My friend's son, H, stayed with us last week. He’s obsessed with all things Marvel, and his mother gave us permission to watch some of Thor: Ragnarok with him. You know, special treat, stay up late, see Thor shake his hair out of his ponytail a lot and lose his hammer.
At one point H looked up at us and asked, “But is Loki a good guy or a bad guy?”
I was tempted to whip out some fanfiction and go through all the tomes of creative work that have tried to answer that question. But the poor kid is still in pre-school, so I kept things a bit simpler. “Sometimes he makes good choices, and sometimes he makes bad choices,” I told him. I waited for the follow-up, but H became engrossed with an action scene. The conversation died there.
Then John McCain passed away yesterday, and the question of what makes someone a "good guy" or a "bad guy" is on my mind again.
John McCain has always been, from my perspective, a heroic figure fraught with complication. He was a war hero who was far, far braver than I could ever have imagined being. He put forward bills and government policies that I often admired and supported. In a political era where so many people seem unable to put the good of the country above their own power, he was frequently willing to do so. And, possibly most importantly, he was almost always able to work with those of other parties and other beliefs.
But there were also times when he seemed to make choices that were more in his own interest than the interest of the country. There were moments when he made choices that certainly hurt people, all in the name of supporting his own career or keeping his party in power.
Here I could start waxing poetic about how there are no good guys or bad guys and it’s all a matter of perspective, but I don’t believe that for a second. That type of thinking has always brought dangerous consequences to humanity. There is objective, moral truth in the world. Some choices Loki makes are objectively good, and some choices are objectively bad. Some choices John McCain made were good, and some were bad. Some choices I make each day are good, and some are bad. None of us are all one or the other, and none of our choices are exempt from being held to objective, moral standards.
Today I am very sad that John McCain is gone. I do believe he acted out of good intentions far more often than he acted out of bad or selfish intentions. When we look at the history of his record, that record reflects that he was a “good guy” more often than he was not. And I like to think that’s the measure we’re all judged on at the end. None of us will leave this world with perfect records. But what will our balance sheets look like? Which column will stack up higher? Loki will get to work on his balance sheet throughout the course of Marvel’s existence. (Unless Avengers: Infinity War never gets a sequel.) The rest of us only have a finite amount of time to work with. None of us will ever make all the right choices, and none of our heroes will either. But John McCain’s record shows, I think, that he was worthy of many of the capes people have placed on his memory.
RIP, John McCain. Thank you for working across party lines. Thank you for fighting for this country in ways most of us can ever imagine doing. Thank you for reminding us that we all must grow out of the phase where we see “good guys” and “bad guys” so that we are able to see people for their individual choice and moments--for their actions taken and not taken. Thank you for all of the incredibly difficult actions you took on behalf of others during your life.
I hope John McCain, like Thor and Loki, gets his own sequel someday, somewhere. In fact, I hope all of us do.