The Whole Hog Always
Since I have become God, I go the whole hog always.
--Henry Miller, The Cosmological Eye
Garrison Keillor, onetime host of Prairie Home Companion on public radio, liked to spin whimsical yarns about his mythical hometown of Lake Woebegon, "where are the women are strong, the men good-looking and all the children are above average." It occurs to me this description also fits the world you see on TV. Actually, it's not just the men but almost everyone who is good-looking on TV, and those few who are not young are at least admirably well-preserved. They are nothing like the range of humanity you see shopping at Wal-Mart. There are almost no really fat people or old ladies who hobble around with walkers. There are plenty of bad people on TV, but no bad complexions, bad hair or bad teeth.
Before we had TV to give us a world without ugliness, there were various utopian movements designed to remedy the ills of mankind. Most quickly ended in failure or degenerated into totalitarian political systems. The Shaker communities thrived for a time but eventually failed to attract new generations of recruits because they were celibate. Perhaps the last and most successful utopian was Walt Disney, who realized you could make money by turning utopia into a family vacation spot.
Why didn't God create a world that was as free of litter as Disneyland? Blame usually falls on Adam and Eve, who spoiled it for everybody by picking fruit from the wrong tree. But that merely begs the question. If human beings were created in God's image, how do you account for their almost infinite capacity for mischief? Does this mean that God has an almost infinite capacity for mischief as well? To judge by his creation, you would be hard-pressed to conclude otherwise.
The mystery at the heart of creation is this: God loves this world, and he commands us to do the same. The world you see on TV is pretty to look at, and Disneyland is a nice vacation spot. But they are not the world that most of us live in most of the time. They are not the face that stares at us bleary-eyed in the mirror each morning -- not such an old face, we tell ourselves, this face that is fully as old as its pain. They are not the sullen spouse, the surly boss, the whiny kids, the neighbor whose dog barks late into the night. They are not the shame and fear that gnaw away at us. This is the world we are called upon to embrace -- the whole thing, not just those few moments of ecstasy or exaltation that brighten our otherwise dreary days. We are expected to go the whole hog always.
In Franny and Zooey, the title characters from J.D. Salinger's impossibly precocious show biz clan are talking on the phone, invoking the memory of their saintly older brother Seymour. Zooey recalls a time when they were appearing as regulars on a radio quiz show, and Seymour instructed him to shine his shoes for an unseen fat lady in the audience. Zooey pictures a fat lady sitting on her porch all day in the heat swatting flies, with the radio on full blast. It takes him years to understand why Seymour had insisted he shine his shoes for the fat lady. "There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady," Zooey tells his sister. "And don't you know -- listen to me, now -- don't you know what that Fat Lady really is?...Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy."