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The redshirts and extras in life

Are you a “redshirt”? Are you an expendable? This is the inside joke passed around by classic Star Trek fans who know that someone needs to die during the episodic adventures, and it can’t be Captain Kirk, Spock or another main character.

The show thus fronts stock characters dressed in red uniforms to accompany the main cast down a planet, and these redshirts more often than not suffer a quick and painful death. Sucked out of space, vaporized, driven into madness, mind-controlled and thereafter becoming a casualty of war, you name it, they’re the unlucky but necessary presence of the show. Their death serves as a catalyst to evoke emotions of distress and outrage from the important characters in order to move the story forward through the occurring conflict and tension. They are the rough surface of a matchbox that ignites our heroes into showing the audience the way.

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My perception of life is that it is one big unfinished TV show about us as individuals, the people we meet and the decisions we make that affect them. It is a show in which each of us plays the role of being our own main character, in a story that matters to the most important audience — ourselves. And because I am the main character of my own show, I can refuse to wear red. I make guest appearances in other people’s “shows” all the time, either as a supporting character or as an antagonist.

Every day, a hidden narrator whom no one hears except me keeps track of my story and reads what I do out loud. Just like Will Ferrell in the movie “Stranger than Fiction,” my narrator talks about me in the third person, his words acting as a constant reminder for me to always keep things interesting, otherwise I would bore him and my audience. Main characters who don’t take risks get their shows cancelled. And while I know that my life isn’t really “The Truman Show,” it is exciting to pretend that I am living through the Hero’s Journey, and that every big and small experience creates a ripple affect pushing me to evolve.

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Do you ever wonder if you are the one destined for greatness in this grand and unpredictable adventure called life, or are you the expendable one meant to bring out the greatness in others, yet suffer anonymity and a meaningless death? A lot of people would say that it is pure romance and optimism to believe that we all have an important role to play in the grand scheme of whatever this existence is. They might even point out the case of the three Australian children, aged 13, 12 and 10, who died when their plane (MH17) was shot down reportedly by a Russian missile over Ukraine. Their deaths, and the hundreds that joined them at that moment, contributed to international outrage over the incident. But just a few years afterwards, their names have long been forgotten. And no one is a step closer to achieving justice. Unlike a fixed 40-minute episode on Netflix, life rarely gives such timely and complete conclusions. And there is none of the ambiguity of a meaningless death; it is just meaningless.

Believing too much of real life can make one downright pessimistic. There is a reason why school teachers tell their students that they can be all they want to be rather than   saying life is a game of chance. It isn’t healthy to have an attitude that some of us are born to be the ace pilot Maverick from “Top Gun” (which is getting a sequel in 2020), while the rest are meant to be Goose, his co-pilot who dies in a training accident halfway through the movie (spoiler—but he doesn’t get a sequel). If someone were to tell me that I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be because I’m Asian, dyslexic and a citizen of a Third World country, then that person becomes an antagonist or a miniboss from a Nintendo game.

This is not to belittle antagonists, because they play a crucial role in the development of a character’s story. There is no heroic evolution without overcoming a struggle. Darth Vader is more memorable than Luke Skywalker because Vader is his own hero, and because he overcomes his demons in the end when he switches from dark to light.

Life is either a confused mess of random events without any semblance of order, or one which has a strict beginning, middle and end. If a person were stranded in the ocean miles away from visible land, the former would leave him at the mercy of the waves, while the latter would give him the choice to swim to safety regardless if the waves were against him or not.

I would rather believe we are all walking unfinished novels. None of us knows where we are in our narrative timeline, but the tension created by uncertainty and the hope of overcoming all of life’s challenges, make not just for a good story but a good life.

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Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos ([email protected]), a lawyer, is manager of Alcoves Philippines and former professor of literature at DLSU Manila.

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