When I began this blog, I subtitled it “Random Musings on Life, Literature, Film, and the Matchless Love of God.” A while later I was reading some column on how to have a successful blog, and one of the cardinal rules was to focus it only on one thing. I considered starting over and picking just one of the areas mentioned above, but I decided not to, and I’m glad I did. One of the things I love best about what I get to do for a living is that I don’t have to focus narrowly on just one subject. People sometimes joke that English majors are folks who don’t know what else to do with themselves, and that may be true, but I like to think about the opposing truth, which is that folks who are drawn to literature–or the arts in general–can’t NOT see the interconnectedness of all things.
This particular semester, I get to teach a survey of early English literature (just finished Beowulf), a course in Modern Poetry, and a course titled Film as Literature. In the film course, we just finished watching and discussing The 400 Blows, by Francois Truffaut, which is about a 13-yr-old boy–Antoine Doinel– who rebels against all the institutions that have failed him–formal education, the social order, his own family–and who must then decide what his next step in life will be. The closing scene shows him running on a beach to escape his past life, then turning to the camera, his face frozen in an expression of “what now?”
In my poetry course, we have been reading Robert Frost, who most people think of as that folksy New England poet of apple picking and Birch swinging. But I love his poems that go beneath that veneer and reveal the darker questioning that all of us have gone through at one time or another:
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast In a field I looked into going past, And the ground almost covered smooth in snow, But a few weeds and stubble showing last. The woods around it have it--it is theirs. All animals are smothered in their lairs. I am too absent-spirited to count; The loneliness includes me unawares. And lonely as it is that loneliness Will be more lonely ere it will be less-- A blanker whiteness of benighted snow With no expression, nothing to express. They cannot scare me with their empty spaces Between stars--on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places. (Desert Places, 1936)
So then tonight I got to spend three hours with some of my favorite people on the planet, men and women who choose to spend their Friday nights at The Mat seeking healing and recovery for their own “desert places.” This particular evening I was privileged to sit around a table with five other men who, twelve weeks ago, decided to take Jesus up on a dare to believe he could bring hope and restoration into situations that seemed full of hopelessness and despair. They were in many ways like Antoine, knowing that what lay behind them hadn’t worked but not sure that the future held anything different from their past experience.
I got to watch them as, week by week, they were faithful in the small things–like doing their homework, being painfully honest about how they were doing, and, most importantly, believing there was something unquantifiably different about doing this with other people instead of in isolation from them. This all culminated in a great conversation where we actually got to tell each other the specific ways in which we had experienced real change in our own lives, and we had the even greater gift of being able to tell each other how we’ve observed God working in each other. It’s one thing to say to yourself, “I think I’m different.” It’s another thing entirely to have five other people say, “you are so different from where you started.”
So, while slaying dragons or monsters single-handedly seems wonderfully heroic, and running alone along a beach of limitless horizon seems liberating, and feeling the weight of one’s existence in a night field of freshly fallen snow seems poignant, none of them compares with the wonderful messiness of doing life together with people who are experiencing redemption one day at a time.