I woke up this morning to news of the earthquake in Chile as I was getting ready to lead a study of the Book of Job at church. And this morning followed last evening, when Ginger and I watched the new Coen Brothers’ movie, A Serious Man, which is their take on Job, set in 1967 (in the same way O Brother, Where Art Thou was their take on The Odyssey). The main character is Larry Gopnik, whose life begins to unravel about as quickly as the movie can get going, starting with his wife asking for a ritual divorce (a gett) so she can marry a neighbor. Larry goes to see the Marshak, the oldest rabbi, for advice, but ends up seeing Rabbi Scott, the youngest one, which troubles Larry because he’s not sure Scott has the experience to help him.
“I am the junior rabbi. And it’s true, the point-of-view of somebody who’s older and perhaps had similar problems might be more valid. And you should see the senior rabbi as well, by all means . . . But maybe – can I share something with you? Because I too have had the feeling of losing track of Hashem (God), which is the problem here. I too have forgotten how to see Him in the world. And when that happens you think, well, if I can’t see Him, He isn’t there any more, He’s gone. But that’s not the case. You just need to remember how to see Him. Am I right? I mean, the parking lot here. Not much to see. It is a different angle on the same parking lot we saw from the Hebrew school window. But if you imagine yourself a visitor, somebody who isn’t familiar with these autos and such — somebody still with a capacity for wonder, someone with a fresh perspective. That’s what it is, Larry. Because with the right perspective you can see Hashem, you know, reaching into the world. He is in the world, not just in shul. It sounds to me like you’re looking at the world, looking at your wife, through tired eyes. It sounds like she’s become a sort of… thing… a problem… a thing…”
“Well, she’s, she’s seeing Sy Ableman. She’s, they’re planning, that’s why they want the Gett.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It was his idea.
“Well, they do need a Gett to remarry in the faith. But this is life. For you too. You can’t cut yourself off from the mystical or you’ll be-you’ll remain-completely lost. You have to see these things as expressions of God’s will. You don’t have to like it, of course.”
“The boss isn’t always right, but he’s always the boss.”
“Ha-ha-ha! That’s right, things aren’t so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry. Just look at that parking lot.”
I thought about my first pastorate (I wasn’t even out of college) and my first visit to see a church member who came sporadically. I got a call that her husband had died. They had had a hard life, but they had had it together; she was devastated. He, literally, was all she had. I got to her house and she was sitting on the porch. I sat down in the chair next to hers and she began to cry and tell me how she had found him and how bad it hurt. I had no idea what to say, but I felt like I had to say something.
“I know just how you feel,” is what came out, my feeble attempt at compassion. She stopped sobbing in a snap and looked up from her hands.
“Do you really?”
“No,” I answered. “I just didn’t know what else to say.”
She began to cry again, and I sat there in silence with my hand on her shoulder. About ten minutes later, another church member, who had been a widow for forty years, drove up. When she stepped on to the porch, she said the very same sentence I had uttered, only it was informed by her life and their friendship. I was her pastor, but not her minister that afternoon.
When Marshak finally speaks in the film, he says, “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the hope within you dies . . . then what?”
You may not recognize the lyric printed as a quote, but if I played the drums and guitar, you could sing the whole verse and answer the question:
when the truth is found to be lies
and all the hope within you dies
don’t you want somebody to love
don’t you need somebody to love
wouldn’t you love somebody to love
you’d better find somebody to love
Cathleen Falsani (who has a book, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, that I want to read) writes in an article about the questions raised in the film,
Perhaps an answer, insomuch as there can be one, lies in something Rilke said in his Letters to a Young Poet:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves … Perhaps then, some day far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answer.
Or at least spend the morning sitting around a table with people you trust enough to ask the questions out loud and remember we are in this together. As Ginger quoted Pierce Pettis, from a song born of his own deep personal pain:
we’re all in this together
we’re all in this alone
My day wandered from the Bible study to errands to work and then back home, where I came in to find how the tsunamis set in motion by the earthquake had traveled as far as Hawaii while I had roamed the neighborhood. I took the trash out under a full moon on a cloudless night. What truth I know has not failed me and the hope within is thriving, thank you. Still, tonight, I am grateful that I have somebody to love.