“Come out Neville!”
In Richard Matheson’s science fiction story (NOT the movie) I Am Legend, the main character Robert Neville sits every night in his fortress home and listens to his former friend and neighbor Ben Cortman call for him to come out. Of course he is calling for him to come out so the “vampires” like Ben can eat him or at least convert him to the new reality of the world around him. Robert Neville never does come out.
Robert barricades himself in his house night after night. During the daytime he ekes out an existence and searches for answers and understanding. He struggles to maintain his sanity. He drinks to forget and numb the pain. At one point he says to himself, “The world’s gone mad… The dead walk about and I think nothing of it. The return of corpses has become trivial in import. How quickly one accepts the incredible if only one sees it enough!” Robert was struggling to live in a world where he was no longer the norm.
I always figured that one day I would be a relic, a token of a bygone era, but I didn’t expect to see it before I turned eighty. Each day I feel more and more like Robert Neville, surrounded by a world and a society that values the opposite things that I value. Like this character in fiction, I find myself barricaded in my thoughts afraid to speak too loudly because of the “thought vampires” circling outside and calling for me to come out. I am forced to hide in the darkness, and pray for the coming of the sun.
Robert never stops trying to make sense of, or save, the world he lives in. He never stops caring for the former people, now monsters, outside his door every night. He clings to his humanity as the humanity he believes in crumbles and disappears. Robert even mourns the final passing of his taunting nemesis, Ben Cortman, when the enforcers of the new society finally kill him. Even though they show up on his doorstep every night and try to destroy him, Robert continues to love.
I work closely every day with individuals whose values and standards are different than mine without hate. One man in particular was surprised to find out about our differences. It surprised him because I have always treated with respect and kindness. We hug each other every time we work together. I bear him no malice even though our core values are radically different. This loving approach towards others is also part of the fabric of my value system. Even though my value system is becoming more peculiar every day, I cling to what I know to be true and right. Like Robert, even though my value system is being systematically dismantled right outside my front door, I still care for the people that are dismantling it.
In the end Robert is captured and sentenced for execution. He comes to a grim realization. “And suddenly he thought, I’m the abnormal one now. Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man.” He stares at the faces of the onlookers from the new society and realizes that he is the pariah in this new world. He never abandons his values or becomes like those around him. Instead of becoming the norm, he becomes the legend.