No, I’m not on vacation…

For those of you who keep checking Mead, sorry to not have written anything new lately…I will hopefully soon.

 

(Insert smiley-face emoticon here.)

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“I can find redemption in ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ ” my friend told me…and I believe him

Last Thursday night I slept for two hours, because I had seen a 10:45 p.m. showing of “The Wrestler” with a friend, came home and was going to write a few words just to get them off my chest, and those few words turned into 1008 words (I just counted).  I went to bed at 2:00 instead of 12:45 a.m. and then, at 4:00 a.m., I awoke, not to return to sleep again until my alarm went off at 6:00.  Somewhere in that two-hour span, I figured out how “The Wrestler” transformed in my mind from one of the bleakest movies I had ever seen to containing some redemptive elements.  I won’t say that it is “very” redemptive.  It is not.  But I found redemption amidst green neon tights and steroids.  [Movie spoiler alert:  If you plan to see “The Wrestler,” be advised that the plotline and ending are discussed below.]

 

011209-at-takI had written on and on, about 1001 words or so to be exact, about how Mickey Rourke’s character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler past his glory days, chose death in the final scene of the movie.  I had written how he had been spurned by his estranged daughter, after briefly reuniting, and spurned likewise by his love-interest Marisa Tomei (a stripper stage-named “Cassidy” whose real name is Pam) and decides that his fate is in the hands of the crowds who fill VFW halls and high school gymnasiums to see him.  He is always a crowd favorite and has universal respect among them and his peers in this bizarre entertainment world.

 

My computer keys were humming along and describing the utter bleakness that my friend and I felt, and I had been pondering the comment by my friend, “Was this a missed opportunity?  Am I getting too conventional, or am I always looking for something redemptive in a film?”  (Or words to that effect…it had been a long day for me.)  I had written these 1001 words all to say that the two people driving the plot – the protagonist and the writer – had chosen death.  Randy the Ram chose his death by going into the ring for a rematch against his nemesis of twenty years earlier despite having nearly died from a heart attack and bypass surgery.  And the writer chose to have him die.  No redemption there, as far as I could see.  The absolute bleakness of the ending blinded me.  The last sentence I wrote before signing off and going to bed, was:

 

And the writer let Randy do that.

 

The “that” being Randy’s choice to do the match and especially performing the “Ram Jam” off the top rope, a dive he is known for that he does in slow motion, when the screen goes to black.

 

At 4:00, I had an epiphany.

 

The writer let Randy do that.

 

I had often heard writers, writing teachers, and critics discuss how a fiction writer needs to let their characters have a certain amount of autonomy.  In fact, Anne Lamott writes about how she doesn’t always know where her character is going to take the plot.  And so, in realizing that Robert D. Siegel as screenwriter had let Randy the Ram do the Ram Jam, that Siegel had let him get so consumed by his grief over the shunning by his daughter and the temporary spurning by Pam, that he pushed himself effectively to his own death, I realized that Siegel was playing God.  And it was beautiful.  Then I started to see the redemption.

 

God lets the characters in the meta-narrative of human history – Adam, Eve, King David, Jonah, Judas…Lucifer/Satan – choose what path they want to walk.  Even Jesus, God’s son, had to choose at Gethsemane what path he would walk.  Siegel let Randy choose.  So I saw redemption in that truth alone.

 

That started cracking open the interior of the movie.

 

About two-thirds of the way through, Randy is in a particularly gnarly wrestling match with a scrawny guy who likes “the hard-core stuff” in the ring.  So after Randy gets egged on by the crowd to strike his opponent with an audience member’s prosthetic leg – “USE HIS LEG!!!  USE HIS LEG!!!” they chant in unison – he goes back into the ring to get staple-gunned by his opponent on the chest and back, carried up a ladder only to fall off into razor wire, and generally turn the ring into a place of slaughter.

 

In the locker room, after the staples have been removed, a two-inch gash in his right side sewn up, he is alone.  Randy stumbles toward the lockers, his back covered in holes, his long hair sweat-drenched.  He is still a mess.  He pukes, and falls, and the screen goes black.

 

You realize, looking back, after you allow for Siegel to play a divine role as screenwriter, that Randy had been crucified in that ring.  The razor wire was the 40 lashes, the staples were the nails that pierced him, the walk up the ladder was the road to Golgotha.  He even had the spear-like gash in the side.  Just before that scene, in the strip club, “Cassidy” had asked Randy if he had seen “The Passion of the Christ” and remarked how “they threw everything at him.”  She quotes Scripture – remarkably well – and then jokes that Randy is “the sacrificial Ram.”

 

When Randy the Ram wakes up in the hospital room after collapsing in the locker room, you realize he has been reborn, or resurrected.  He learns he cannot wrestle anymore because of his heart, so he quits the sport and gets a job in the deli section of a supermarket as “Robin” (his real name, which he hates).  He reestablishes a relationship temporarily with his daughter and tries to start one with Pam.  What has happened is that Randy the Ram– the “sacrificial Ram” – has saved Robin through his ring-crucifixion, and now Robin (though he still goes by Randy) tries to live out a normal life.  His daughter ultimately rejects him because he misses an important commitment to her.  Pam at first warms to him and then rejects him, yet later she walks off the stage during a performance and drives to the venue where Randy is doing what might be his last performance.  She pleads with him backstage to not do the match; his heart can’t handle it.  She pledges that she is in his life now.  He rejects her and goes into the ring, now sacrificing himself for the adulation of the crowd.

 

So what happened to the redemption?  My opinion is that Robin turns out to be a Judas figure – betraying a Christ figure of sorts, yes, but more than that, killing himself in his grief over loss and sin.  In the biblical account, Peter also betrayed Jesus, but he repented, so in his sorrow, he was restored.  Judas went and hanged himself, so in his sorrow he was lost.  Robin turns back into Randy, wraps himself once again in his self-absorption, his solipsism, and therefore is lost at the end.

 

But Pam is saved.  She comes out from her old life, so far as we know, for the director’s choice of lighting effect on her face in her final performance shows her utterly disgusted with herself and the conditions around her, when earlier she was portrayed in a luxuriant and ideal glow.  Randy, as Robin, had made overtures of commitment to her, and his sincere affection pulled her out of her destructive lifestyle.  If it had not been for Randy’s “crucifixion,” Pam would not have been reached out to by the resurrected Robin.  By his wounds, she was healed.

 

I realize that the role-analogies break down at certain points, but this much is true:  Randy’s “death” in the ring saved Pam.  And Siegel’s writing allowed it all to happen.

 

 

photo:  @tak

Being a man of few words

Though I worked until nearly midnight last night and was dog tired, having got three hours of sleep the night before, I tossed for most of my six hours in the sack, trying not to wake my wife and thinking about that blasted NPR story on the “six-word memoir” that one of my Facebook friends posted.

 

I had clicked unwittingly on the link yesterday morning and, like a Koobface virus, the item quickly took hold of my greying brain coils and replicated itself within my consciousness, so that between about 3:00 and 5:50 this morning I could think only of that and whether my 45-year-old prostate was squeezing my bladder enough to warrant a trip out from the warm covers and over to the bathroom.  The allure to a writer – of the memoir thingy, not the bladder deal – is how to capture a life in so few words.  Legend has it Hemingway was asked to write a complete story in six words.  He penned, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  The challenge in this case, the article said, is to write a memoir, not a fortune cookie.

 

The first words that came to me, and actually it was earlier in the day, sometime 01072009ames2880yesterday afternoon after the NPR piece had ruminated around a bit, were:

 

Twice born, twice adopted, praise Jesus.

 

Oh, please say not so.  Do I get a white sweatshirt with pastel kittens along with my book purchase, ma’am?

 

Sometime in the single digit hours last night, though, a more objective string of past participles reared its Medusa-like head:

 

Conceived.  Unwanted.  Adopted.  Rebelled.  Found.  Restored.

 

Around the time of this revelation, which had temporarily made me forget my prostate, I also found myself trying to work out for the umpteenth time how I was abandoned by my birth mother – well, it really wasn’t abandonment, it was really more an act of love and selflessness –  then adopted into a loving home and how I have considered since I was 23 whether to search for The Woman Who Bore Me,…yada yada yada…and, oh, is it really 3:45 a.m.?!  Besides, this title was too disjointed, too many periods, not enough commas or semi-colons and altogether too much like a John Philip Sousa song, a schizophrenically oppressive-cheerful triumphal march with monotonous meter that made me feel like I was parading straight down the length of my bed toward the foot-board to get on my knees and ask God for forgiveness for writing such a horrid account of my life.

 

Something that flows.  Something that flows.  That’s what I need, I thought.

 

How about:  In the blink of an eye.  OK.  Good cadence and nice variation of the parts of a sentence:  some nouns, articles, and prepositions, and it’s not all muscular verbs carrying tubas down Main Street.  But it sounds too much like a James Bond film, and Daniel Craig’s body is way too ripped for him to play me in the story of my life.

 

As a writer, when you have an idea, you tend to mull it over like it’s a cantaloupe melon you’re deciding on at the store.  You inspect and sniff and prod and push and then look at the other melons.  You imagine the other shoppers see you evaluating and try to look knowledgeable.  Then you think that maybe you want a carton of strawberries.  But no:  strawberries, you decide, are way too conventional.  Maybe prickly pears.  This is New York, after all, and you can try exotic things.  No: too pretentious, and you’ve never even tried prickly pears, nor would you know how to eat one.  Maybe it’s not even fruit you want, but rather salami.  You decide that it’s not a heart-healthy posture you are desiring while most others are participating in that over-rated activity called REM sleep while you figure out your destiny and epitaph but rather one that embraces the earthiness and sweat and life-is-too-short and beauty-behind-the-dumpster-poetry of William Carlos Williams and then maybe you might buy a pack of cigarettes even though you don’t smoke but it’s what writers do…  This kind of insane process goes on for you if you are a writer like me who, at somewhere around 4:30 in the morning, is still trying to decide how to chronicle his life story without being preachy or trying to impress.  Meanwhile, the other shoppers around you are filling their baskets without a thought of being watched.  Rather, they are hungry, or their families are, and this is a chore to check off the list.  They do it and are finished.  And then they go REM.

 

So you say it straight out, just like this:

 

I lived the adventure He wrote.

 

Ah.

 

That’s more like it.  So…epic.  But, alas, too earnest.  I know I’ll read this post tomorrow and kick myself for being like a schoolboy trying to get an “A” in English.

 

Frankly, after perhaps another half century of trying to figure this one out in the wee hours, my six-word memoir will probably consist of an offhand statement to a home health aide at my bedside as I die.  This aide will be a busty Jamaican woman with a contagious laugh, and she reads her Bible next to my bed, as one did next to my mother as her brained swelled from the cancer, which took her only ten weeks after she started having problems saying nouns.  Karen will be gone by then, because frankly she doesn’t sweat so much about life and death and can be plucked from the tree a whole lot easier than a guy like me who needs so much more Divine maintenance.  My sons will visit often with their wives and children and will be wonderful and supportive, but at this one moment, when I am alone with the Jamaican woman, she will be reading from 2 Samuel, and as I am prone to do, I ask her to read aloud.  She tells me about the wise woman who confronted King David about his tense relationship with his son Absalom, one of my favorite sections, and then she quotes, “But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.”

 

I smile, an act which I learned fifty years earlier takes fewer facial muscles than frowning, and I will say in a scratchy voice to her:

 

What was it keeping me awake?

 

 

 

photo:  Ames2880

Starting the year

Generosity is giving that which is most valuable.  This holds true no matter what one’s worldview is.  If giving away that value doesn’t affect the way we live, then it is not generosity.  Yet through true generosity, authentic life change is possible, both in the giver and in the recipient.

 

generosityIn the Christian tradition, God establishes the pattern of human generosity with the consecration of the firstborn male among the Israelites (Cf. Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches).  God says to Moses in Exodus 13:1, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.  The first of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”  Any mother or father knows that one’s firstborn child not only changes the parents’ lives but also places a unique identity and expectation on that child.  Having been adopted as an infant, I recall the birth of my first son indelibly.  It was the moment I first met a blood relative and the time when I had a legacy growing before my eyes.  When we are asked to give this child to the Lord for whatever purpose the Lord deems appropriate – whether to serve as a missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador in the 1950s, or to lead a civil rights movement in the 1960s in America, or to bring him to a mountain in Moriah only to return alone as Abraham was commanded – is a daunting challenge.  We also see the unwise consecration of firstborn children in the cases of Jephthah the Gileadite in Judges 11 and the king of Moab in 2 Kings 3.  In each case, one a believer and one a foe of Israel, the man used his firstborn as a bargaining chip to ask God for military victory.  In Exodus 13, God asks us to give over to him what is first and most valuable to be used for his purpose, not for our own purposes.

 

This exhortation – God’s requirement of consecrating the firstborn – and the examples of submission to or proper use of it (see Hannah and her son Samuel in 1 Samuel 1-2) point back to a Father who consecrated and gave his one and only Son to pay for our sins.  God was not unwilling to do what he did not require us to do.  To be certain, when we give what is most valuable – whether our own freedom or life, or that of our child – the result might be painful.  But God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – knew full well what would be the result and did it nonetheless.  For our sakes.

 

The impact on our side of the equation – that of the recipient – is of a restored relationship with God for those who would accept it and a promise of eternal life with him.  It is also a world that is being renewed through God’s Spirit.

 

But who can imagine the impact of this act of generosity on the side of the Triune God?  Who can begin to comprehend not only the loss of intimacy that Jesus Christ experienced when the Father brought his wrath upon him on the cross but also the grief of the Father and Holy Spirit at the death of the Son and his burial for three days?  The Trinity had perfect communion for all time preceding that moment at Golgotha.  Then God experienced such unimaginable pain and suffering – the breaking of his body and pouring out of his blood; the disintegration of God’s wholeness on the cross – that all we can do is to praise him for all eternity.

 

The beginning of this praise takes place here, on earth, in the daily act of generosity toward God and our neighbor.