The spelling bee is on TV tonight and the kids of today are showing proudly, awkwardly, what they know. What they know is the next letter and, somehow, the next and the next. This is impractical beauty, magic as pointless as linking rings. They are dogs catching frisbees, chimpanzees riding unicycles— still, an impressive feat, this spelling, this dense knowledge of language. This little girl knows everything. Maybe she can end the war, cure malaria. Maybe she can answer those real questions, the ones about love and the dark pockets between planets and the dreams that don’t go away. That’s why we watch, right? To see the future, a glimmer of immortality in the myopic eyes of a 12-year old? We’ll never memorize Webster’s, but if she can, if she can spell words she’s never even spoken, never even seen, then maybe cynicism is dead. Tonight, hope is reborn, peace and love are alive and well, so when she spells poiesis, you can’t help but smile, you can’t help but imagine contagious innocence spreading from the war-torn corners to the towns terrorized by mudslides. All’s well until that goat-footed shmuck gives her weltschmerz, until she asks for the definition, until the official pronouncer, with unmistakable regret, explains that weltschmerz is a sentimental pessimism, a slight depression at the realization that reality never, never ever lives up to our ideals. How then do we take it when, after much thought, much time and deep, true consideration, she opens, on our behalf, with a V and proceeds to either slaughter the Germans or be slaughtered by them?
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