a movie about a sailor being stranded at sea. The differences are fascinating, but here I would like to explore the similarities. Both lead characters are utterly alone in the vastness of space and sea. They have tools that are seemingly insufficient for survival. When Bullock’s tether breaks, when Redford’s ship goes down, we hold our breath. When they think they have a chance to connect with another human being and are disappointed, we want to cry with them. The expansiveness of the universe is overwhelming. We feel their aloneness. Both movies get at the heart of humanity, dependence, technology, progress, nature, life and death. Both movies have us sitting with the main character, who is unbound and fighting the elements alone in order to survive. Similar in premise and timing, what do these two films say about our current fears? Do we feel ultimately alone in the universe? Do we feel dependent and trapped and isolated by our gadgets? Do we know, deep down, our tools are insufficient against the forces of nature?
Watching the two films within a short time frame reminded me of a senior speech a student gave years back. He talked about his wooded backyard. When he was little, his backyard appeared so fast and expansive. It was his whole universe. Within the boundaries of his yard, he created worlds to play in. As he got older, the boundaries of his world expanded. And with each expansion, he loved knowing where his boundaries were so he could push them bigger, challenge them, bend them a bit. He wants to know the rules so he can break them. He wants to identify the fences so he can dismantle them. To me, this was a speech about bounded love. We want to be tethered to people, to places. We want to know our limits. Love binds us, creates space for us to move and grow safely while giving us a home to return to. Love is hard, self-limiting sacrifice. Love keeps us in orbit.
“Honey, you don’t have to worry about quicksand,” my mom assured me when I was little. “There’s no quicksand in Minnesota.” I didn’t feel assured, however, until she promised me that if I did fall into quicksand, she would always be there to offer me a hand. That’s the bounded love I needed to fall asleep to sweet dreams.