Lessons Learned From the Bike: Time, Practice and Potholes

I was finishing a ride on the Highline Canal Trail. I was riding on the sidewalk on the highway overpass, because there is no room to ride safely in the street. I saw a pedestrian coming toward me, and, rather than stopping, I hugged the right side of the sidewalk, allowing the pedestrian to keep to her right.

What I didn’t see was the manhole cover with a huge pothole. I hit it going full speed (granted, my full speed is only about 13 mph). It jolted every bolt and joint on both my body and my bike. It unseated me and my feet flew off the pedals (I don’t clip in). Within seconds, my feet found their placing, I regained my seat, and Blue2 and I rode merrily on.

I haven’t been riding long, but I realized that a couple of years ago, this would have been a very painful accident. I would not just have been unseated, I would have crashed miserably, either going over the handlebars or not being able to regain balance.

Life is like that. I have learned that sometimes you can’t assume that what looks like a leaf is actually a leaf. Sometimes it’s a rock. Sometimes the puddle is deeper than you think. And you never see beforehand the nail that lodges in your tire.

But with enough time, with enough practice, huge potholes don’t have to end in a crash. Nothing but time and practice will give you the skill and balance you need to keep seated and keep moving on.

Put in the time. Don’t let the potholes make you crash. No matter what it is in your life. Writing. Music. Family. Friends. God. Put in the time. Keep moving on.

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Makin’ It Strong: He Said/She Said

Makin’ It Strong: He Said/She Said

As an editor, I’ve seen some bad writing, some good writing, some great writing. I’ve seen a few grammar mistakes that mar otherwise good manuscripts, and I’ve seen writing made weaker by taking the easy way out. I will be addressing some of these “easy” writing tricks that sap the strength out of your writing.


original-758275-1We’ve all been there. You’re engrossed in a book, come across a passage with a great deal of dialogue and suddenly you can’t figure out who’s talking. You maybe go up to the last time you saw, “he said,” and then work your way back down. Nothing takes you out of the story faster.

As writers, we want our readers to lose themselves in the story, not the dialogue.

Some writers avoid this trap by using the he said/she said attribution, known as a dialogue tag, every single time. That gets tiresome for the reader as well as the writer. So some writers fall into the seductive trap of either adding adverbs (he said warily, she said sarcastically) or using a substitute word called a “said-bookism.” These can be subtle (he explained, she replied) or a glaring distraction (he chuckled, she peeped). Why is it a distraction? Try it right now. Say something while chuckling or peeping at the same time. It’s not natural. It’s not how real people talk. And if you try that in real life, people will start avoiding you.

The beauty of the word “said” is that it provides a signpost so people don’t get lost, but it blends seamlessly into the background of the story. It’s a word we don’t pay attention to; our eyes skim over it, subconsciously noting the signpost but staying within the world of the story. Isn’t that what we as writers want for our readers?

That doesn’t mean the writer should never use an adverb tag. A well-placed adverb is like a pinch of salt. Too much ruins the dish. But the right amount adds flavor and makes the dish memorable. At times, a subtle said-bookism may be a better choice than an adverb, e.g., she whispered vs. she said softly. Remember, as a writer, you want your readers to come away remembering your story, your characters, your dialogue—in other words, the heart of your book—rather than someone chuckling, peeping, exclaiming, shrieking, growling, hissing and chortling.

Said-bookisms and adverb tags are unnecessary to strong writing. A reader should not have to be told that a biting remark is sarcastic. And in fact, why are we “telling” at all? Show don’t tell. If the reader can’t tell from the situation, then you haven’t done your job as a writer. As Rob Hart with LitReactor wrote, “Dialogue tags are a crutch. They’re a distraction from what you should really be doing: Conveying things through actions, word choice and mannerisms” (https://litreactor.com/columns/on-dialogue-tags-why-anything-besides-said-and-asked-is-lazy-writing — read the article; you’ll enjoy it).

By the way, not everyone agrees with this. There is an entire movement called “Said Is Dead,” which offers scores of words to use instead of the dreaded said. We’ve all done it at times. It seems more literary. But to paraphrase William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, keep it simple, stupid.

So what do you need to do? Read over your current piece of writing. Read it out loud. Read it the way you wrote it, with every bellow, chuckle, and growl added in. Does it sound like dialogue sounds in real life? Probably not. Take out the adverbs and said-bookisms. Use he said/she said as signposts in longer pieces of dialogue. How does it read now? Does it sound more natural? If you find places where you feel you have to have an adverb, consider rewriting the dialogue or the narrative beats surrounding the dialogue to show rather than tell.

Revise your writing. Make it strong.

Motivation

Your Only Limit Is YouI admit it. I like reading motivational quotes. “Be so good they can’t ignore you” — Steve Martin. “To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will” — Sugar Ray Robinson. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Not only do I like reading them, I believe them. “Nothing worth having comes easy.” “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” “Your only limit is you.” Yeah, especially that one.

Before I talk about that limit, though, let me say what I am NOT talking about. I am NOT talking about my bike riding. Although, certainly, all these quotes apply to that as well. “Stay positive, work hard, and make it happen.” Yeah, that one. I can apply that to bike riding, to my big goals for this year.

But I’m talking about bike riding only peripherally. This post is about writing. What, you didn’t know I was a writer? Probably because I don’t talk about it nearly as much as I talk about my bike. I don’t post on Facebook about my daily word count, but I do post my daily miles.

The truth is, it’s not hard for me to get the motivation to ride my bike. I just do it. I don’t drag my butt out of bed and think, “I hate this, but I need to do it, so just get on the bike and then it will be over.” No. The alarm goes off, and in 10 to 15 glorious minutes, I am on the road, breathing in the fresh air, my eyes filling with the beauty of the morning sunlight filtering through the leaves and creating fantastic patterns on the road in front of me. And the thing I hate on those mornings? The knowledge that I can’t ride to my heart’s content, that my ride is limited by my need for a paycheck.

So why is writing not the same?

I want to say that it’s because writing is hard work. But so is riding a bike. Especially uphill. And yet, I insist on conquering those hills.

I want to say that it’s because I don’t enjoy it. And yet, I do. I enjoy the stories and characters I create. I enjoy playing with words and deciding which word or phrase fits best. I enjoy creating a sticky situation and then writing my way out. I enjoy the resolution.

So why is writing not the same?

Honestly? I don’t know.

A friend of mine said my two problems are distraction and frustration. Distraction leads to frustration, and the frustration with myself for not writing, not creating, not getting off my butt, leads to depression. I can get sucked down that black hole pretty quickly.

My distractions are sometimes trivial. “I’ll play a game first, then I’ll write.” Sometimes they’re more important. A friend who texts, “I need to talk.” But the point is, whether trivial or important, they don’t stop me from bike riding. I make time for bike riding. I plan it. I schedule when I can go. I look at the weather and pick the optimal time. It’s just not a question of whether I’ll go or not. (Yes, I do take rest days.)

The answer is the same for writing. Make time for it. Schedule it. Pick the optimal time. Make it where it’s not a question of whether I’ll write or not. Because I deserve that. The great thing is that bike riding creates a wonderful time to think about my writing, to plan the next section, to work through that sticky situation I put my main character in. (Oh, and depression? It can’t stand up against a good bike ride.)

So just do it. You always have time for the things you put first. Do something today that your future self will thank you for. Don’t stop until you’re proud.

 

Writing and Grief

My mother’s death has left me with … nothing. Maybe I should just say that it has left me. At times I feel in a fog. At times I forget. At times I remember and grief wrings at my heart the way my mother used to wring out wet clothes. It’s been three weeks. And there’s a nagging feeling that I should get back to life.

In some ways I have. I’ve been biking. I’ve been working. I’ve been going to church, going to dinner, going out with friends. In some of that, there is forgetfulness. On the bike, I can lose everything else and just focus on the sky, the trees, the sunlight, the feeling of the saddle, the peddles, the wind. At work, I can focus on the tasks that need to be done–although some of the bigger tasks feel beyond me at the moment.

Being with friends or family means grief can’t be overwhelming. I want to be with them, I want to TALK, I want to cry and scream and yell “MY MOM IS DEAD.” Instead, we talk of normal life, sometimes of inconsequentials. My words get clogged in my throat, unable to get past the tears traffic-jammed there. I want to cry out to them “help me in my unbelief.” Tell me that she still lives in the afterlife. Tell me that this isn’t the end. Tell me that I will see her again, that she right now is with my dad.

I want to be held while I cry, I want someone to say, “Shhh, everything is alright.”

In other words, I want my mom.

I should get back to life. So not just bike riding or working. I should get back to writing. Just a few words, I tell myself. She wouldn’t want me to stop writing. And yet, it feels so unimportant. Who the hell cares about a rescue operation run out of a bakery? Or a sin-eater named Moth? Or any of the other stories I’ve started and can’t finish. Words on a page don’t seem to mean anything compared to the ashes that rest beside me. They aren’t as solid as a graven headstone.

And yet words were important to her. She loved reading. Some of my earliest memories of her were in a library picking out books to read. She passed that love of reading on to me, and I was so excited when I got old enough to pick books out of the same section of the library that my mom frequented. She loved fiction, mainly mysteries, thrillers, horror, and she shaped a lot of my early reading years. To this day, I can remember the characters of those early books.

So again I ask the question of myself–who the hell cares? Are these things unimportant. No. They connect us to each other, and in some mystical, spiritual way, maybe my words will still connect me to my mom.

I should get back to life. Back to my life. Back to writing. Back to Moth. Back to the Salvatore bakery. As unimportant as they seem sometimes, they are my life.

Even as I write that, another part of me says “tomorrow.” Because right now, it just hurts too much.

 

The Journey to Become Real: The Tale of The Fisher King

movie poster of The Fisher King

Author’s note: It is with great sadness that I heard the news today about the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Incredible comedian and superb actor, he will be missed. When I saw the movie The Fisher King, I was more than moved; I was transported. It has remained one of my favorite movies, and Williams’ portrayal of the deeply wounded Parry remains a moving portrayal of someone the world doesn’t understand and who battles demons every day that the world cannot see. I wrote this chapter some time ago for a book I was working on. I offer it now in tribute to his wonderful character. Peace, Mr. Williams, and God’s everlasting mercy. 

Throughout the history of philosophy and religion, one question perhaps more than any other has dominated discussion and debate. What does it mean to be human? The question has elicited numerous responses, and how you live your life may very well depend on your answer to the question. Plato believed that to be human meant to be trapped by the material world, the soul locked inside a physical body; the purpose of life, then, was to free the soul from the body through knowledge and eventually through death. Aristotle, taking a much more optimistic view of humanity, believed that the soul and the body are one composition. The highest attribute that separates humans from other animals is rationality, and so to be human is to be rational. Later philosophers believe that we are nothing more than the materials that make us up and that our “souls” or our consciousness are simply a result of our DNA, with all of our actions being determined by chemical responses.

A related question might be phrased “So what?” What does it all mean to anyone? Does any of it have meaning? If I am just a mass – no matter how complicated – of chemicals and their reactions, does it matter what I do to other masses of chemicals, or what they do to me?

The Fisher King, directed by Terry Gilliam, shouts the answer “Yes!” through almost every moment of this hard-to-categorize movie.

We are introduced to Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), a New York shock jock who is at the top of his trade. He rides in limos, his apartment is rich and modern, and he signs off his show by saying, “Thank God I’m me.” At one point, we are given an extreme close-up of Jack’s mouth; he is all mouth, offering little beyond the persona he projects into the microphone.

In his apartment, we see his reflection in mirrors and glass. If we recall that in the language of Hollywood, mirrors signify identity, we are clued in to the fact that the movie is about the struggle for identity. Jack talks about how he wanted to name his biography “Jack Lucas: The Face Behind the Voice.” He thinks he knows who he is, but the underlying current suggests he doesn’t.

Jack’s rich, privileged, and ultimately meaningless life falls apart when Edwin Melnick, one of his callers, misreads Jack’s shock-jock diatribe and takes a shotgun into an upscale yuppie restaurant and opens fire, killing six people before turning the gun on himself.

Three years later, Jack is jobless and living with his girlfriend, Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), who owns Video Spot. She basically takes care of him, as he has become somewhat of a recluse, afraid of human contact. He says at one point, “I hate desperate people,” and she replies, “You hate people.”

While Jack may hate people, the one he hates the most is himself. He tells Anne, “I feel like I’m a magnet, but I attract ****.” Overcome by grief, he decides one night to kill himself. He is saved by an unlikely source, a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who believes he is a knight called by God to perform good deeds, the greatest of which is to find the Holy Grail. More than a simple homeless man, though, Parry used to be a college professor until Edwin Melnick shot and killed his wife in the restaurant, thereby depriving Parry of not only a reason for living, but also of a reason to remain sane.

Jack’s guilt, always overwhelming and omnipresent, has seen a way out through his chance acquaintance with Parry. If he can just help Parry, if he can help him with money or help him get the girl of his dreams (every knight must have his queen), then maybe things will turn around for him as well. As surely as Parry’s quest is to find the Holy Grail, Jack’s quest becomes to find his own redemption.

As we saw with The Big Kahuna, things that happen very early in the movie can give a clue to what the movie is about. Three minutes into The Fisher King Jack is having a conversation with Edwin Melnick that will ultimately turn tragic. This lonely man, whose only contact with the world was through the radio, tells Jack that he thinks a woman may be interested in him. Jack argues with him; after all, who would be interested in this loser? Melnick assures him that this is the case. Jack replies, “And Pinocchio is a true story.”

Pinocchio is a recurring theme in The Fisher King, and it is not accidental. Chances are, what we remember best about Pinocchio, what is almost always referred to, is Pinocchio’s nose growing when he lies. We may also remember Pinocchio growing donkey’s ears, or his conversations with Jiminy Cricket in the movie version. The theme of the story, though, and what lends the recurring theme to The Fisher King is that Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy. Made of wood and controlled by string, Pinocchio believed that he would be loved when he was a real boy. And so we come to the question that opened this chapter. What does it mean to be human? What is, in the words of Pinocchio, a “real boy”?

Part of the answer comes in a conversation Jack has with the wooden puppet he is given one drunken night by a small boy who believes Jack is a bum. Jack sits and philosophizes with Pinocchio about Nietzsche, who believed that there are two kinds of people: those who are destined for greatness, like Walt Disney or Hitler, and the rest of us who are the “bungled and botched.” “We get teased and sometimes get close to greatness, but we never get there. We’re the expendable masses. We get pushed in front of trains and take poisoned aspirin, and get gunned down in front of Dairy Queens.”

Nietzsche’s use of the term “bungled and botched” was in Beyond Good and Evil, and although Jack misquotes him here (Nietzsche was referring to anti-Semites), the underlying current of power remains intact. Nietzsche believed that the bungled and botched as well as anyone weak should be annihilated. He was a man who had no tolerance for suffering, believing it to be a sign of weakness. Although he much admired Jesus, Nietzsche despised Christians and organized religion, because he believed that they encouraged people to become weak.

In response to weakness, Nietzsche put forth the idea of the ubermensch, the Super-man who represents the height of human development. In fact, he has progressed so far in human development that he is beyond the moral categories of good and evil. He asks, “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”[1] It is clear that Jack in the beginning of The Fisher King is the Super-man. He has it all in his glassed-in existence high above the grime of the streets. It’s telling that when he’s dancing around his apartment, full of satisfaction with his life, moments before he learns of the shooting at the restaurant, the song he is dancing to is “I’ve Got the Power.” If he were truly Nietzschean, however, when learning of the shooting, he wouldn’t feel guilty, much less let it destroy his life.

Nihilism of this sort, though, is difficult if not impossible to live out. As human beings, we search for meaning in suffering, for a higher purpose to our lives. If this is indeed the case, The Fisher King offers an alternative to, and perhaps an attack on, nihilism, on the will to power, and instead looks to love rather than power to make one a human being.

The Bible has a great deal to say about what it means to be human, about God’s divine grace, about the differences between love and power. Let’s take a look at these three points.

Being Human

First, what does it mean in the Bible to be human? There are a number of answers we can give to that, but throughout the Bible, which tells the story of human creation and God’s dealings with his creation, one thing is clear: human beings are fallen creatures in need of forgiveness and redemption.

Jack on some level knows that he needs forgiveness. After discussing the “bungled and botched,” and immediately before he tries to kill himself with Pinocchio strapped to his leg, Jack asks the question of Pinocchio that supports the theme of becoming (and being) human: “Do you ever get the feeling sometimes you’re being punished for your sins?” Having been the cause of a tragedy, Jack can’t forgive himself and can’t move forward. He tells Anne, “I really feel cursed. . . . I wish there was some way I could just pay the fine and go home.”

That’s a human response – we want to pay the fine ourselves and go home. We don’t want someone else to do it for us. It’s an obligation that needs to be fulfilled. And so we begin to try to live better lives, to be good people, to follow the Ten Commandments.

The problem with that is that it’s cleaning up the outside without touching the inside. We might be able to clean up our outside behavior, but our fallenness is internal, it’s in our DNA. Galatians 3 addresses this issue. These Gentiles had accepted Jesus as savior and had become Christians. Eventually, though, they were told by well-meaning people that in order to truly be God’s people, they would have to be circumcised. That was, after all, what the Law commanded, and God had given the Law to his people. They wanted that outward sign.

This is Jack’s first response to the tremendous guilt he feels about Parry. He first offers Parry money, and although $70 is a huge amount of money to a homeless person, it’s laughable to think that it could pull together the broken pieces of Parry’s life. Jack’s second attempt is to help him get the girl of his dreams, Lydia (Amanda Plummer). Jack does what many of us would do to try and transform someone; he tries to make Parry into Jack. Remember, at one time Jack had been a man of power, the ubermensch. It makes sense, then, to remake Parry as Jack. He dresses Parry in one of his old suits, even stapling up the pant legs to fit Parry’s shorter stance.

It doesn’t work, of course. The demons Parry carries in his head – disguised in this instance as the evil Red Knight – are far too powerful. The Red Knight will not be fooled by a cleaned-up outside. The Red Knight is afraid of something, however. Parry says that the Red Knight is afraid of Jack. Jack has the power to destroy the demons that haunt and pursue Parry; he just isn’t aware of it yet. When he becomes aware of it, he will realize what it means to be human.

When we focus on trying to clean the outside, we’re relying on power. The Bible, as well as The Fisher King, reminds us that it’s not power that transforms lives, but love – God’s divine grace.

God’s Divine Grace

What does God’s divine grace look like? The Fisher King refers to God’s divine grace two or three times, always in conjunction with the Holy Grail. What is the Holy Grail? According to Ann, it’s “Jesus’ juice cup.” If we expand on that succinct definition, though, we must include what that cup represented: redemption for humanity.

When Jack awakens the morning after he has tried to commit suicide, he is in Parry’s domicile, the basement of an old building. Parry introduces himself to Jack. He calls himself “the janitor of God” and tells Jack that he is a knight on a special quest and he needs help. He was chosen to get back something special that God had lost. Parry tells Jack that “the little people,” invisible and cherubic angels, have told him that Jack is “the one.” One what? The one to help him retrieve the Holy Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace.

After Jack tries to earn his own redemption through giving money to Parry, he tells him, “I gave it to you to help you.” Parry asks, “Do you really want to help me?” and he takes him to the mansion of millionaire Langdon Carmichael, where Parry is sure the Grail is located. Jack tells him there is no Holy Grail. Parry says, “Oh, Jack, ye of little faith! There has to be a Grail.” What Parry is trying to tell Jack, what the gospel story tells all of us, is that there is no redemption without the Grail.

This point is made in the middle of the movie when Parry tells Jack the story of “The Fisher King,” where a young prince is given a vision. Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace.

“You shall be keeper of the grail so it will heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of power, glory and beauty. He felt invincible. So he reached inside the fire to get the grail, but the grail vanished, leaving his hand in the fire to be horribly wounded. His wounds grew deeper until he lost all reason; he had no faith in any man including himself. He couldn’t love or feel love. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. But he didn’t see a king, he only saw a man alone and in pain. He asked, “What ails you, friend?” and the king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some cool water to cool my throat.” So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and gave it to the king. As he drank he realized his wound was healed. He looked at his hands and there was the Holy Grail – that which he had sought all his life. He asked, “How could you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” The fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

 

In this story, Jack is like the boy/king, blinded by visions of power, seemingly invincible. What he really wants, though, is to be special, to be someone. At one point when Jack agrees to help Parry, Parry says, “You’re a real human being.” Jack replies, “I’m not. I’m scum.” Later in the film, he tells Parry, “No matter what I have, it feels like I have nothing . . . There’s nothing special about me.” His whole life, as horribly wounded as the king’s hand, has been searching for meaning, for someone to say that he is valuable. He only wants power, not realizing that what he has right in front of him is the thing that will heal him. Parry, of course, is the fool. Parry, who doesn’t see the lifelong quest but certainly sees the thirst that drives it, gives Jack what he longed for: specialness. The fool in the story offers service to the king, thereby showing his greatness, for he is greater even than all the brightest and bravest of the kingdom. In like manner, Jesus, the King of Fools, showed his greatness to us through service. He did it through identifying with human beings by becoming one of us, and by substituting himself for us. Jack will only be able to fully heal his wound when he lays down his life for someone else.

Love and Power

As I noted earlier, some transformations take place only on the outside (the same point was made in the movie Chocolat). Jack dresses Parry in his clothes in preparation of his “date” with Lydia. Anne paints Lydia’s fingernails, her own outward transformation from a shy, plain girl to someone more desirable. In a humorous sequence, Lydia is looking through videos at the video store. In her clumsiness, she knocks over an entire display. She puts one back on the shelf; it’s the movie Roxanne, the Steve Martin comedy about Cyrano de Bergerac. Once again, the filmmakers have taken pains to remind us of long noses, human ugliness, and the longing for transformation.

Before the issue of transformation can be complete, however, one must wrestle with identity. One cannot transform without the mirror of reality first being faced. Parry learns this after his date and first kiss with Lydia. As she shuts the beveled glass door, he gets a glimpse of himself, dressed in Jack’s suit, his hair combed as much as possible. The bevel distorts the picture, divides him, and for a moment he sees glimpses of his former life. This summons the Red Knight, the psychological manifestation Parry uses to keep reality at bay. He begs, “Please let me have this.” What he’s asking for, though, is an impossibility. We cannot have both reality and fantasy. In order to have the reality of love with Lydia, he must also embrace the reality of tragedy. As the Red Knight pursues him, so do his memories, until at last he remembers it all. Just as Jack had been overcome by grief and sought to kill himself, so now does Parry, even in the same spot. When the teenagers who had beat Jack come for Parry, he welcomes it. He doesn’t desire transformation; he longs instead for the blissful peace of oblivion. His retreat from reality places him back in the mental institution in his self-induced coma.

This would truly be a tragedy if left in its Nietzschean form. Anne, however, has named the panacea, the anti-Nietzschean remedy for both Parry and Jack. Anne states, “Love conquers all.” While referring specifically to Lydia and Parry, Anne has unwittingly hit upon the one thing that can heal these two tragic figures, the king and the fool.

In order to heal Parry, to awaken him from his coma, Jack tells him that he will get the Grail. He tells the unconscious Parry, “If I do this, it’s not because I feel cursed or responsible or guilty. I do this because I want to do this for you. For you.” Even though he has everything again, he has power if he wants it, it’s empty without Parry. Power, Nietzsche’s Super-man, would have left Parry to die, but Jack has finally learned that love is the only thing capable of healing.

He dresses in Parry’s clothes and experiences identification with Parry when he hears horses (“Parry would be so pleased”). A window in Langdon Carmichael’s mansion has a stained glass Red Knight, a signal perhaps that the demons aren’t gone. Jack’s substitution, his very identity, is complete when he sees a hallucination of Edwin Melnick, his own personal Red Knight.

After taking the cup, Jack sees that Langdon Carmichael has taken an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. He trips the alarm to summon the police, thereby saving Carmichael’s life. In doing the opposite of Edwin Melnick, doing in fact the opposite of what Nietzsche would do, Jack finally lays to rest his demons.

Jack’s healing and the love that prompted it become the vessel for Parry’s healing. Parry awakens from the coma with his hands around the Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace. When he says to Jack, “Can I miss her now?” his transformation is underway. He has embraced reality with all its wonder and its pain.

Conclusion

As was stated earlier, Nietzsche despised weakness. His philosophy leaves no room for the homeless and mentally ill who permeate The Fisher King. The Super-man will not identify with those who suffer in order to relieve their suffering. For the nihilist, the parable of the Fisher King, as told by Parry, is inconceivable, a meaningless story.

We as humans, though, search for meaning. We seek to transform our suffering into something better, something stronger, just as coal is tortured into being diamond. Through recognizing their fallible humanness, through identification with another, through suffering, through laying down their lives for someone else, through an acceptance of God’s divine grace, Jack and Parry are both transformed.

The Fisher King ends in Central Park. Both men are naked as they try to “cloud bust.” Jack has become a little crazier like Parry, and Parry has become a little saner like Jack. And both have become, in the words of Pinocchio who lies on the ground between them, “a real boy.”

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, section 2.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus—In Glory

Happy Easter

____________________

Mary, the Mother of Jesus—In Glory

He died while I stood at his feet. And when they took him down, I held him – my baby, my son – in my arms one last time. I followed with the others as they wrapped him in burial cloths, and I remembered wrapping him in swaddling clothes when he was born. I laid him in the manger; they buried him in the tomb. And when they rolled the stone in front of the tomb, my heart was encased in a stone every bit as heavy.

That Saturday was the longest day I have ever lived through. I remembered the words that generations would call me blessed. How God? How?

My throat was ravaged raw with the tears I had already shed, the agony of wails that felt ripped from my soul. My heart ached, and I wanted to pray, yet no prayers would come. I went into the room that John the Disciple had set aside for me. He was a sweet young man and had taken Jesus’ words from the cross seriously. He would take care of me for as long as I needed. And maybe I could take care of him too. Maybe in some way he could help fill the aching hole that only grieving mothers know. Surely that was what my son had intended.

My son. My son …

The sleep I fell into was deep and dreamless, feeling more like my mind was trying to escape the pain rather than rest.

I don’t know what time it was when I woke, but it was still dark. I could hear rustlings outside as though the birds were starting to stir. Dawn wasn’t far off. My muscles felt heavy and my eyelids dragged downward. I should go to the tomb.

And with the thought came a feeling deep in my belly, like the birth of something great, something wondrous. I remembered how Aunt Elizabeth had said that her baby John had leapt in her womb when he recognized my son Jesus. I felt that way now. Something inside me had leapt. I laid my hand over my stomach.

What could be happening? Could it just be a part of the grief? And yet, there was no denying the little spark that wasn’t grief. I couldn’t explain it.

I could hear commotion downstairs. I walked to the top of the stairs but paused before going down. This wasn’t my house, and I didn’t want to interrupt. I could hear Mary of Magdalene talking excitedly to John. I heard Peter’s voice too. I listened closely for the words. The stone had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. I staggered against the wall and put my hand again on my stomach as I heard her words. The spark roared through me. The tomb was empty.

I turned back to my room, and there he was, shining with life, with the glory of heaven. He didn’t need to speak. My mother’s heart knew it. My son. My Jesus. He didn’t say anything, but he smiled at me and I knew a joy that surpassed everything, even the joy I felt the night he was born.

Simeon said a sword would pierce my soul. It had. I had treasured all these things in my heart. All of them. And it was true – generations would call me blessed. I am blessed.

He is no longer simply my son.

He is my King, my Savior. The Risen One.

Two Marys – Good Friday Monologues

I wrote these two monologues for Good Friday last year. My Easter monologue will be posted on Sunday morning. Please feel free to use them if you’d like. I only ask that they be attributed to me and that you let me know how you used them, if you do. Thank you!

Mary Magdalene

Have you ever met someone that you knew as soon as you met them that they would change your life? I felt that way when I met Jesus.

You see, I had been depressed for a long time. Some people said there were demons in me. Other people said I just had a lot of illnesses. To be honest, I didn’t care what they called it. All I know is that life was awful and I was miserable. Life was nothing but torment. My sister Martha and my brother Lazarus did what they could to take care of me, but I know it was stressful to the whole family. It was hard for us to have friends or to be a part of the community. I was an outcast.

But then I met Jesus. There is something wonderful when someone accepts you for who you are. He could see past the erratic behavior and the language, moans and shrieks that would come from me. He saw deep inside me. He saw what no one else could see. He spoke one word and the demons left me. Instantly I felt a peace I had never known before. I had been healed! Life would never be the same.

My heart belonged to Jesus from that moment on, and nothing would change that.

Jesus often visited our home, and there was nothing I liked more than to sit at his feet and listen to him teach. I could hear whispers sometimes that I shouldn’t be there. It wasn’t right for a woman to be taught in the same manner that men were. But where else should I have been except at his feet? His feet. The feet that walked down dusty roads.

I learned a lot from listening to him, and some of what I heard made me sad. He talked about his death, about things that would happen to him in the future. None of the disciples seemed to really pay attention to what he was saying. But I couldn’t get rid of the sorrow inside me.

How could I bear it if he went away or if something happened to him? I loved him. My whole life was wrapped up in his. I didn’t want to be like one of the other disciples and tell him that these things couldn’t happen. They could happen. They would happen. How could I show him how I felt about him, show him that I understood?

I remembered the perfume I had. It was the only thing of value I owned. I could think of nothing better for my Master. So one night when he was at our home for dinner, I took the perfume and poured it over his feet. His feet. The feet that walked on water.

The smell of the perfume filled the room, and I loved him so much that I would have done anything for him. I let down my hair and began wiping his feet. I could hear whispers then too, that I shouldn’t have wasted the perfume, that I could have sold it and given the money to the poor. I could feel my face burn with shame. Was it wrong of me to show my love for him?

But then he spoke. His word at one time had driven the demons from my body and my mind. And now his word drove accusations away. But I heard words even I didn’t want to hear. “My burial.”

Was I the only one who heard that?

And now standing at the cross, his mother beside me, I look at the bleeding and tortured man in front of me. His arms are stretched out as though they could embrace the whole world. His feet are nail-pierced. His feet. The feet I anointed for his burial.

I remember his words. But I remember other of his words as well. About death. About being raised. About promises of an afterlife. And although my heart is full of sorrow, there is life and hope within.

And I think about his feet. His feet. The feet that will walk down the road again.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus—In Grief

There were so many things I wanted to say to you, my son, and I always thought I’d have the time. And now it’s nearly too late. So I’ll say them now.

I was so young when the angel Gabriel appeared to me and told me about God’s blessing upon me. I was confused. I just didn’t know how it could happen. And I was a little worried too, worried about Joseph and how he would handle it. It seems now that all of that was a lot for a teenager to handle. I look now at the young girls in Galilee, ribbons in their hair and laughter in their voices, and I can’t imagine that I was ever that carefree, ever that young. I feel so old now.

When I look at you I see the little baby you were as I held you in my arms the first time. I was so tired. Your father and I had traveled by donkey to Bethlehem for the census. It was an uncertain time, so scary and tense. Your father tried hard not to show how nervous he was, but I could tell. And then when we finally got there and there was no room for us anywhere, he was almost at a breaking point. I know I was. He apologized so many times when he led me into the barn. But I didn’t care. I just needed some place warm and quiet so I could lay down. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

That pain was nothing compared to now. When I first became pregnant, I said to your Aunt Elizabeth that all generations would call me blessed. I’m not so sure now.

I never told anyone about the day we presented you at the temple. You’ve heard what the prophet Simeon said about you, that you would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to our people. And you have been, my son! Your kindness to the outcasts has drawn people to you, and in you, people have seen the face of God. But it also drew unwanted attention to you, anger, hatred. At times I wanted you to be a little quieter, a little more cautious around the Pharisees. You could have! You didn’t always have to provoke! You didn’t always have to speak the truth, did you? And yet, I know that doing that, that softening your words or backing down, would make you a different man. Do I wish you were a different man? How could I want that? You are the hope of Israel, the hope of all mankind.

What I never told anyone was that Simeon said that a sword would pierce my soul. I never knew what he meant. But I know now, my son. I know now.

I always wanted to protect you from pain. I hated every bruise and scrape. But I couldn’t protect you from pain when you were little, and I was helpless to stop any of the violence inflicted on you today. I felt the lashes that fell on your back, the back I used to wash when you were a little boy. I screamed until my throat was raw at those who hurled awful names at you, the son whose name I whispered daily in my prayers. I wept when they crushed the crown of thorns on your head, the head I kissed goodnight every time I put you to bed. But when they drove spikes through your hands—hands I held as we walked down the road—I felt the sword pierce my soul.

I stand now at your cross. There are no miracles this time. The light has gone out of my life, even as it is draining from the sky.

All generations will call me blessed. I’m not so sure now. I’m not so sure.