Based on the nudging/needling suggestion of a friend, I watched the movie "My Talks with Dean Spanley" yesterday. The 2008 New-Zealand-made tale is set in Edwardian England and focuses on a small group of well-heeled and decorous people whose lives are variously revised by an interest in reincarnation. The story is somewhat contrived and occasionally tortured, but the actors are good and the presentation is quiet enough to be human and credible: If this is insane, it's the kind of insanity anyone might experience in a much-ordered and meaningful life.
And that's the thought the movie evoked in me: In anyone's life, isn't it so? -- Too much order and control and conclusive meaning, and the heart cries out piteously for disorder, for room to roam and dance; too much disorder and chaos and anguish, and the heart cries out piteously for a well-ordered peace, a sturdy and cohesive meaning, a place to rest at last.
Tick-tock, the pendulum swings: The white-picket fences of the post-World-War-II 1950's seemed to assert an at-long-last and desperately-desired peace only to be torn down by the barrier-busting imagination of the 1960's which was sick to death of being fenced in.
Order to disorder to order to disorder. And all the time "meaning" was not the point any more than "lack of meaning" was.
Of course the armchair decorousness of a blog post or a psychological treatise or a spiritual text are no basis for peace. This is life, after all, not some movie. How could such picket-fence order ever compare to the joyful look on the newlyweds' faces or the beyond-horror, thousand-yard stare of a combat soldier?
Christ! Get me out of here!
Christ! Give me peace!
Give me meaning ... but don't fence me in!
It would be inhumane not to see all this as human. Vast energies are brought to bear in the creation of order, whether in Edwardian England or elsewhere. Vast energies are brought to bear when tearing down the white picket fences once lovingly constructed. Vast energies ... human energies ... your energies and mine. Vast energies in pursuit of meaning. Vast energies whose blood courses hot and hopeful through the mind. Vast energies whose blood slips unremarked into the battlefield soil.
Too much order and the mind rebels. Too much disorder and the mind rebels. And "the middle way" is too often just another white picket fence begging some "tick" not to turn into yet another "tock." "Meaning," like "no meaning," is just one way to describe the anguish of white picket fences or the lack thereof.
The friend who suggested I watch "My Talks with Dean Shanley" was right: I like costume dramas peopled with decorous mores that then fall of their own weight on their own swords. But that's just life, isn't it -- or at any rate, the human expression of life? That's what makes good stories good. Where the king is enthroned, the rebel bangs loudly at the gate. Where the rebel asserts victory, the king petitions for audience.
Who would be stupid enough to ignore these touchingly-human, tick-tock characteristics?
On the other hand, who would be stupid enough to believe them?