December 22, 2005

Between Boredom and Tragedy

1548 page5 capn his powerful political satire, Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell focuses primary attention on Winston, his central character. But through Winston?s eyes, Orwell puts the limelight, however briefly, on another actor that I personally find enormously intriguing--a large woman, forever hanging stuff out to dry on the clothesline in her yard. And, incidentally, forever singing!

How many children has she given birth to? Winston wonders as he watches her, and how dreadfully boring her life must be!--consisting, so far as he could tell, of nonstop ?laundering, scrubbing, darning, cooking, sweeping, polishing, mending, scrubbing, laundering, first for children, then for grandchildren, over thirty unbroken years? 1 (as he imagines it).

As Winston and his lover, Julia, study this woman so devoted to her drudgery, they have no idea of the tragedy about to descend upon their heads. The voice that broke their reverie was their summons to inhuman torture. And their exceedingly more ?exciting? adventure would end in brutal suffering and tragedy. In other words, right here is illustrated the reality of human existence, the pendulum constantly swinging between abject boredom and horrendous tragedy.

1548 page5With the old year ending and the new one peeking just around the corner, we should each review our preparedness to face this twin problem of our existence. Boredom constitutes the dull catalyst for every kind of mischief in our world today, its influence manifest in rampant drug abuse worldwide and in the increasingly outrageous diversions of contemporary society. To borrow and slightly redirect the words of Neil Postman?s book title, we?re ?amusing ourselves to death,? bored stiff by our otherwise humdrum lives.

In regard to tragedy, we can go global and mention calamities such as the Asian tsunami; terrorist bombings in Indonesia, London, Madrid, Amman, Iraq; earthquakes in Pakistan and Kashmir; mudslide in Guatemala, burying an entire village; hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma.

But just as ?all politics is local,? so also tragedy. For however bad things get ?out there,? ultimately it?s what hits us personally that captures our attention on the deepest level. Your son/daughter/sister/brother ?murdered? on the highway by a drunken driver; someone close to you diagnosed with cancer, with brain tumor, with Alzheimer?s disease; a stroke or some other disaster leaves you paralyzed. Tragedy has no respect for age or gender or religion or country. It attacks both poor and rich; nor can the most acclaimed celebrity bargain for exemption.

American actor Christopher Reeve is a case in point. Once lauded as ?Superman? by a zillion fans in the United States, Reeve spent his final years as a quadriplegic, immobile in a wheelchair. During a cross-country race in Virginia in May of 1995, an unexpected stop by his horse in the middle of a jump had sent the Hollywood superstar flying over the animal?s head. Unable to break the fall because his hands were entangled in the reins, he suffered what he later described as ?a hangman?s injury,? his head virtually separating from his body. But in an ingenious operation, doctors at the University of Virginia Hospital managed to reattach his skull to his spinal column.2

In the ensuing years Reeve would return to the hospital a dozen times, suffering with pneumonia, a collapsed lung, two blood clots, and an infection that nearly forced the partial amputation of a leg.3 Reeve tells in his autobiography how he?d dream about being normal again. In my dreams, he says, ?I?d be whole again. I?d go off and do wonderful things. I?d be riding again, or I?d be with [wife] Dana and [son] Will, or I?d be in Maine, or I?d be acting in a play.?4 In those dreams, he said in an interview, ?I?m always whole, always active.? ?I have never had a dream in which I am disabled in a wheelchair.? 5

Reeve?s deep-seated yearning for healing and wholeness is the eternal dream of humanity! What if there were no cure for the malady of sin, the greatest tragedy of all? What if there were no cure for this crippled planet? Thank God, there is a ?cure?! Orwell?s dark vision of the future will never be our destiny. We can bank on God?s unfailing promise. There?s more beyond.

And however dull and tedious the present moment, like the ample woman in Orwell?s classic, we can sing!


1 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 187.
2 Christopher Reeve, Still Me (New York: Random House, 1998), pp. 14, 15. See also Chip Crews,
Christopher Reeve . . . ,? Washington Post, May 3, 1998.
3 Chip Crews, ibid.
4 Still Me, p. 45.
5 Chip Crews, ibid.