observations and opinion
The thing you know inside is true
For those who take literally the Christian New Testament, this day – Easter – is the anniversary of the day when Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. As they say, “He has risen.”
For those who question the literal truth of that account – and many Christians do – there is no doubting the power of the resurrection story. For those of us who have not known literal death, but whose time on this earth has, at times, stopped still or become a grinding place of pain, the promise of a new life is irresistible.
And it is no coincidence that the Resurrection occurs at the moment, in the cycle of earthly life, when the northern half of the world begins to break out of winter. Buds push open upon the trees. Lonely shoots reach out from the grave to grab the sun. The ice melts, we stroll a little slower, we stop and talk. Spring has, as they say, sprung.
The concept of the resurrection is at the centre of western life and thought, far beyond the precincts of a particular faith. Whether a Christian is “born again”, or any woman leaves her angry husband and takes the kids to a shelter, or a bankrupt starts over, the revolutionary seed inside the culture is this: you are not trapped. You can break out of the shell. You can start over.
The resurrection story is everywhere.
Last night we looked through a big glowing window – a movie screen – at a skewed but moving picture of life under the burqa, wrapped in the turban – as “un-free” and unpromising a place as one can imagine: Afghanistan, as depicted in a comic film called “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” The resurrection depicted there is not, sadly, that of anyone native to that rocky land, but rather an American woman, a reporter who throws off the dull safety of her job and stationary bike for a long, boozy, foolhardy sojourn through the war in Afghanistan. She goes there of course, to “start over.” By time time she has finished there, she is ready again, to start over.
The film has earned indifferent reviews, most likely because it refuses to fall into any of the neat categories people hold their expectations in. It’s a Tina Fey movie all the way, except she’s very rarely funny – she’s the straight man. It’s a comedy, but the oppressive dust and weirdness of the Afghan life gets in your mouth and teeth, so it’s hard to laugh sometimes. There is typical Hollywood nonsense (Marines to the rescue) but tinged with enough darkness and unease to unsettle, a little. The movie is just a little too smart to be popular.
The cure for that, of course, is time. Ask Bill Murray, the droll Tina Fey of his time, who made a peculiar “starting over” comedy in 1990 that was a success, but not a big success. Only as the years rolled by, did the movie accrue enough attention that it’s every little filigree became a treasure. A quarter century later it is hard to name a 1990s film as smart, as moving – or as wittily sad – as Ivan Reitman’s “Groundhog Day.” And if you are one person alive over the age of ten who doesn’t know the plot of Groundhog Day (hello there, you must be in Afghanistan!) well, it’s easy to sum up.
You can start over. It’s a resurrection story.
That, I think, is the one article of faith all of the western world (and much of the rest of it) clings to, white knuckled on the brink of the terrible cliff. You can start over.
If you contemplate the people you admire, what you will see – most of the time – is an unwillingness to surrender to the moment, a refusal to believe that the story has come to an end. Winston Churchill was a 60 year old political failure in the 1930s, but as he said, “success is moving from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” How many famous and not so famous individuals can you name (including yourself) who faced a moment when by all objective tests and evidence, their situations were hopeless? Their situations were hopeless, but THEY (you) were not. There’s a reason you can think of them.
You can start over. This “core value” animates not only our personal lives, but very often our politics. That was the flame that lit the fire of “Yes We Can” in Obama’s 2008 campaign and, very much, triggered the oppressive avalanche of right wing opposition meant to bury it. We’ve had more than a taste of this in Canada too, where the new Trudeau government pumps sunshine at us. Sure, we will sour of it in time, but right now, we really are starting over.
Today in America it’s Bernie Sanders, his grouchy grandpa patch of white hair and hectoring hands, railing at the unfairness he sees in society. That little bird which landed on Bernie’s podium the other day – quickly a thrilling symbol, the “Double Rainbow” moment of the 2016 campaign – rose up into the heavens like the saviour Himself.
The resurrection story gives life to faint hope, in our hearts and in our minds. And although today is the moment when the world recognizes Christ’s second chance, Spring is not confined to what used to be the Christian world. Springtime pops up all over.
Walk back in time to the Arab Spring, that joyous flowering of liberal spirit now five years past. Yes, the forces of human winter have done their best to crush it, and yes, the Spring gave way to a terrible season of war and misery for many. Even today, on an Easter Sunday when forty innocents have perished at the hands of Jihadist maniacs in Pakistan, we have to hold on to hope for those blighted and oppressed people. The liberation of the Arab / Muslim world may be as long and painful as the crumbling of the Middle Ages (I doubt it), but who really doubts it will come?
As true and hard as winter can be, as cruel as mankind can be to itself, who can doubt that there will come a Spring? As stuck as you may feel – a girl stuck in high school, a dad toiling at two low paying jobs, a mom shuffling guiltily into a food bank, a lonely drinker making too many trips to the liquor store – as stuck as you may feel, there is within you the seed of hope, that flickering potential for resurrection. The thing you know inside is true.
You’re not dead yet, friend. You can start over.