This has to be one of the best periods of my life. I have a job I love, doing work I find both meaningful and fun. My colleagues are great. I have a new apartment, and it’s the nicest one I’ve ever had. I’m back in the city I love and am surrounded by my friends, and on top of all that, I’m writing and loving it. Both putting down roots for the first time in my life, and yet still exploring, in some ways more so than ever.
My friends and family are great; they tell me I deserve it.
I take their words with appreciation, but it gets me thinking about that concept: “deserving.”
Deserving in Life
Do you believe we deserve what we get? I don’t; not for a moment. I can’t even fathom believing it. Not in this joy-and-pain wracked world I’ve loved these past 30 odd years.
Someone was telling me the other day about the reason Jews fast on Tisha b’Av, a one-day holiday mourning the fall of the Temple. He said we mourn because of the fall, yes, but the fast itself is actually linked to something else entirely–penitence.
Why should Jews repent for Romans destroying a Jewish temple, you ask? The reason is fascinating.
It’s because back then, shouldering the blame for this communal tragedy was the only way the rabbis could think to dissuade their flock from going the other direction and asking, “Why is God deserting us?” or worse yet, concluding, “God is dead.”
The same goes for the Church’s attitude in the Middle Ages to the Plague. It couldn’t be explained–it was beyond their science to understand its source and rapid transmission–and rather than having people suffer a crisis of faith when faith was so central to this period (and its very social structure), the Church went with “God is punishing us for our sins.” And who doesn’t have a sin or two spare for God to punish?
So religions pick on the concept of deserving. God is good, God is with us–but because you turn your back on Him in your daily life, He let this happen. Repent.
They consciously used the concept of deserving, which, when you think of it, is an integral thread in our fabric of social interaction. That is, the concept of “you take care of me, and I’ll take care of you, because that is the contract of communal life.” Whether one views it cynically or not, this communal support structure is necessary wherever life is unstable. I certainly saw it in the villages of the Republic of Georgia.
But I didn’t start with Popes or rabbis long-gone desperately finding a way to not blame God and lose religion. I started with my beautiful view, my exhilerating job, my wonderful friends, my health, my writing, and whether deserving has anything to do with those joys. I certainly know I don’t deserve more than any other person.
When people starve in Somalia or the streets of New York City, do they deserve it? When baby girls are mutilated in the name of religion or modesty, do they deserve it? When people’s lives, families and sense of self are hacked wtih machetes in Rwanda or the Congo, do they deserve it? Are they suffering for our collective sins, for the sins of their past lives, or their own stupiditiies–or whatever your personal theology or philosophy is? I don’t believe it for a moment.
Deserving isn’t what life is. Life is a snatch of miracle. I try to enjoy it fully, for its joys are brief as they are sharply nuanced, and each second may fall into grief, doubt and pain, and even more definitely, into death.
As the old line goes: “Deem not the doom of man reversed for thee.”
People tell me I’m an optimist. I answer that I’m a realist who loves life. That death is at our doors is to me a reminder of the concentrated joy that our lives are, nestled between birth and passing.
Deserving in Writing
It occurs to me writing all this that indeed our personal philosophies impact our writing, whether or not we deliberately intend it.
My characters do not get their “just desserts.” My characters struggle and suffer and grow and find new joys where they didn’t expect them.
It’s true, their ends aren’t written yet. I can honestly say I do not know what will happen to my heroes and heroines, leave alone my antagonists. And more than that, I have no plan in mind to have my antagonists suffer for their actions, or even for anyone to suffer in measure for the suffering he or she has put others through.
Because that’s not life. And my characters are taking life, and…well, after all this–can I say they deserve to be more than caricatures? 🙂