C___, my college boyfriend, once paraphrased Winston Churchill to me:  “If you’re not a liberal by 20, then you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by 40, then you have no brain.”  He was mocking my political passion, the type that comes when you’re in a safe environment away from home.

I don’t recall what the exact issue was:  most likely something minor, such as my refusing to eat a ‘fun-sized’ Crunch bar because I was boycotting Nestle for its baby-starving practices (never mind that their chocolate tastes like candied wax).   But Nestle-denial was only one of many causes that I had taken up as an undergraduate:  gay rights, reproductive rights, racial equality, preservation of the environment, workers’ rights — I knew I had to do something, but not exactly what that thing should be.

In that way, I was like the one of the young samurai in Sanjuro:  idealistic, class-bound, and rather bone-headed.  The meetings with my fellow liberals could have been a scene right out of the film:  the group of us, deep in thought, each person pacing in his or her own direction.  We didn’t have an older, wiser mentor (like the titular hero himself) to guide us, but we did get the occasional old Baltimore hippie popping into a meeting to see what was up.

When you’re young, everything seems like a cause for a march, a protest, a rally — idealism is the province of the young.  I became an expert at making banners with large brush markers, spacing letters out legibly and evenly so that the last few words weren’t crammed together.  But being a 1990s radical was very different from being a 1960s radical.  There wasn’t the Vietnam War to unify the disparate groups; we’d had 30 years of progress; Clinton was in office and he was doing a pretty good job overall.  Sure, racism and sexism and homophobia still reared their ugly heads, but no amount of chanting was going to eliminate them, no matter how well-lettered my signs were.

I wasn’t losing my fervor — but it was changing.  In the fictional years between Yojimbo to Sanjuro, Mifune’s ronin transforms, as well.  Sanjuro no longer hacks up the bad guys with glee; in the latter film, he’s more circumspect about violence, as if he’s realized that there’s more corruption in the world than his sword can excise.  But, nonetheless, he fights on.

Now, four years shy of 40, there’s still nary a conservative bone in my body, and from what I’ve heard, C___ himself hasn’t become conservative.  (And if anyone was destined for Log Cabin-style craziness, it’d be him; consider:  he’s a commodities broker living in New York City, he’s half a month older than I am, he’s an asshole.)  Injustice still rankles me, and if it appears that my liberal zeal has abated:  don’t be fooled.  I know what my nineteen year-old self didn’t know:  how to pick my battles.

Also, I still don’t eat Nestle chocolates.