No, this is not about to be a maudlin post. Just a reflection of the sermon/homily (for you Catholics out there) I heard this morning. The Gospel reading this morning was about the Loaves and Fishes and the miracles in the New Testament, but for some reason, our young priest, Nick S., focused on the Old Testament reading about Jacob wrestling with the angel. I got to thinking (a dangerous thing) about all the people I’ve wrestled with in my life – mostly figuratively, I assure you – and how they’ve impacted me. Actually, I guess that could really be extrapolated to any relationship that means anything to you.
It also tied in with a discussion I had earlier this week with Nancy and Rennie after we had gone to see Brideshead Revisited. Let’s see if I can make sense of the miasma swirling in my brain right now, LOL:
In the Old Testament lesson, Jacob was on the run, hiding from his twin brother, Esau, from whom he had wrested his father’s blessing and hence Esau’s (the older twin’s) birthright and inheritance. In his travels, Jacob comes across this angel, I suppose in human form, with whom he wrestles and will not stop wrestling until the angel gives him a blessing. There’s something fascinating about this exchange because eventually Jacob does get the blessing, but he walks away with a dislocated hip – and a permanent limp.
In Brideshead, the protagonist, Charles, goes through life in a sort of quiet daze, allowing his friends and later his lovers, to define him. In one of the early scenes of the movie, Charles meets Sebastian – a man who is later to very briefly become his lover. When he says that he is reading (studying) history, but “wants to be an artist.” The response is, “you either are an artist or you’re not.” Charles’ response, “Well, then, I’m an artist.” Charles is enchanted by Sebastian, who leads Charles through the kind of life and wealthy existence that Charles has never had with his father, a man, who although kind enough in his intentions, barely acknowledges Charles’ existence. Later, Charles falls in love with Sebastian’s sister, Julia. Sebastian leaves not only the family, but the country, living out his days in a monastery in Northern Africa, forever the lost child, permanently damaged by unrequited love. Without giving away the entire plot of the novel/movie, suffice it to say that Julia’s relationship with Charles, despite a torrent of passion, doesn’t work out, either. Charles, at the end of the movie, returning to Brideshead as a British army officer occupying the estate, has removed himself from human intimacy, saying, “I’ve loved and lost enough for one lifetime.”
Talking about the movie afterwards, I think it was Nancy who thought that Charles was one who wanted to experience everything, that he loved innocently. I thought rather differently: that Charles started out with no sense of who he was and what impact he would have upon others. He was going through life in a sort of fugue state (sorry, LOL) and buffeted about by emotions and life almost without any consciousness – and he was set up for this fate by his father who was emotionally absent and his mother, who had become physically absent through death. (Note: I am not even going to begin to plumb the depths of the themes of faith and love and church in this post as it exists in Waugh’s novel!)
And then to hear the story of Jacob – who would not be ignored without receiving a blessing. Who jumped into life headfirst, determined, and willing to take the risks of rolling in the muck with those who would bless him, coming away with a permanent impact both positive and (ostensibly) negative – I cannot help but be drawn to him. How many of us have known the joys and the searing pain of marriage? How we think at the beginning that we love so deeply that nothing can stand in the way, but later learn mirrored in the eyes of the one we love, how terrible our shortcomings are? We cry at weddings, don’t we, for the innocent joy of the newly married and because we know they have so far to go before they understand the depths of love that allows us to walk but only with a limp?
Friends, too, can enrich our lives so thoroughly and at the same time help us to see where we fail. And the best ones do that without even saying a word. A woman I think of as my best friend models so much of what I don’t have inside of me, that I strive to become a better person. What was it Jack Nicholson’s character said in As Good As It Gets – “You make me want to be a better man.” Helen Hunt’s character knew that this was the best compliment one human being can give another.
Children – well, those of us who have them could write a volume on that! The way a society treats its children is a reflection of its very soul. I see my children as a reflection of God’s mercy: despite all I have done to screw them up, they have nevertheless become human beings I am proud and grateful to know – every one of them.
So what am I saying here? I think it’s that I’d rather be rolling around in the muck of human pain, and blood and germs and guck and risk getting touched by all that than to live a life of unconscious drifting. I’d rather be hurting and loving than untouched in no pain at all. Because when joy hits you – it’s amazing:)