Tuesday, November 16, 2010
"Eagles by 10."
Not trying to beat up on the anonymous commenter on this post.
It's just that somebody had other plans. Very much grander plans.
MORE VICKBALL. Eagles 59, Redskins 28. It was at the same time indescribably beautiful and horrible. Michael Vick was semi-superhuman. Can football have an Antichrist, as seductively magnetic as he is evil? I was watching the greatest individual performance I've ever seen on an NFL field thinking, 'I don't know how to feel, what to say, how to describe the mix of emotions.' So, being a writer, I have to talk anyway, and you are all my victims.
Fair warning: I'm going to get pretentious here, and I'll prove it by beginning pretentiously. In eleventh grade English they made us read a book that purported to explain the "problem of Hamlet" in Freudian terms. The big news, of course, was that there is a problem with Hamlet (Who knew?), namely, why he doesn't kill his father's murderer before the play even begins. The Freudian explanation is suitably salacious for eleventh graders; Hamlet has an Oedipal complex, meaning he wants to sleep with his mother and kill his father, etc, which is why it's more important to talk about it with a therapist (soliloquies aimed at therapeutic us) rather than actually do anything, because his emotions are so conflicted.
I thought that was idiotic and came up with my own explanation of the Hamlet problem. I didn't know about Occam's Razor then, but Occam would have been proud of me. My explanation was simplicity itself. Hamlet is an actor ("The play's the thing.") He wants to feel the gamut of human emotions and act them out for all of us. Which is to say there is no problem. The playwright always stands behind the actor, and the actor says the lines written for him. Who wouldn't, given that it's the greatest play ever written? But who is the playwright?
Who indeed? Now for my equally pretentious transition. The Eagles-Redskins game played last night was an event of Biblical proportions. What do I mean by that? I thought looking the word up might help:
bib·li·cal also Bib·li·cal adj.
1. Of, relating to, or contained in the Bible.
2. Being in keeping with the nature of the Bible, especially:
a. Suggestive of the personages or times depicted in the Bible.
b. Suggestive of the prose or narrative style of the King James Bible.
3. Very great in extent; enormous: a natural disaster of near biblical proportions.
Well, it does and it doesn't. Washington fans might think the third definition adequate, but I'm thinking the key definition is the one that's missing. The fourth and most important definition is divine in scale and meaning.
That's what I saw last night. I couldn't go to sleep for hours afterward. I knew I had witnessed something incredibly important, long and deep in the planning. No matter who you were, there were lessons. The way God works. No miracles. God doesn't need miracles to do his teaching, only to exercise mercy. But mercy and forgiveness are part of who he is, and sometimes he writes a play designed to remind us of that fact, although the point of the play is always to make us think, think, think, regardless of our individual perspectives. That he can do that seamlessly in real time in our terms is the proof of his existence and his omniscience. I won't pretend I understand all of the design, but I can at least play the role of theater critic. Some of the themes and meanings my poor perceptions can detect...
Even the most committed of Vick haters could see beauty in his performance last night. We were given a glimpse of the peak of the human creation called football. Perhaps no player ever has excelled so completely in this artificial construct. It was a work of art. And significantly, there is more than one layer of joy. There is the art, and there is also the emotion, the life meaning. The latter two were embedded in the Philadelphia experience. A city whose people have invested so much of their hearts and souls in a mere idea -- the Philadelphia Eagles football team -- and who have been tempted to lose faith after years of disappointment were rewarded spectacularly. No Eagles team in living memory has ever done what Michael Vick and his Eagles did last night. Lesson: it's not futile to hope and believe and make yourself vulnerable to the promise of an idea.
But why would God choose as his instrument of renewed faith and hope Michael Vick, the dog killer?
The nature of gifts is that they are not earned. They are the product of generosity and love. (Why nothing reduces me to tears faster than the gifts my wife gives me that aren't for us but for me alone; I am rendered prostrate with gratitude and love.) God has for his own reasons given Michael Vick an extraordinary gift. God loves Michael Vick, and he is also testing Michael Vick. Our first hint that the play is a subset of other ongoing and future plays. Imagine how it must feel to be Michael Vick in last night's game. Is there some other lesson for him? And for us?
All his life Michael Vick has taken his gifts for granted. He lived on what is called pure talent. Then he lost it all, through multiple acts of sin. (Sorry to be so "biblical" in my termninology...) Loss and punishment and suffering catalyzed a fulfillment of his talent he would never have realized without divine intervention. Which is to say that God is coming back at Vick with a second temptation: "You have learned and you have worked and here is your reward -- adulation. Now you must decide. Will you be virtuous and loyal and good? Or can you be seduced yet again by adulation and money?" Because in another wrinkle of plot, multi-million dollar contracts were also in the air and therefore on the field. Shhhh. M-o-n-e-y.
God writes like Evelyn Waugh, only better, with more perfect irony. Everyone gets his own lesson, on the same neutral-looking set. Superficially, Donovan McNabb is a much better person than Michael Vick. But last night was a smack in the face for a man who has never taken real responsibility for his own failures or declared allegiances beyond his inner circle. The malignant narcissism of Vick had to be shattered with actual physical punishment. The softer, more passive narcissism of Donovan McNabb had to be shattered with epic humiliation. Done. Is McNabb loving his brand new $40 million contract today? Or is he recognizing that no amount of money can make up for his inability to bond with a city that really truly wanted to love him, if only he had dared to love them back? Maybe a lesson in...
It's hard to be humble when so many admiring eyes are focused on you. A great playwright can use the same scene to test both protagonist and antagonist. As protagonist, Vick passed -- for now. He handed out credit all round. As antagonist, McNabb stumbled. His temptation was to blame the team, not himself., which has been his inveterate habit. The good news for McNabb is that the play has more acts to come. God keeps writing all the time. Because he knows we are all subject to...
Why would God allow his son to be tempted directly by Satan? Because all of us are. I'd contemplated subheads like "Convenient Morality," Hypocrisy" and "Blind Vengeance" when I decided to write this pretentious post. But I tossed all those in the garbage can. The common word for everyone involved is simply 'temptation.' There are those who never cared that Vick killed dogs Unfortunately, God is tempting them to believe that goodness, work, and faith are not essential. They'll be the biggest losers. There are also those who -- like SportsTalk's genuinely brilliant and self-satirizing Angelo Cataldi -- are in the process of convincing themselves that killing dogs isn't such a big deal if you're the greatest football player who ever lived (Nagging doubts to follow...) AND there are those, the genuinely virtuous and therefore most endangered ones, who choose to put themselves above ALL God's lessons and hate Michael Vick despite the evidence of God's gifts to a man who should be permanently cursed. Despite his magnificent display of human art, and the unintended consequences of...
Another related play that's been off-Broadway for a few years. The script is larded with cliches like "mistakes" (synonym for murder) and "second chances" (meaning more millions in contracts). The literate critics, including me, haven't been impressed. Uh, sin is sin, isn't it?
Maybe. Maybe not. Why I don't position myself as anything more than a theater critic. Why I said at the outset of this post, "I don't know how to feel, what to say, how to describe the mix of emotions." I, as a sinful human being, still cannot forgive what Michael Vick did to defenseless dogs in his care. He beat them, electrocuted them, strangled them. I cannot forgive him, which in Christian terms, is also a sin. As a dog-person I want to beat him within an inch of his life. As a writer, I want to interview him, ask him if he has nightmares about what he's done, if he suffers for his sins...
At the same time I want to believe that we can all be forgiven for our sins. I want to know why God has blessed Michael Vick with such gifts. I want to know why God is blessing Coach Andy Reid for putting the sins of his own sons above the obvious welfare of his team and his job, Why is such selfishness a virtue? Actually, I want to interrogate God: "Are you planning to give Philadelphia the Super Bowl trophy they have so earnestly prayed and sacrificed for, and if so, why does it have to be like this -- in the guise of a poisoned apple? Are you telling them that the desire for victory and vindication and vengeance is Satanic? Or are you educating them that no great accomplishment can be a function of unalloyed joy? That sin and virtue are perpetually holding hands in the foxhole and even our purest joys always carry the taint of human weakness and venality?
More essentially, does God really forgive Michael Vick what I in my hubris cannot? Is God telling me that his gift to Vick is emblematic of his love for all human beings, a reminder that I have in many subtler ways sinned fully as badly as Vick? Is he telling me, and everyone else, that all is vanity, including the cathartic joys of shared triumphs?
Or has he written another of his infinite plays for the purpose of making us all take a step back and judge ourselves as we judge others?
Courtesy of commenter Alfa...
My conclusion: The play is the thing. We're writing it along with the Creator... What lines do you wish to quote?
Ah, screw it. Here's my quote.
A punk is a punk is a punk... and we love our deerhoundsdogs. I've introduced myself many times before, but allow me to do so again. I am, oh so humbly....