This evening as I sat down to write, thunderstorms had passed within five minutes. The thunder remains audible. The lightning seems to have passed.
Lightning during daylight hours arrests my attention uniquely. As I was driving home from work, several patterns zippered across the sky directly in front of me. Silver-white electric zippers zagged from above and made me feel my finitude.
Does anyone dare to shake his fist at the heavens during a lightning storm? Remember Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump, raging Lear-like in the waves, and winds, and deluge? Raging against it all. Against the war. Against losing his legs. Against ________? A Vietnam Ahab, raging against his white whale.
After I worked out and ate a light meal and cooled off, I opened a book I’m reading, Geoff Dyer’s Zona. It is surely a different sort of read for me. It’s about a movie from 1979, Tarkovsky’s Stalker. I’ve not read much Dyer before. And I have not seen all of Stalker yet. It is dark thematically. It reminds me, so far, of Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited. What I appreciate about Dyer is his attention to detail. He sees the mist over mud puddles in Russia. He writes beautifully of how Tarkovsky’s musical score compliments the angst of the characters. He notices how water can be both baptismally significant and a place to drown.
Then my thoughts recalled a recent conversation I had with a peer who laughed at me when he asked what I was reading and I told him, “Dickens … again.” I love the works of Charles Dickens, especially Great Expectations and Bleak House and David Copperfield. “Ah,” he said, “I only read non-fiction, books that teach me something,” he said. I did not respond. Clearly we see the world quite differently. Not everything should be a how-to manual. So it goes.
Then my thoughts went to a scene from very early in the morning. We’d formed up, just before we took off for PT (physical training). I listened to the guys’ conversations. Almost all of them were allusions to movies they’d seen over and over again. No, not Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Pulp. Drivel. The sorts of movies my students know about, and, I’m ashamed to admit, most people I know.
It’s why, I suppose, one of the many reasons David Foster Wallace, before he killed himself, penned Infinite Jest. It was, he said, intended to be a sad book. Other than the overt Hamletic allusions, it centers on the endless river of drivel, distraction, and emptiness.
Tomorrow the weather here is to be cloudy, muggy, and hot. Nothing new. But at noon I am opening the New Testament Letter of James to my fellow soldiers. We will read what the half-brother of the Lord Jesus said about counting it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). We will read about wisdom and its source and how, should anyone hunger for it, might be fed.
But it all strikes me as ironic. It’s in a book, after all—this message about trials and about counting it all joy and about wisdom. A book. To be read. To be studied. It would be a tragic thing, would it not, to instead choose to watch a movie? It would be like watching lightning through another’s eyes, like smelling thunderstorms via a surrogate, like recognizing you had wasted it when you had opportunity to attend.