At the secret core of many stories lies the promise of a happy ending. And they all lived happily ever after. I call this the pastoral promise — it’s a promise of a world set beyond the action that gripped us as we read. Once these words are written those tensions that have maintained the story, the ones that propelled us along, have dissipated. A curtain descends and we are to learn nothing more of our heroes. The prince and the princess have wed, the wolf is dead, the evil witch perishes, the children are restored to their parents, and all is well with the world. In perpetuity. Never-ending happiness, impossible in our everyday lives, though we may crave it, exists as a private world beyond the limits of the page, even in the best of stories. Can we ever be happy?
Monday, June 8, 2015
THE PRODIGAL RETURNS: The week after his return the Prodigal Son remembers why it was he left. His friends, those coarse bumpkins who so recently munched upon the sizzling flesh of a fatted calf, tell their same old jokes. They are as hopelessly myopic – as uncosmopolitan – as they were before. They nudge and wink in a way that irritates him who has now seen more of the world. What use have they for tales of his hardship in places they have barely heard of? They want to hear about the girls he's been with, for is it not for such exotic dalliances, such debaucheries that once he claimed he was leaving. But that is not what he wants to talk of now – he is different in a way he cannot seem to state. The father, all bearhugs and solicitude but days ago, is once again a sullen autocrat. He cannot resist reminding the Prodigal that an inheritance was squandered. He queries him on his skill with swine. And his brother, who has taken the week to cool off, now sees his own glory-days on the rise. The Prodigal Son, whose prodigious heart-swell and homesickness had him walking home, will soon leave again. Perhaps it is best that he does for the world has transformed and he has transformed, and he had no home to come back to. His father and his brother have a home, but it is a different one than he used to share with them. The Prodigal is homeless for walking away is the act of violence that annihilates the home.