But then, after saying all that, it also occurs to me to say that we do all end up dead. No matter our choices for good or ill. No matter whether we had a jolly good time or a jolly rotten time. No matter whether we married and had children and were happy. Or whether we were murderers and were chronically angry and depressed.
We could have been loving and forgiving all of our lives and been blown to bits in a spectacular highway crash or drowned in a tsunami or killed by starvation in a dusty, barren, and indifferent wasteland of a world.
Depending on the activity or inactivity of others and of nature itself, we could lead utterly trusting and loving and forgiving lives and be rewarded, in part, by suffering—by terrible suffering—and early destruction here on earth.
And so if that can occur—and let me assure you that it does all the time—you have every right to wonder what I could possibly be talking about. Comedy? you might ask. Comedy? You call the people who perished in South Africa leading up to the ending of apartheid characters in a comedy? You call the Holocaust a comedy? You call Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Hitler a bunch of comedians? A bunch of characters in a comedy?
You’ve got to be kidding, you are thinking. You have got to be out of your mind.
You call Jesus’s story a comedy? A story in which he dies a terrible death at a young age. A brutal and lonely death. This is comedy?
And so this is what I mean about Laurel and Hardy, for example. Comedy in the sense that I am using the word may include Laurel and Hardy, but it also definitely does include Hitler and Stalin and all the rest. It does entail an iffy plot and a lot of characters that do not come out to entertain us so much. Rather, many of them come out to torment us and destroy us, as it turns out.
So when I assert that life and the world has within it a comedic structure. Or the possibility of a comedic structure. When I say that life lived in a certain way is comedic. Is a comedy. What I don’t mean is that it is a laugh a minute. What I do certainly mean is that beneath all the suffering and evil is something that is more real. More essential. More actual. Than all the suffering and evil that conceals it.
What I do mean is that liveliness and loveliness and hopefulness and forgiveness overpower and overwhelm what endeavors to destroy these qualities, when exercised. When lived. When given human expression. When insisted upon. When embodied. When enspirited. When allowed expression by one’s spirit. When lived out by anyone, even by people who are facing death. Whose bodies are failing and passing away.
There is something thrilling about a person who in the face of death and suffering will choose to love, to forgive, to affirm, to encourage, and not to despair. Something noble. Something that seems beautiful. That makes one weak in the knees, it is so beautiful.
It is this underlying beauty that I am talking about here. And this beauty, which I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog, and our mysterious, mystical response to it, which tells us we’re on to something. Tells us we really do have something here. Independent of the evidence and logic and beauty and rightness of the Resurrection, which I’ll get to later.
Oh, I don’t know. Have you ever seen the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? How about Schindler’s List? One is largely fictional. The other is largely factual. But don’t these stories get at something that we want to believe? Aren’t we drawn to the possibility that we can personally make a difference? That we can change the world?
Isn’t changing the world in our blood somehow? Isn’t wanting to bring a contribution that makes a difference deep down in us somewhere? Isn’t there an intuition that changing the world is what we are put here to do?
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a Wonderful Life is schmaltzy and old-fashioned and kind of silly and not really what the real world looks like. And you’re thinking that Schindler’s List is an extraordinary example. That real people don’t have the opportunity that Schindler did to make a difference.
But of course these are merely rationalizations for living a comfortable life. A selfish life. A greedy life. For preferring comfort over heroism. Over beauty. Over sacrifice. For preferring safety over risk.
We can all make a difference, if we choose to. We can make a difference to one another. To our families and friends and co-workers. We can make a difference in the suffering and pain of others. I see it all the time. I see better people than I am do this all the time.
But seeing it does require opening one eyes. It does require one to look for this sort of thing. To expect it. To expect God to give us help right here and now to live this way. To live beautifully. To live lovingly. To live forgivingly. To give up the comfort and righteousness of one’s anger. To give up the comfort and righteousness of a materialistic and money-oriented life. To give up acquisitiveness. To give up the idea that one’s significance has anything at all to do with money and acquisitions.
In the divine comedy that I’m talking about, we all. Without understanding it. Against our better judgment. Against our American instinct for economic accomplishment. Could very well find ourselves like George Bailey. Frustrated and wanting and vulnerable. Just scraping by. Wet-faced with tears of joy and humiliation. Dependent. Completely contingent. A few paychecks away from homelessness. Grinding out ordinary lives that occasionally seem schmaltzy and contrived and flawed by impatience and anger. But also tilting the world, however minutely, in the direction of the sun.