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This evening once again Flash and Entropy are off playing Magic, and having momentary control of the remote, I made a terrible mistake.  Left alone with Kinesis, I managed to get him off to sleep and started browsing our Netflix recommendations all on my own.  How fun, to see a movie without superheroes that doesn’t need to appeal to any of the boys, young or old, in my life.  Period pieces are one of my favorites, so of course, up came Howards End as a recommendation.  Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and a very young Helena Bonham Carter.  How could I go wrong?

I must admit it’s been some years since I read Forster.  I remember enjoying A Room With a View, but my memory might be fuzzy because clearly tonight I waded in over my head.  I understand Foster’s points about universality of experience, humanity, and our need for relationship and understanding, etc, etc, but did the story have to be so damned sad?  

Let’s just say that I have little fondness for what might be called the darker side of fiction. I enjoy light beginnings, perfect endings, and as little unhappy middle as possible.  When I watch a tragic movie I end up brooding and melancholy, as if the characters in the story were people close to me.  In high school I couldn’t finish reading Lord of the Flies, Tess left me weepy and I managed to write a paper on Heart of Darkness even though I skipped any of the darker parts.  I love Shakespeare, but avoid  the tragedies.   Especially that eye bit in Lear.*

Flash, on the other hand, enjoys reading and watching movies about what might be termed the darker side of life.  He claims his life has little drama, so he enjoys some vicariously.   Some people might even think that my lack of true appreciation for tragedy and drama is due to some lack of artistic appreciation, or that as I’ll develop a thicker skin.  Yet I find that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for sad tales in my entertainment fare.  It’s too much like real life. 

I think my colleagues would agree that being a pastor often gives one a close up of the less pleasant side of the human condition.  So many people who are so placid on the outside are from families that are secretly seething with tragedy.   I’m not talking about the many times I’ve witnessed the natural process of death.  I mean the families in which broad smiles mask physical abuse, addiction, sexual violence… even murder.  There are so many situations that are so painful, closer than you’d ever imagine, I can’t seem to find the joy in even a fictional tragedy.  Real ones haunt me.  So help me, I’ll never pump my fist in the air and cheer a bloody death.   It’s the casual cruelty that gets to me every time.

Maybe I’m missing some sort of Schadenfreude gene.  Yet as I write this I look down at the sleeping face of my son and part of me desperately wants to believe that deep down, most of us are basically good, yearning for the true, the just, and the beautiful.  There is too much meanness, too much hate, too much sadness in the world already.  Give me an unbelievable and obvious happy ending any day.  And may we find those endings in real life.

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*This may be some strange biologically inherited aversion to royal occular mutilation, as according to my Mom we are descended  on our Norwegian side from King Magnus the Blind, who was plain old King Magnus until he had his eyes plucked out by his uncle.  Seriously.

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