The Valley of Elah is the legendary spot between two mountains where, according to 1 Samuel, young David slew the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath. The site is an appropriate allusion for writer-director Paul Haggis’s movie about the American experience in Iraq. In the Valley of Elah posits that the U.S. may be the military Goliath brought down by hit-and-run insurgents.
Outside my window, the bushes have turned, redder than any fire, and the sky is the same blue Giotto used for Mary’s robes. My mother says, if she still had a house, she’d plant one or two of these bushes, and I love how she’s still thinking about gardening, as if she were in the middle of the story, even though we both know, she’s at the end, the last few pages. Down in the meadow, the goldenrod’s gone from cadmium yellow to a feathery beige, the ghost of itself. Mother, too, fades away, skin thin as the tissue stuffed up her sleeve. The scars on her stomach itch and burn, but inside, she’s still the girl who loved to turn cartwheels, the woman whose best days were on fairways and putting greens. On television, we watch California go up in smoke, flames leapfrogging ridge to ridge. Here, these leaves release a shower of scarlet feathers, as everything starts to let go. Oh, how this world burns and burns us, yet we are not consumed.
Neil Jordan’s The Brave One has a lacerating opening section. Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is a New York disc jockey who dedicates her radio show to the neglected or vanishing splendors of the city she adores. One evening she and her fiancé (Naveen Andrews, of TV’s Lost) are mugged while walking their dog in Central Park; he’s killed and she winds up in a coma.
So you doubt the whereabouts of God, a quark, everywhere yet nowhere at once. So the hell what? Doubt you the wind, doubt sandstone erosion and trilobite carapace. Let faith in dawn weather slow as feldspar. The sperm whale’s lungs collapse a thousandfold in unfathomable depths, yet bear it, unyielding. You who preach against miracles, go doubt the arctic tern asleep on the wing. Doubt that a father will leave untouched constellations of frost inside his windshield, the breath of his child frozen overnight. Doubt that bodies lose a few grams the moment of death. Doubt that, you who will, doubt that.
Americans now donate five times as many clothes to charity than they did in 1980. The supply of donated clothing outstrips the demand: typically, only 20 percent of donated clothing is sold where it is donated. In 2014, 11 percent of clothing donated to Goodwill ended up in landfills. About 45 percent of all donated clothing is exported to foreign countries by for-profit companies. The glut of used clothing disrupts local economies in developing countries, putting textile workers out of jobs. Bre Cruickshank recommends that clothing donors invest “in timeless styles of better quality,” rather than “refreshing our wardrobe according to seasonal trends” (Not Just a Label, April 9).