Bewildered, but Not Broken
The genre is called “magical realism,” and at certain moments in my life, it has seemed more realistic than reality.
I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, as one does, in college. The novel chronicles seven generations of a family. Some of the events in the book actually happened, but the family’s story veers in and out of what we might call rational. Most memorable to me was a subplot about a village where everyone is losing their memories. They begin a practice of labeling household items so they can retrieve what to call them later on.
The story of everyone forgetting everything, and trying to figure out a way back to collective memory, has been much on my mind this Holy Week. After two years of disrupted traditions, there are certain dimensions of the season I’ve found I’ve forgotten. Granted, I moved from one city to another and co-founded a new expression of our institution’s mission only three years before the pandemic began. In other words, our “traditions” were young, and then they were utterly disrupted. For them not to feel so routine is to be expected.
But my forgetting feels deeper than simply having to refer to old checklists to figure out what “we do” on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday in these parts. I’d compare it to the staggering number of names I’ve forgotten since coming out of social isolation. I came to rely heavily on Zoom name banners during online teaching and worship. Now, I occasionally look at or think of a person I know relatively well and… nothing.
Compound the loss of routine with the new things we have had to learn, which surely supplanted important information. I know more now about public health than I ever could have expected, and I understand technology and its utility in new ways. Covid-19 itself is an education, and now its variants have variants, so the confusion continues. Have you noticed how we have stopped using the expression, “new normal”? Why? Because we have given up on the idea of normalcy ever stabilizing again.
In an article entitled “Two tough questions at the coffee shop: Why are you still in the church? Why bother with Christianity at all?” (The Christian Century, 2/23/22) Sam Wells writes about how he responds when people ask him how he manages not to leave the frustrating, crazy-making faith that is Christianity and job that is ministry. After some less than satisfying rejoinders, he settled on, “Because the alternatives are too terrible to contemplate.”
Life is bewildering. The liturgical year provides us with a structure on which to hang our shared memories, remembering ourselves and each other. It doesn’t matter that not everyone in our community works from the same structure. That I am observing Holy Week — in my mind if not in my activities — as Passover and Ramadan also unfold makes my observance feel more, not less, meaningful.
100 Years of Solitude made complete sense to me as a college student, becoming exposed to the world of ideas and the seamy underbelly of adulthood. When it was read to me in nursery school, Yertle the Turtle was as easy to believe as a political theory; it actually still works for me now. The way the world “works” is almost impossible to believe, because so often it doesn’t work at all. Younger people make sense of it through magic, and I need to find some magic again. Our human condition is such that those with the privilege of time to reflect need to try to make sense of it.
Jesus entered the city to lauds, and then the story turned abruptly toward violence, then lament, then emptiness. Joy and wonder finished out the roller-coaster ride, a compressed depiction of the ups and downs of life itself. Who can live without that story? Reassuring them know that joy will come in the morning for us all, but not easily, and not without trials?
Well, plenty of people; but not this person.