Sunday, November 22, 2009
Larry Gopnik is not a hero. He's not even an everyman. He's a menial mensch. Unlike Job, who was the innocent pawn of some sadistic showdown between God and the devil, Larry is somewhat responsible for his own undoing. He married a rather horrid, unkind woman, and his children have been raised to be selfish and ungrateful. Add to that the disruption of external forces - a messed-up brother, a tenure track going off the rails, a student bent on bribery or blackmail,and a half-dozen other woes brought on by fate or circumstance - and this poor schlep has every reason to be serious.
He looks for answers in three rabbis. Their answers are, perhaps, less than satisfying.
That's where I'll leave you in terms of the storyline. The Coen Brothers films can be hard work. I'm still trying to figure out why they made "Burn After Reading", and Wendy finds their character-driven movies a tad tedious. But, "No Country for Old Men" was about as flawless as a film could be. "Raising Arizona", "Miller's Crossing", "The Big Lebowski", "Fargo", stop me when I run out of masterpieces.
What makes "A Serious Man" so important is the moral conundrum the Coens put before us. Larry Gopnik is a good man. No better or worse than you or I. He's made some bad choices, and has learned to live with them, but the sum total of those choices, along with a little misfortune from external forces, and he finds himself in a spiritual crossroad. Three rabbis, three 'non-answers' later, he's left to wonder (a) if there is a God, (b) if God is disengaged from our day to day lives and/or (c) if God is deeply involved and either lacks benevolence or believes in doling out punishment that is, at the least, haphazard, and at the most, sadistic.
The ending doesn't leave you with much consolation. Their answer seems to be, 'We don't know the answer', which is exactly what I want and expect from the Coens. These are not Mel Gibson filmmakers with good-conquers-evil imperatives. Larry Gopnik is not William Wallace. Of course, neither are we. That's the point. On most days, we likely feel more like a Serious Man (or woman) than a Braveheart.
I know this year, I've seen more loved ones experience heartache and loss than in any other time. I won't go into specifics, but it truly runs the gamut. Meanwhile, I have had a year that has been filled with hard-won blessings. You begin to look around at who you have in your life, the gifts you've been given, and the opportunities to give and grow. You also look at the choices you've made, or perhaps should've made, and realize that we're all navigating a terrain that only becomes clear in the rear view.
"A Serious Man" asks some serious questions, and like most smart films, it doesn't provide answers. I think if it did, the Coens would do us a great disservice.
If you go see this film, you won't walk away smiling, but you may leave wrestling with some spiritual questions, and that's worth $10 and two hours of my time any day.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I'm in Hiawassee, GA right now doing a show for Zaxby's. This is a gig with a lot of down time between performances and rehearsals, so I've done my best to use my free time to work on my novel and develop my 2010 marketing plan for 7 Course. But I also decided I was too close to the Enota Campground to pass up the chance to go back and visit.
You remember Enota, don'cha? It's the setting for that snake bite incident that I won't seem to shut up about.
First of all, before you classify me as either brave or stupid, consider me neither, as any snake with a lick of sense has gone about the business of hibernating by now, so I wasn't walking into any sort of reptilian ambush. Far from it, the site was peaceful, quiet, and in the full, glorious throes of Autumn.
I took a few pictures with my cell phone - the frame of the sweat lodge, the rocks where I was laid down while waiting for a ride to the hospital, and so on. Then, I put my phone away. I meditated, prayed a prayer of gratitude, and took in the beauty of it all, the sense that, for me and me only, something transformational DID happen here. It's not something that mattered to many other folks, but for me, it was a spiritual bookmark, a moment when I realized how blessed I am, and how quickly our lives can change.
I came back here physically today. I hope to return here spiritually often, to remind myself of how blessed I am, and how important it is to reflect and act upon the lessons I learned this summer.
Before I left the site, I decided to take off my left shoe and sock, and stand barefoot in the very spot that the snake bit me. While I'd love to say it was my inner-Hemingway coming out, a 'feel the fear and do it anyway' bravado that brought some sort of emotional closure, it wasn't. It was just a way of reminding myself that I could stand - open and vulnerable - in a place that once brought me great fear and harm, and feel as safe and trusting as I could ever hope to.
That's our day to day lives - the fear of losing someone, the tenuous nature of our economy, the uncertainty of the choices we've made. Yet, we're required to stand tall on the very ground that seems to present so many perils and simply trust. Ruthless trust, be it in God, your loved ones, or your own capabilities to persevere in a world that seems to be rife with unseen briers and snakes.
There's a sign on the bridge that leads from the main campground across a flowing creek to the sweat lodge at Enota. It reads, "Please Enter the Sacred Circle with Reverence". I think the trick is not so much entering holy ground with reverence. We can all do that. The challenge is seeing that holy ground beneath us in our daily lives, and sustaining reverence each moment.